So, I’m back. I took the weekend off for fun and frivolity but I’m back now. What’d I miss? Regale me with wondrous baseball happenings. Catch me up on all the news. *crickets chirping* Oh. Yeah. Never mind. It’s still January. *sigh*
At least there is a little bit of news coming out of the Angels front office of varying degrees of happy. First, the truly happy making news. The Angels and Howard Kendrick reached an agreement on a four-year contract extension one year before Howard becomes a free agent. I am thrilled. I adore Howard Kendrick, Mr. HK-47 himself or, as I am prone to cheer at appropriate moments (of which there are many!): HK-47. When you absolutely, positively have to regain the lead, accept no substitutes.
Back in 2009, the Angels had to send Howard back to AAA for a little while to work on his swing. And work he did, returning to the majors with the beginnings of what has become a clutch, consistent bat with more than a bit of pop. Howard has also turned into a darned good second baseman, with the glove, arm and brains to be a full partner in all of the Angels daring double play do. He even has the willingness and ability to sub in at first and in the outfield when the Angels occasionally Franken-infield has the need. Not to mention he’s a class act and seems like an all around nice guy. In short, my kind of ballplayer and an excellent asset for the Angels, hopefully, for years to come.
As for the cautiously good news, Keandrys Morales has been cleared to begin running again. Now, this is roughly the point at which all of the wheels fell off of this particular wagon last season…along with the axels and, well, quite frankly several of floor boards too…and extended pain and lack of mobility from scar tissue forced him into a second surgery. So who knows if this really means he’s coming back. But, well, it’s still more positive to hear that he has been cleared to begin running than that he hasn’t, yes?
And how about the not so happy news? The Angels signed Jorge Cantu to a minor league contract, he of the third base experience and the sometime power, sometime Mendoza bat. No, it’s not that have anything against the signing itself, I am just concerned about what it might mean, namely that the Angels are more concerned than they are letting on about Mark Trumbo’s stress fractured foot. It sounds like the foot should be healed enough to being baseball workouts just in time for Spring Training, which is closer to the five months it sounds like the doctors had been quoting as typical for such an injury…but is nowhere near the two to three months Trumbo and the Angels had been hoping for. Personally, even with a bevy of personal trainers involved I thought that two to three months was wishful thinking, but I am a little worried that we’ve gone from that to apparently signing insurance in case he doesn’t heal in five. Tough break, indeed, kid. Suffice to say, if this fan’s best wishes had actual healing properties, you’d have been back on your feet and sprinting already.
Fifty-three. Fifty. Three. Fifty-three days without baseball. I mean that’s an accomplishment. Now there are only sixty-*mumble, mumble, grrr* days left until Spring Training games begin. Yikes! It’s kind of like catching a glimpse of the clock during the middle of an especially punishing work out and realizing, Yay! This is almost half over…shortly followed by, Crap! I have more than half of this left to go.
I mean, I’m doing okay right now. Really. It’s not like I’m going stir crazy or anything. It’s the holidays. Christmas and New Year’s are easily my favorite offseason times of the year. And preparing for the holidays provides a never ending array of exciting distractions that completely…well, almost…okay kind of cover up the fact that Hot Stove goings on and random bits of news and rumors are great and all, but they don’t really fill the void so much as tease and remind one what one is missing.
Speaking of hot stoves:
One of the main holiday distractions in my house is candy making. The habit started a few years ago when we were really, really broke and still needed something to give everyone for Christmas. But it turns out that we’re pretty good at it, even to the point of starting to make up our own recipes, and folks who know us out right ask for it every year. Score!
And there’s the added bonus that it is really, really distracting. When you spend every evening for a week, most of the weekend and then some boiling sugar, melting chocolate, wrapping caramels, slicing marshmallows, etc. and packing it all up to look pretty, you completely forget about missing baseball! …well, almost forget…kind of forg…yeah, you don’t actually forget at all. But you do have fun and reach the practical conclusion that if a game were on, you wouldn’t have time to watch it and that that fact would make you even more sad.
Okay, I lied earlier. I am stir crazy. I think I may even be starting to crack up just a little bit. The candy making has gotten a little, well… Tell me. Is this the product of a well mind? I think not:
Help me MLBN. You’re my only hope. Air a game. Any game. I don’t care what game! Or marshmallow baseball peeps cannot be far behind!
…Hmmmm…baseball peeps. You know, it’s not like it’s terribly hard to improvise a round cookie cutter. In fact, come to think of it, I have biscuit cutters. And I could paint on the stitches…Yikes!! MLBN, put a game on already! 😉
The Angels are on the tip of everyone’s tongue these days and it’s an awful lot of fun! Ever since that wild and crazy Albert Pujols/C.J. Wilson double deal day, the Angels, usually only an occasional mention at this point in the offseason, are in the thick of every discussion on MLBN, ESPN, west coast sports radio and the like about the best rosters, lineups, rotations, etc. in baseball. In truth a lot of these discussions are vehement denials that the Angels have the best anything but, hey, it’s just nice to warrant being in the discussions this far out from the season. And it’s exciting that so many existing Angels players are getting their just praise in the middle of these discussions along with the well deserved praise for the feats of our newest acquisitions.
However, while I enjoy all the talk, it is just talk at this point and ultimately meaningless except as a diversion from the fact that there is no actual baseball on. While it is the job of the analysts and sports writers to speculate about best teams in baseball early and often, I just can’t. Not until baseballs have been pitched, hit, thrown and caught with regular season intentions for a good month or so, and certainly not this far back in December when even Spring Training is but a glimmer on the horizon. All I know at this point is that my team looks darned competitive so far and that makes me one happy fan and even more eager for the season to begin. Thank you Arte and Jerry!!
Trumbo and Kendrys Morales
The Angels tendered the injured Kendrys Morales, proving they are not ready to give up on him yet. The chatter about moving Mark Trumbo to third also seems to be increasing in more official sounding ways. I am highly in favor of both experiments. I think it’ relatively inexpensive to give Kendrys one more season to see if he able to return to anything like his former playing ability. Foot injuries suck, no lie. I tore my arch more than a decade ago and the thing still gives me a fair bit of pain from time to time and I’m not trying to play professional sports on it. So I’m not holding my breath that he will come back in any more than a DH capacity anytime in the next season or so, if he comes back at all. But the possibility of having Bam Bam back in the lineup in any capacity is worth another season’s experimentation.
As for Trumbo, he’s young. He’s cheap. He swings a hell of a bat. He’s team spirited and practical and willing to bust his ass to learn new positions. Remember, we drafted Trumbo as a pitcher. Then made him a corner outfielder when it looked like he was a blown out arm waiting to happen. Then made him a first baseman after Kendrys was injured and now it’s over to the hot corner. And every time he’s said sure thing Coach, busted out his glove and his notebook and practiced, practiced, practiced. And did I mentioned he swings a hell of a bat? I expect some growing pains at third throughout this experiment, but I think that the experiment is a worthwhile one.
One More Press Conference Thought
Over the last several seasons it has amused me to no end to watch MLBN and ESPN analyst after analyst call Jered Weaver, Jeff…sometimes realizing their error a short time later and correcting it…sometimes continuing to make the error. Apparently even millions of dollars can’t cure the curse of being a same initialed younger sibling. In fact, this offseason I have noticed a tendency to just refer to him as Weaver. I imagine a memo came down from on high saying that, now that Weaver the Elder has retired and there is but one of them still in the game, it’s just plain safer. Vin Scully is guilty of this as well, but I don’t think any memos will fix that. That’s akin to the teacher who had your older brother or sister first. It’s never going to change.
So, during the press conference when Albert Pujols began talking about his new teammates, you had to know what was about to happen…and sure enough it did. ‘…and with such a great pitching rotation with Danny Haren and Jeff Weaver…Jeff…Weav…Oh Mahn! I’m so sorry Mahn! I mean with Weaver…’ Albert never did actually say Jered. Apparently he agrees with that memo, sight unseen. Stick to the last name, it’s easier.
The Trevor Cahill Trade
I am not in the Billy Beane is a frickin’genius camp, nor am I in the Billy Beane is a frickin’ idiot camp. He’s a GM with a “surefire” method for beating the house at cards that, like most surefire methods, sometimes works out pretty darned well, occasionally very well indeed and, more often than not, doesn’t work out at all. Not so different from every other GM out there, really, except that his method has Hollywood publicity. Oh, and then there is the A’s dismal payroll to contend with but that is also not a unique problem in baseball.
Trading ace Trevor Cahill five entire years before free agency for a potential-ace-in-a-few-years and a couple of nothing-special-as-of-yet minor leaguers was certainly one of those head scratcher moves. I’ve heard a lot of speculation about the reasoning behind this deal. But tell me, am I the only one that thinks it’s less about the A’s current payroll and more about their desire to move to San Jose? An exaggerated, in your face, “this is what you’ve reduced us to” statement sure to garner enough attention that maybe, just maybe Selig will stop holding them in limbo and get the deal done already? Yes, I did spend my adolescence reading a lot of novels about intrigue, conspiracies and Machiavellian politics. Why do you ask? 😉
The Angels announced their initial 25-man roster late this evening, following a 5 – 1 win over the Dodgers in their final preseason game. I say initial because, of course, there will be considerable roster shifting in April and possibly into early May as Scott Downs, Kendrys Morales, Joel Pineiro and Reggie Willits come off of the 15-day DL. So, for now, the 2011 Angels are:
Jered Weaver (RHP)
Dan Haren (RHP)
Ervin Santana (RHP)
Scott Kazmir (LHP)
Jason Bulger (RHP)
Kevin Jepsen (RHP)
Michael Kohn (RHP)
Fernando Rodney (RHP)
Hisanori Takahashi (LHP)
Rich Thompson (RHP)
Jordan Walden (RHP)
Trevor Bell (RHP), Matt Palmer (RHP), Francisco Rodriguez (RHP), and infielder Andrew Romine were optioned back to AAA Salt Lake.
Not a whole lot of surprises there. Okay, I was a little surprised to see Hank Conger stay on the roster. I figured he would stay in AAA so he could get work in every day. But I don’t know who I would have kept up instead, this may change when they need roster space for guys coming off the DL and, besides, carrying three catchers is becoming a Mike Scioscia tradition. Given his hot streak since the surgery, I wish they found a way to keep Palmer up. I know Bulger is out of options, but he didn’t have a very good spring, or late summer for that matter… I’m pleased to see Chris Pettit getting another shot after missing all of 2010 due to shoulder surgery. I don’t know how long that experiment will last once guys start coming off the DL but we’ll see.
I’m excited! Yes, I pretty much knew who would make the cut, especially given the limiting injuries. Even so, just seeing the official roster really drives home the fact that Opening Day is Thursday! And I’m hopeful. We may have platoons at both of our infield corners indefinitely, but today it doesn’t bother me. So far it seems to be working, better than I expected. And if Trumbo’s bat holds up during the regular season, I think the first base platoon will be resolved quickly, even if Kendrys isn’t able to come back full time any time soon.
I’m so ready for Thursday. We have Weaver on the mound, the triple centerfield patrolling the outfield and a couple of guys whose bats really, really love Kauffman Stadium. Bring on the Royals. Play ball!!
My plan for this evening was to post a lot of photos and fun stories from today’s Angels Fanfest and exhibition game against the Padres. Unfortunately, I missed them both. My husband and I have been burning the candle at both ends and at a couple of points in the middle just for good measure for a few weeks now and this morning it finally caught up with him – he woke up too sick and headachey to do anything. I am a diehard baseball fan but I am a diehard wife first…okay, that makes me sound like a car battery or like I should be saying yippee ki-yay mother etc., but you get the general idea. Suffice to say, we stayed home, I took care of him and I wound up watching the game on the living room sofa, whooping and cheering between a snoozing husband and two snoring cats – yes, they snore. Louder than most people. It’s a little disturbing. As disappointing as this was, it really only means 12 extra days until I get to hear my first actual crack o’ the bat since September. That’s not so bad at all.
The game itself was as fun as a blowout beating up on a mix of the other team’s A, B and C squads can be – which is to say fun, it being baseball and all, but not outrageously so. Still, Dan Haren pitched a great five innings. It was great to see that he is definitely in April and May shape. Hisanori Takahashi, Kevin Jepsen and the other relievers looked more than ready for prime time themselves. Mark Trumbo is still hitting like a beast, even inside regular season height walls. He had a three run homer and an additional hit today. Peter Bourjos, Jeff Mathis and Alberto Callaspo also collected two hits each, including a nice triple from Bourjos. Hopeful signs for a great season, all. Mike Trout looked good but it was an uneventful game for him so I didn’t see much of him from my living room vantage point, another small disappointment.
There was, however, one definite consolation to watching the game at home – Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells were not playing today and joined Victor Rojas and Mark Gubicza in the announcer’s booth for two innings. Whether it was Wells giving Torii grief about his age – he is clean shaven this year because there was apparently a lot more silver in his beard than he liked – or Torii suggesting that Wells can’t bunt because he would hurt himself running hard to first, those two guys crack me up. They were also serious at times and it’s great to see them locked in and so psyched for the season. If I had to make the rough decision and pick a favorite current Angel, it’s Torii and I can tell Vernon Wells is going to become a favorite of mine as well. I know that clubhouse chemistry alone does create a winning season. But I think it is the important x-factor that makes a team’s strength greater than just the sum of its parts. I am thrilled that Wells seemed to fit so effortlessly into the work hard, act goofy Angels clubhouse that I love so much. Wells mentioned that Mike Scioscia’s group dinner tab Spring Training assignments definitely helped him make friends quickly, he he.
After the game, Mike Scioscia officially announced the Angels Opening Day pitcher. It’s Scott Kaz…I’m totally kidding. Of course it’s Jered Weaver. I would say, as predicted here on this blog, but this decision was pretty close to a given. In the same press conference Scioscia also announced that Joel Pineiro will definitely start the season on the DL. The Angels will go with a four man rotation – Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir – using the extra days off in early April as the 5th starter’s spot, until Pineiro is scheduled to come back and pitch in the April 8th home opener. I think this is a great short term solution and I am now certain Pineiro will be healthy enough to start on April 8th. I have tickets for that game, as I’ve mentioned, and I have uncanny luck for being at games where it’s either a pitcher’s first start off the DL or first start with the Angels.
The Angels continue to hit in spectacular fashion, both those you would expect and those you would not expect. 39 hits and 31 RBIs in the last three games, even with the loss to Milwaukee? Whooooo hooooo! Granted, batting averages don’t really count for much in Spring Training because the pitching takes so long to get into season shape and the number of minor league pitchers each batter sees. However, the bats seem to be warming up more as the pitching warms up and this I will take as a hopeful sign for the season.
Starting rotation issues, however, are giving me concerns where I did not expect to have any just two weeks ago. Now it sounds like Joel Pineiro will spend a few days on the DL at the beginning for the season. I understand. I want him to pitch strong for as much of the season as he can and back precautionary decisions especially now before the season starts. So much for the 4th rotation spot, for now…though after Scott Kazmir’s last start, who knows?
Which brings us to our 5th starting rotation spot…well…How do you solve a problem like Scott Kazmir? And, yes, that did emerge from my head set to a Rodgers and Hammerstein approved tune. Thanks – or blame, depending on your point of view – to Red State Blue State. I wanted Kaz to regain his old form. I was really pulling for him. There were hopefully signs in several of his Spring Training starts – more control in one game, more strikes thrown in another, more consistency, etc. But it never all came together in one game, which in and of itself already has overtones of 2010. Then, on Thursday against the Brewers, he incurred eight hits and ten runs in five innings pitched. Owwwww-ch. And yet it still sounds like Kaz is our 5th starter. Which leaves us where exactly? Praying for rain every 5th start? That would be one baseball tradition I would prefer not to embrace.
Matt Palmer did pretty well today, pitching to contact with the infield and outfield living up to their capabilities. Hmmm…is he an alternative plan or is he bullpen bound, no ifs, ands or buts? Oh well, I guess we’ll find out on Tuesday after the game, when Mike Scioscia has promised he will announce the starting rotation, the 25 man roster and the opening day starters…because waiting for Wednesday evening would have been too last minute, she says with extreme affection.
In other news, preparing to buy tickets for a few games in Northern California has given me a renewed appreciation for buying Angels tickets down here in Southern California. On Stubhub you pay more than full price for even generic Giants and A’s tickets. Even now before the season has started. It is actually better to go through Ticketmaster for Giants and A’s tickets. The horror!! The Big A is so large and enough of our season ticket holders so unable to attend every game, that I can usually grab tickets at season ticket prices or even cheaper now or the week of the game off Stubhub or Craig’s list. Games against the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers are notable exceptions to this rule. But even so, wow. I had no idea I was so spoiled, but I’ll take it!
Last week the Major League Giants beat up on the baby Angels, but this week the Major League Angels beat up on the Major League Giants – make that, the Major League, World Champion Giants – and shut them out 8 to 0. It was pretty exciting, almost exciting enough to get me excited about Spring Training again…almost. I was thrilled to see that Santana had both his nasty stuff and control. That Mark Trumbo hit a nice solid double off a tough major league pitcher – Matt Cain no less. That Bobby homered, Torii successfully stole a base (just not third Torii, no more trying for third please) and that last season’s weaker bats are continuing to swing strong through March. But, I want to see all of this for real!
Yeah, I know. I was so excited when Spring Training started – It’s live baseball! and all that. What happened? Well…and, yes, I already made this analogy on Jane Heller’s blog, but I like it…Spring Training was fantastic when it was our first taste of baseball after the winter, rather like how delicious a plain chicken soup might taste after you’ve been sick for a long time. But eventually you’re feeling even better, tire of the chicken soup and start craving something more substantial. Bring on the meat and potatoes of the regular season!!
Enough match-ups that don’t count and often aren’t real major league match-ups. Enough of the regular players departing after the 4th inning. Enough of having a new pitcher every inning or three. The whole 100 pitch count, no more than 7 innings thing annoys me as it is. Spring Training pitch counts drive me absolutely batty. And enough with the day games already! I agree that day game baseball is baseball as it’s meant to b watched, but it’s also baseball at it most unwatchable if you have a job with traditional-ish hours. I want to be able to watch a game live on more than just the weekends again. Spring Training was a great tide me over until the season started, but enough…yeah, okay, enough whining already. Opening Day is only a week away. Now that’s something to get excited about.
Other exciting things? It sounds like Joel Piniero won’t miss any regular season starts over the back pain that took him out of a game on Sunday. This is great news and I hope it continues to be true. That DL was getting more than a little crowded. Oh, and there is rain pounding my roof right now! Why is this a good thing – other than for strategic water table purposes, of course? The rain was supposed to hit us in three separate storms every other day from today through Sunday, Fanfest day. Now it looks like the three separate storms are bunching in to one longer rainy period ending Friday evening. This is good because, while I was going to Fanfest no matter what, few things smell worse than wet Rally Monkey. This also means that I will see live baseball before my very own eyes on Sunday as well. Yes, it’s another Spring Training-ish game, the exhibition game against the Padres, but I think I can muster up some excitement for this one. Being at the ballpark never fails to do that to me.