The Squeeze Was the Perfect Call

I’m over the Game 4 loss by the Angels to the Red Sox that ended their season, eliminating them from the playoffs. It certainly does sting that Jon Lester was brilliant in both Game 1 and Game 4 after I trashed him earlier in the season. Boy do I look like a dope. There are several reactions I have from the game and the loss of the Angels’ season: Frankie Rodriguez is done as an Angel, his last two most important appearances were blown games against Boston in the playoffs (one this year, one last year). What will happen with Teixeira? How did this opportunity slip away — especially with such a vulnerable Red Sox team (Beckett, Papi, Lowell are hurt and mere shades of themselves). Yes, there is disappointment, but if there’s one thing I’d like to walk away from the game saying it’s that Mike Scoscia without a doubt made the right call asking Erick Aybar to lay down a squeeze bunt in the 9th with the game tied at 2.

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Angels Know How to Thank Their Fans

While Dodgers owner Frank McCourt was busying drafting a letter to season ticket holders asking them to renew for next year not long ago, the other team in the LA-area that’s approaching 100 wins came out with a ticket plan that would blow most teams in MLB out of the water. For the final series of the season, the Angels are offering tickets as low as $3, and discounting many other seats as much as 80%. Sure, I realize you’re not going to find premium seats here, but to be able to buy $40 seats for eight bucks, or to even get into Angel Stadium paying just three bucks a ticket is pretty strong.

Even if the Angels have already clinched the division and the Rangers are eliminated, you’re still going to get a quality on-field product. What’s more, this is a fan-friendly gesture that will truly allow a family to come to the ballpark and check out baseball’s best team (record-wise) without being gouged. This is not something that’s necessary, and sure it will help the team at the concession stands and souvenir shops, but it’s just one more reason why Arte Moreno might be the best owner in all of baseball. How many other owners would let fans come watch a first place team for $3 a ticket?

Great Day to Be an Angels Fan

The double-coup the Angels pulled on Tuesday was easily one of the peaks of the baseball season. First, things got exciting when reports in the morning said the Angels were warming to the idea of acquiring Mark Teixeira from the Braves. Later in the day, the dream became reality and the Angels all of a sudden had the three-hitter they so desperately have needed the last three years. As soon as I heard that it had happened, I began to worry about who the Angels had lost. It was obvious that Casey Kotchman was gone, but I also figured maybe prospects like Adenhart or Wood, or one of the spare outfielders like Willits or Rivera would be gone, too. I wasn’t too happy to think about life without Kotchman since he’s a solid all-around player, delivering clutch hits and playing a Gold Glove first base. But come on, it’s Mark Teixeira — a guy who can produce the way Vlad did during his MVP years with the Angels. It didn’t take long for me to get pumped up and celebrate like the Halos just signed Jack Parkman.

As if the Teixeira acquisition wasn’t enough, John Lackey went out and slayed his Fenway Park dragon by almost throwing a no-hitter. Even though he allowed a hit and home run back-to-back in the 9th, the statement was bold — the Angels are no longer chumps in Fenway Park — they can beat the Red Sox anywhere. The Angels have now gone 7-1 against the Red Sox this year and are going for their second sweep of Boston this year on Wednesday night. Now the irony would be if the Angels turned the corner on the Red Sox — a team that’s owned them and eliminated them from the playoffs recently — and all of a sudden couldn’t beat the Yankees. The Yanks are the exact opposite from the Red Sox for Anaheim — a team they’ve owned in the regular season and knocked out of the playoffs on a regular basis. Now if they could just combine the two, they’d be set.

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Angels Screwing Frankie Rodriguez?

The big hubbab around Angels camp is that closer Frankie Rodriguez is headed to arbitration in what could be his final year with the Angels. This is a huge deal for me as an Angel fan, and applies to almost any baseball fan whose bullpen could use a closer. When asked if this could be his last season with the Angels, K-Rod said “Yeah, probably. If they wanted me here, they would have done something a long time ago.” We can’t make the Angels out to be the bad guys just yet — they offered him a lucrative three-year $34 million deal. Frankie turned it down because he saw what the dumbass Yankees gave Mariano Rivera — $45 mil over three years — and he wants that sort of kesef. Gilbert at Obscure Sports Quarterly says it’s not time to panic just yet. I agree, and would add a few more points to that.

For one, as a baseball fan it’s important to keep tabs on how much other teams are spending on players — that sets the market and impacts the ability of your team to keep its players. That’s why I was so upset the Angels spent $90 million on Torii Hunter. Amongst other things, I was upset that signing priced the market so high, and I knew it would make it tougher for the Angels to re-sign Frankie, John Lackey, and Kelvim Escobar. And that’s exactly what’s happened. The Angels had no problem dropping $90 mil on Hunter when $75 was probably sufficient. Now they’re balking over $10 million to Frankie? Great. Next, the gap between what the Angels are offering Frankie and what K-Rod wants is the second largest of all arbitration cases this spring. That’s bad news. That means the Angels will be finding faults and picking on one of the faces of their organization. Arbitration is a nasty, nasty aspect of the game and it kills me as an Angels fan to think their objective in the negotiations is to diminish his value.

It would not be the end of the world if Frankie weren’t retained at the end of the year, but I think the team would be a lot better off with him than without him. Still, as Gilbert said, a lot can change in a year (and I remember a certain closer giving up a certain home run to a certain Red Sox left fielder to end a certain playoff game). And if Francisco Cordero got $46 million over four years from the Reds, it makes me cringe to think what Frankie will be due on the market. I can’t stand arbitration. $90 million to Torii Hunter spent freely, and now the pockets are tightening over an extra $2.5 million to Frankie? That’s not a good sign and I’d like to see it change.

$90 Million for Torii Hunter? What Are the Angels Thinking?

Under no circumstance can I envision the Angels spending $90 million on Torii Hunter being a good deal. The reason why it caught everyone off-guard, Hunter included, is because the Angels grossly overpaid, and because Hunter probably never dreamed he would get that much. The Twins supposedly offered 3 years for $45, while the White Sox supposedly offered 5 for $75. That’s about right. I thought, and still believe, that Hunter is only worth around 5 for $65. So what makes this deal so horrible? Well, as Ben and I discussed at Obscure Sports Quarterly, it makes no sense on many levels. Let’s begin.

First of all, the Angels have set the free agent market extremely high, screwing many other teams, themselves included, for the future. Now Andruw Jones, Aaron Rowand, and Mike Cameron are probably going to cost a million or two more per year because of the Angels. When the Angels need to re-sign players, or go after other players, Hunter’s contract will be a future benchmark. If I were another GM, I’d be pissed the Angels inflated the market. When Ichiro was extended during the season this year, what’d he get? 5 years for $90 million. Sorry to say it, but Hunter is nowhere near as good as Ichiro, meaning the Angels had no business having Hunter’s contract match Ichiro’s.

Second of all, the Angels now have $130 million, and around $28 million annually allotted for two center fielders. That’s absurd. I can think of hundreds of ways to better spend $130 million. All those rumors about the Angels going after A-Rod? Even as the most expensive player in baseball at $27 million a year, pair him with any guy making the minimum and it’s still better value than Matthews plus Hunter.

Third, it’s like the Angels are just trying to appease the media. Media members say the Angels need a bat to protect Vlad in the order. Sure, sounds great. But one good bat isn’t enough to protect Vlad; they need another top 10 bat to properly protect Vlad. Hunter couldn’t even protect Morneau and Mauer. He batted behind Michael Cuddyer in Minnesota. Yet he’s supposed to protect Vlad? Give me a break. First line of the AP story, Angels now have protection for Vlad. So the media gets what it wants, but the Angels don’t get much better. Even with $90 million on Hunter, the Angels still don’t have as good an offense as Boston, New York, Cleveland, Detroit, or probably Seattle and Toronto.

The Angels covered one mistake (Matthews) with an even bigger mistake. I seriously wonder whether or not Juan Rivera wouldn’t match Hunter’s offensive production on his own. Matthews is probably as good in center as Hunter, or at least close to it, so what are you really gaining? Now there’s a huge log jam in the outfield that will probably be sorted out by trades. But it doesn’t change that the Angels overpaid Hunter, screwing up the market. People ask me why I care, arguing that it’s not my money. Well, I am a forward thinker. If the Angels have $90 million tied up to Torii, how will they afford to re-sign Miguel Cabrera should they acquire him, and how will they re-sign Franky Rodriguez when he comes up, John Lackey when he comes up, and same with Escobar?

How will they have the money to throw at better free agents when the ’08 class comes up? Johan, Sabathia, and Sheets will all be available. Wouldn’t the Angels be better served going after one of these pitchers instead? I certainly think so. Under no circumstance does this signing make sense, and what’s worse, the Angels inflated the market ruining things for themselves and other teams. Your comments and opinions are welcome.

Angel Fans Everywhere, Raise a Pint!

There’s already a mini-discussion brewing between the Angels triumvirate of myself, Gilbert, and Ben over at Obscure Sports Quarterly on this topic, in case you want some mixed reaction. It is with great pleasure that I pass along the news that Bill Stoneman will be stepping down from his perch as Angels GM, and into the role as team consultant. In order to be fair here, I will analyze both the good and the bad, as well as the neutral aspects of the Stoneman era. First, to be nice, the good.

The Angels won their first World Series in franchise history in 2002 under Stoneman. They won it with a team that got hot at the right time, and an above average offense featuring big bats like Glaus, Anderson, and Fullmer. Youngsters like K-Rod and John Lackey came up that year to give the Angels the boost in September and October.  It was the following year that Arte Moreno, who I would argue is the best owner in baseball — by a large margin — bought the team. Moreno capitalized on the recent Angels success by investing money into the team, and marketing it well. With the Angels beginning to sell out most games, they had plenty of revenue to spend on free agents (a $100 million payroll), which is something Stoneman did not often do.

So, some of Stoneman’s good moves: He signed Vladimir Guerrero to a dirt-cheap, 5-year $70 million deal, with a club option in ’09, which will essentially make it a 6-year $85 million deal. Vlad’s signing was easily one of the best free agent steals in the past decade, thanks to many other GMs who were scared off by his back problems, and the Dodgers who had no owner at the time when their offer was on the table. He recognized Kelvim Escobar’s talent as a starter, rather than reliever, and signed him to a 3-year $18.75 million deal back in ’03, and a 3-year $28.5 million extension through ’09. Both were bargain deals, and absolute steals compared to free agent rates these days. Stoneman also let fan-favorite David Eckstein go, and brought in Orlando Cabrera for four years at $32 million. It was without question, a huge upgrade, and definite bargain deal. It was also wise of Stoneman to snatch up Jered Weaver in the draft; he’s already made it to the majors, as a No. 3 starter, just as projected. He was unfraid of dealing with Boras, and it paid off.

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Did Angels Skip Batting Practice?

Matt Watson tipped me off to Curt Schilling’s blog today, and frankly, I’m pretty peeved at what I’m reading. Schilling, who shutdown the Angels over seven scoreless innings in Game 3 Sunday, blogged that the Angels didn’t even take batting practice before what wound up being their last game of the season.

I guarantee someone will make a big deal out of this and it’s not meant to be. It’s something that I would guess only affected me but that’s why I mention it. I was stunned yesterday as I walked to the pen to warm up, that the Angels took no BP outside. I am walking to the pen and they were doing the on your own routine that teams will often do in Spring Training for oddly timed games or during the regular season when you get an early day game after a late night. Now I would bet they didn’t think twice about it, they were ready for the game and all that, but as I am walking to the pen I couldn’t help but think that as high as I was adrenaline wise, with the series on the line, and my nerves on edge, there was no way they could be anywhere near as ready for this game as I was when it started. Sounds stupid I guess, but I know it got me fired up and excited about being able to grab a hold of this game and win it.

The entire entry by Schilling is actually well worth your time. He touches on Beckett’s game 1 performance and calls it the best game he’s seen pitched at any level (also says it gave him more confidence). He talks about Papi and Manny being locked in. Really, it’s worth a read.

So, back to BP, what about that? I know it was a 12pm start time, and that’s pretty early for a baseball game. The earliest they usually play is 12:35ish Saturdays on FOX, or around 1pm on day games, usually on Sundays. And from my experience working in MLB, teams don’t take BP when they have Sunday day games. Just the way it is. So what about that? I find the notion that a team which has only scored in one out of 18 innings in the playoffs not taking hitting practice hard to conceive. That is disheartening news, if that was the case. I’d love to ask Scioscia and Mickey Hatcher about this before killing them here on the site. Obscure Sports Quarterly has some thoughts on UCLA and the Angels this weekend (we’re fairly crushed), and I have more in both vains to come. But for now, this is quite disturbing news. Can you say A-Rod anyone? It’s not like he doesn’t already fit in perfectly with Anaheim’s postseason offensive gameplan anyways, right?