Keys to 2013: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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Starting Pitching Key: Tommy Hanson

Hanson was once a top Braves’ pitching prospect, all but untouchable in trades…then they traded him for a relief pitcher who’d lost his job as Angels’ closer, Jordan Walden. Hanson’s had shoulder problems and back problems and his mechanics are woeful. The Angels’ starting pitching is short and they know what to expect from C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver. They’re hoping for some decent innings from Jason Vargas, but away from the friendly confines of Safeco Park, he’ll revert into the pitcher who both the Marlins and Mets couldn’t wait to get rid of. If Hanson pitches well, the Angels offense will mitigate the back of the rotation; if not, they’re going to need starting pitching during the season and they’re running low on prospects to get it. I supposed there’s Kyle Lohse if they and Lohse get desperate enough. For now, it’s hold their breath on Hanson.

Relief Pitching Key: Ernesto Frieri

The Angels signed Ryan Madson to take over as closer once he’s healthy, but he’ll start the season on the disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Frieri replaced Walden as closer last season and racks up huge strikeout numbers. He’s also vulnerable to the home run ball, knows he’s pitching for the job and eventually closer money, so he might press early in the season. The Angels really can’t afford to get off to a bad start in that division; with the hangover from their disappointing 2012; the pressure on manager Mike Scioscia; and the new faces.

Offensive Key: Albert Pujols

Chalk 2012 up to the transition from the National League and having played in the comfort zone with the Cardinals and for a manager he knew in Tony LaRussa. But Pujols’s numbers had declined in 2011 from their absurd heights that he’s reached his entire career. He’s listed at 33 but there has been speculation forever that he’s older. With the inability for aging players to use special helpers—even amphetamines are no longer okay—could Pujols be showing his age, breaking down and returning to the land of mortal men? If so, the Angels are in deep trouble and I don’t care about the intimidating rest of the lineup. Pujols will be an albatross for the rest of the decade if he comes undone.

Defensive Key: Mike Trout

With the extra weight he’s carrying, will Trout’s superlative defense in center field (they’re supposedly moving him to left anyway which is another odd move) be less than what it was? The Angels have Peter Bourjos who’s also a standout defensive center fielder and the talk is that they’ve reached agreement with the Yankees to take Vernon Wells off their hands (I’ll have more to say about this piece of work by Brian Cashman in the coming days. Believe me.) so Trout’s increased size may not be as much of a factor if he’s in left. But he’s not happy about it and the Angels seem to be intentionally tweaking him for reasons that only they know.

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The Angels Trump the Competition on Hamilton

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There’s a fine line between decisive and desperate. The Angels used to adhere to a set of principles from which they would not deviate. That changed after Bill Stoneman left as GM. The shift began in earnest when former GM Tony Reagins, all in the same off-season, fired respected scouting director Eddie Bane and after losing out on all their off-season targets—most notably Carl Crawford—made the ridiculous deal for Vernon Wells.

It’s all but impossible to truly pinpoint the cracking of a foundation and when the entire structure is turning dilapidated and in danger of coming down, but the Angels are not the same as they were and the Josh Hamilton signing for 5-years and $125 million is another signal that they’re following the crowd of dysfunction. Rather than doing things their own way with development and understated signings and trades for players who fit into what they’re trying to build, they’ve turned the team into a destination for players who want to get paid.

And that’s not good.

These are the types of signings that Donald Trump would make. Arte Moreno was never like this; he was never the owner who interfered or publicly let his displeasure be known. In the past year, that’s changed. The infection of expectations and demands for return on his money got the whisper campaign rolling during the 2012 season. There’s no longer a cohesive plan, nor is there chemistry. It’s tossing money at the problem, mixing explosive ingredients, shoving people of divergent opinion into a room and telling them to work it out. Somehow.

If this is what the Angels were going to do, they might as well have hired Omar Minaya as the GM over Jerry Dipoto. This is what Minaya was good at—signing big name free agents and charming people. Given where Dipoto cut his baseball front office teeth with clubs that either had a plan to spend wisely and develop (the Red Sox), or worked for clubs that didn’t have a lot of money to spend and were forced to function under constraints (the Rockies and Diamondbacks), I can’t imagine that this is what he had in mind when he took over the Angels. Perhaps he’s holding sway in drafting and development and the fruits of his skills will be seen in 3-5 years as the big league club is rife with stars and young players slowly arrive and contribute, but in 2012-2013 it’s checkbook general managing and pretty much anyone can do it.

Why is Mike Scioscia still the manager of this team? It speaks to the stripping of his power that the Angels have infused his clubhouse with people he can’t force to fall in line, who don’t want to fall in line. Prior to 2012, very rarely was a peep heard about the goings on inside the Angels clubhouse and when it did happen, it was quickly squashed. Sciosica’s clubhouse was unique in that there wasn’t public backbiting via “anonymous” sources; coaches weren’t fired; there weren’t factions and battles between the manager, the GM, and the owner.

Now?

Scioscia likes having a deep starting rotation with innings gobblers who aren’t concerned about their ERAs or won/lost records. Is this—Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Garrett Richards, Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton—a rotation similar to the Angels of years past? He also liked having a deep and diverse bullpen with a proven closer. Is Ryan Madson a proven closer or is he a cheap alternative who fits in line with Dipoto’s theory of not paying big money for a name reliever when a fill-in-the-blank arm could rack up the saves?

As for the lineup and defense, Scioscia likes having a versatile batting order that can steal bases, play small ball, and hit the occasional homer—they never had the MVP-level basher with the accompanying diva tendencies on any of his clubs. The one mega-star the Angels had in recent years was Vladimir Guerrero and hearing his voice is similar to finding a Leprechaun—there are rumors of it without proof.

In short, is this a team that Scioscia would like to manage? Is he the man to sit back and let things be waiting for the home runs to come? With the evident fissures that led to the firing of Scioscia’s longtime hitting coach Mickey Hatcher as an object of sacrifice in May after Albert Pujols got off to an atrocious start, does Dipoto want Scioscia and does Scioscia want to run a team constructed like this?

Who, apart from Mike Trout, can run and is it worth it for anyone to risk stealing bases when the middle of the lineup consists of Pujols, Hamilton, Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales and the rest of the would-be wrecking crew? And forget about two more of Scioscia’s fetishes: bunting and squeezing.

It’s not wrong to say that the Angels’ old-school National League-style play that Scioscia learned under Tommy Lasorda isn’t the strategy to follow today, especially in the AL West, but since that has been established with their trying 2012 season, why didn’t Moreno, Dipoto and Scioscia agree that it would be best if they were to part ways and find a new manager?

Not one organization has everyone on the same page, but the Angels were the best at keeping their purpose above personal differences and, if there were personal differences, they didn’t include the theoretical and harm the team dynamic. That’s no longer the case.

When the owner was hands off and is now hands on; when the GM would prefer to draft, develop and make wise signings that fit into his budget and preferred on-field strategy; and the manager wants to play like it’s 1968, don’t you see where the clashes of philosophy will occur? It’s not a criticism or an admission of failure to realize that certain people can’t work together, but that’s where the Angels are with Dipoto and Scioscia and, rather than make a change, they’re going forward and tossing more money at the problem, simultaneously putting an even bigger, more expensive child under Scioscia’s care in Hamilton.

They’re a haphazard, “let’s do this because it looks good” club diametrically opposed to what their GM, manager, and owner supposedly believe. It’s clear they didn’t learn a year ago that spending sprees, shiny acquisitions, and maneuvers that draw accolades and gasps don’t necessarily mean they’ll work.

Hamilton is a great talent, but putting him in Southern California is a mistake; giving him $125 million is a mistake; and altering the club in so drastic a fashion on the field while not making required changes to the field staff is a mistake.

We’re witnessing the decline and crash of the Angels and they set the charges for the pending implosion all by themselves with the errors they continue to make. Hamilton is the latest one.

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Zack Greinke—Free Agency Profile

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Name: Zack Greinke

Position: Right-handed starting pitcher

Vital Statistics: Age—29; Height—6’2”; Weight—200 lbs; Bats—Right; Throws—Right

Transactions: June 2002—Drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 1st round (6th pick) MLB Draft from Apopka HS in Florida; traded by the Kansas City Royals

December 19, 2010—Traded by the Royals to the Milwaukee Brewers with INF Yuniesky Betancourt and cash for OF Lorenzo Cain, SS Alcides Escobar, RHP Jeremy Jeffress, and RHP Jake Odorizzi

July 27, 2012—Traded by the Brewers to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for SS Jean Segura, RHP Ariel Pena, and RHP Johnny Hellweg

Awards: 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner

Agent: Casey Close

Might he return to the Angels? Yes

Teams that could use and pay him: Los Angels Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers

Positives: Greinke has a low-90s fastball that he can accelerate it up to around 97 when he needs it; this is what was referred to 100 years ago by the likes of Christy Mathewson as “pitching in a pinch.” His control is masterful; he has three variations on his fastball—a cutter, a four-seamer, and a two-seamer—a curve, slider, and changeup. The combination makes him one of the most gifted pitchers in baseball.

He formulates a gameplan and executes it. Greinke’s motion is clean and effortless and he’s been physically healthy (apart from a his fractured rib incurred playing basketball) for his whole career. He can hit, is a fine all-around athlete, and a leader off the field ready and willing to provide tips to teammates and even the front office.

Negatives: His much-publicized psychological issues and battle with depression have led to the perception that he wouldn’t be able to handle the high-pressure East Coast venues of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies. He has a deer-in-the-headlights look that put forth the image of fear and inability to deal with big games. His one opportunity in the post-season came in 2011 with the Brewers and he got rocked in three starts.

What he’ll want: 7-years, $167 million with a full no-trade clause

What he’ll get: 6-years, $148 million with a 7th year option raising it to a potential $170 million and a full no-trade clause

Teams that might give it to him: Dodgers, Angels, Nationals, Red Sox, Cardinals

The Rangers want Greinke and have the money to pay him, but they’re not going as high as the bidding will get. The Angels have the cash, but they re-signed Jered Weaver and signed C.J. Wilson to essentially duplicate contracts that each total about half of what Greinke wants. Are they going to make an increasingly toxic clubhouse atmosphere worse by overpaying for an outsider after Weaver went against the wishes of his agent Scott Boras by taking a down-the-line salary to forego free agency and stay? With the Albert Pujols contract on the books, I don’t see Arte Moreno okaying such an outlay for Greinke.

The Nationals are loaded with money but, truthfully, they don’t need Greinke. They’ll spend their money on a center fielder and if they want another starting pitcher will go the cheaper/easier route with a lower level name with Dan Haren or by trading for James Shields.

The Red Sox are trying to get back to their roots of the Theo Epstein era, but have also made some noise for players like Josh Hamilton and Greinke who might not be best-suited for Boston. Like with Hamilton, the Red Sox could panic as a response to the anger of their fan base and the drastic improvement of the Blue Jays.

The Cardinals have money to spend with Chris Carpenter and Carlos Beltran both coming off the books after 2013; they’re going to need to sign Adam Wainwright, but the departure of Pujols truly freed the Cardinals to do other things. Greinke would be great in St. Louis.

In the end, it comes down to what the Dodgers are willing to do. Cash is no object; they have money with their new ownership and they’re spending it.

Would I sign Greinke? If I had the money to spend and the agreeable, relaxed venue, I would. Greinke in New York, Boston, or Philadelphia is not a good idea.

Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that signs him? It’s a lot of money and that amount of money for a pitcher is a risk. That said, Greinke is 29 and keeps himself in shape. As far as pitchers go, he’s more likely than most to be able to stay healthy and productive for the length of a 6-7 year deal.

Prediction: Greinke will sign with the Dodgers.

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Did the Angels Botch the Dan Haren Deal?

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Is $12 million for one season a lot of money for a pitcher with the history of Dan Haren?

Unless there are extenuating circumstances that we don’t know about, it’s not a bad deal at all. Judging from the Angels desperation to trade Haren prior to the deadline to exercise or reject his 2013 option, their willingness to take the Cubs’ Carlos Marmol and his $9.8 million contract for 2013, and then final decision to decline the option, it makes me believe that there’s something we don’t know about Haren—something that spurred the Angels’ decision and led to them messing it up.

Pitching for the Athletics, Diamondbacks and Angels from 2005 to 2011, Haren was one of the most durable and quality pitchers in baseball. Never once did he fall below 216 innings pitched in a season; his strikeouts per 9 innings were consistently between 7 and 9; he has tremendous control; and he takes the ball every fifth day.

In 2012, Haren was pitching with a bad back that was a continual problem and sidelined him from early July to early August and was clearly an issue all season. His velocity was judged to be mediocre at around 88 all season, but Haren was never a flamethrower anyway, hovering around the 92-93 range. The Angels’ contract option contained a $3.5 million buyout or they would’ve owed him $15.5 million for 2013. That’s a lot of money, but if Haren returns to form and gives them 200 innings, is the difference—$12 million—disagreeable for a team like the Angels that has money to spend?

Obviously they want to keep Zack Greinke, but having traded Ervin Santana (178 innings in 2012) and with Greinke a free agent, the Angels currently have a guaranteed rotation of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Garrett Richards. That’s a decent top three and there are mid-level arms available such as Hiroki Kuroda, Edwin Jackson, or by bringing Joe Saunders back. Available via trade will possibly be some starters from the Rays’ surplus, so the situation isn’t dire, they can replace Haren’s innings, and they might save some money in comparison to Haren, but they had Haren under team control. They made the decision to try and trade him so openly that everyone knew they were trying to trade him and they stepped up their efforts after they’d dealt Santana. They couldn’t come to an agreement with the interested teams (rumored to be the Cubs and Red Sox) who clearly tried to take advantage of the Angels’ frenzy to move him. Then they declined the option; then put out a halfhearted, “We’re willing to continue talking to Haren,” in a tone that drips with, “Thanks, take a hike.” All of this makes me wonder if the Angels have information the media and other clubs don’t regarding Haren’s health and botched the attempt to get a small piece for him before paying him off to leave. It doesn’t sound as if they’re all that confident in the 32-year-old returning to form and that’s fine, but it could’ve been handled a little better.

Either way, the whole process went in an odd fashion, keeping in line with the increasing perception of dysfunction in an Angels organization that was once decisive and whose hallmark was one of continuity and purpose.

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West Coast Disaster Film

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The Red Sox have understandably dominated the headlines while a similar disaster film is underway and less prominent on the West Coast. Like the star-studded, “yeah, I’ll do it even with this ridiculous script just to get a paycheck” films of yesteryear like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure of the 1970s, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are writing their own script of shoving as many stars as possible into the mix without considering the director’s style and ability to handle the way such actors should be handled. The studio executives who come up with the money and the producer also have to be on the same page with the director or a change has to be made. In the worst case scenario, what you’ll see is a dead-on satire such as Tropic Thunder with a star-studded cast of enabled divas who don’t mesh together on-screen.

The Angels imported a cavalcade of stars before and during the season and are still hovering around .500 and, at the rate they’re going, will not make the playoffs. This is after signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson; trading for Zack Greinke in-season and stealing Ernest Frieri from the Padres; having Mike Trout arrive as a rookie and explode to the top of the list of contenders for Rookie of the Year and MVP; and hiring a respected baseball executive who understands scouting and stats in Jerry Dipoto.

The results have been less than spectacular and the familiarly insular style of manager Mike Scioscia in keeping the team issues within the confines of the clubhouse has been noticeably absent as complaints about hitting coach Mickey Hatcher resulted in his firing in May. Scioscia’s control of the organization—which had been seen as inherent prior to Dipoto’s hiring—was exposed as diminished or non-existent. That his managing style of speed, defense, bunting, hitting-and-running and old-school Tommy Lasorda National League baseball doesn’t complement with his roster or what his new, young GM advocates is only making the fissures more stark. If they were winning, it would be glossed over; but they’re not. They’re 62-59 and 3 ½ games out of a playoff spot. They can come back, of course, but coming back from a deficit requires a team to be playing reasonably well and showing signs of life, something that this Angels team is not doing.

Horribly inconsistent and frustrated, the one thing the Angels had in years past was a chain-of-command and stability. Scioscia was in charge and everyone knew it; the GMs, Bill Stoneman and Tony Reagins, receded into the background; the owner, Arte Moreno, was there with the money and support. Scioscia kept the media at bay and absorbed any criticism of his club; there were rarely whispers of discontent and sniping between teammates or organization members. But when you bring in a star the level of Pujols, it changes the entire dynamic. When that star struggles to start the season and has as a hitting coach someone who was an okay hitter but not anywhere near Pujols’s class, where’s the blame going to go? While Scioscia didn’t want Hatcher fired, the need to make a change for the sake of it trumped the manager’s desires and the Angels fired him. Whether Hatcher was there or not Pujols eventually would’ve started hitting, so the decision was largely irrelevant. What it did do, however, was to expose the diminished stature of the manager in terms of organizational hierarchy.

What’s going to happen in Anaheim if this team—that has everything on paper to be a World Series contender—falters and misses the playoffs entirely? If they finish at .500 or worse? If the clearly present issues that are bubbling under the surface in terms of strategies and personalities clashes suddenly leak out (and they will) as they have in Boston?

Dipoto would not hire a Scioscia-type as his manager if he’s allowed to make that decision. While Dipoto has scouting bona fides, he’s also worked in front offices with a list of clearly delineated parameters for the front office and field staff. This isn’t to suggest that he’s going to want a figurehead as a manager, but given the roster, the statistically-conscious adherence to power and letting the game evolve with high-percentage calls rather than the constant pressure-pressure-pressure of the old-school National Leaguers, it’s obvious that there’s going to be a culture clash with the new GM and his manager. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a personal issue between the factions, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to work either.

It’s not hard to picture Dipoto wanting to change the manager after this season and for Scioscia to leave given how he’s essentially been stripped of his power with the construction of the club. That’s not to imply that Dipoto will install a faceless and cheap automaton to manage the club and take orders from the front office as is the implied ideal in the creative non-fiction known as Moneyball, but that he’ll hire someone who’s going to be more agreeable to what Dipoto is going to want on the field. Terry Francona, Dave Martinez or Pete Mackanin would be far more fitting for both the roster and the front office in multiple ways.

Scioscia’s contract runs through 2018 with an opt-out after 2015, but if he wants to leave the front office won’t stand in his way. In fact, both sides would presumably prefer it given how little say he has in the way the team’s been built and that he doesn’t manage the way Dipoto would like.

Here’s an idea that’s far more reasonable than any that have come out to solve problems on the aforementioned East Coast: How about Scioscia to the Red Sox?

He has the cachet to deal with the media; he’d put a stop to the leaks that have sabotaged Bobby Valentine; he’s not reviled like Valentine is; and he certainly wouldn’t let the veterans behave in the entitled manner they’ve grown accustomed to.

It’s not a failure to admit a lack of cohesion and make requisite changes. If something’s not working, it’s the height of arrogance to stick to it regardless of reality. The reality in Anaheim is that the manager no longer fits in with what the front office has done and plans to do. That’s when it’s time to part ways for the betterment of all involved and, possibly, for another team that needs exactly what it is that Scioscia does well.

It’s almost necessary at this point.

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Analyzing the Zack Greinke Trade

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For the Angels

The Angels have long had a history of collecting starting pitching. The addition of Zack Greinke gives them a top three of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Greinke with the struggling but still formidable Dan Haren at number four. The Angels are a veteran, win-now team and Greinke doesn’t have to be merely a rental. They have the money to sign him, but have to cautiously navigate the fragility of baseball players’ egos and clubhouse harmony if they give Greinke the $140+ million it’s going to take to keep him. Weaver chose to forego his opportunity at free agency—presumably over the strenuous objections of his agent Scott Boras—and sign a down-the-line contract for 5-years at $85 million. As much as he said that $85 million is enough money, he could change his tune if Greinke is given a guaranteed $60 million more to sign.

It can be debated how valuable Greinke is going to be to the Angels in the playoffs. If you look back through recent history, since the advent of the Wild Card, teams that have put together awe-inspiring starting rotations have routinely gotten picked off in the playoffs. Notably, the Braves and Phillies were two such teams and it happened repeatedly. The teams that have won in the playoffs have had a very good bullpen and reliable closer. The manager is also a factor. It’s different managing in the playoffs than it is in the regular season. In a short series, there’s not the option of leaving the starting pitcher in to find his groove and hope that the offense will make up the difference. A quick hook is required and a manager whose strategy isn’t predicated on the situation but is more invested in the “this is the way I manage” brand of egomania and inflexibility, the starting rotation isn’t going to help them all that much if they don’t perform.

But the Angels have to make the playoffs before concerning themselves with what they’re going to do while there and the addition of Greinke improves their chances in doing that.

For the Brewers

GM Doug Melvin got his shortstop for the next decade in Jean Segura. Segura’s path was blocked with the Angels and that wasn’t going to change, but the Brewers are starting an on-the-fly retool and Melvin has a history of turning things around quickly as he did after 2008 and put a team together that was a legitimate World Series contender three years later. They needed to rebuild a decimated farm system and with Segura and 6’9” righty pitcher John Hellweg and righty pitcher Ariel Pena, they’ve taken steps to restock that system.

This is not a teardown a la the Marlins where they’re taking their name players and dealing them away simply to gouge their customers and keep the authorities off their backs. Owner Mark Attanasio is flexible with his payroll, trusts his GM and the fans seem to understand how things have to be handled with in mid-market Milwaukee. Greinke had resisted efforts to stay in Milwaukee and if he were to do so, it would’ve required that he take a contract similar to the one the aforementioned Weaver took to stay with the Angels. He wants to get paid and that wasn’t going to happen for the duration or dollars palatable for the Brewers, so they moved on.

For Greinke

The sense that he’s not able to handle pressure due to his former issues with depression are still hovering over him like a vulture. Considered a bad fit for the large market clubs with demanding fanbases, the Angels are a laid back atmosphere in a languid locale. If Greinke proves himself able to deal with the expectations inherent with a team that has the payroll and star power of the Angels, it bolsters his free agent credentials. If he does poorly, the scrutiny will get worse. Pitching well in the regular season and in the playoffs might force teams like the Yankees to consider pursuing him. At worst, Greinke will have the Yankees as a bargaining chip to get the money he wants. In this market, if the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies are not chasing a free agent, his options are severely limited and, as a result, so will be his potential paycheck. He can put the rumors that he’s mentally weak to rest over the next two (and the Angels hope, three) months.

Then he’ll get his money.

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Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

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A Start Just As Bad Without The Circling Vultures

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While the Red Sox need only look skyward to see the circling vultures, are under intense media scrutiny and increasing fan anger and angst for their horrific start, the Angels have an identical record—4-8—as the Red Sox. That the Angels are operating without the open factions in the front office and players engaging in a cold war with the manager doesn’t alter the fact that the bottom line is the same.

In many ways, the Angels’ situation is worse because they were the ones who made the splashy winter acquisitions, taking the crown of off-season champions that had, in previous years, been co-opted by the Yankees and Red Sox. Confident in their blueprint, the Angels could mitigate firestorms under owner Arte Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia. Whereas the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies have long made the headlines and ramped up their status as favorites from November to February, the Angels have been the tortoise to the hare.

The Angels went slow and steady; worked within a reasonable budget sans gaudy bidding wars; adhered to a template; brought in cogs to the machine rather than creating a new machine to integrate with the old one.

They unapologetically clung to their methods.

That changed this past winter when, after hiring GM Jerry Dipoto, Moreno lavished an open checkbook to his GM to sign Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.

Wilson is precisely the type of pitcher the Angels pursue—a durable starter who’ll gobble innings.

Pujols is not the type of player they would ordinarily bid on, let alone land. In years past, the Angels have identified a target and made bold, “take-it-or-leave-it”, “do you want to be here or not?” style offers to Torii Hunter among others. This past winter was different and it’s taking time for them to come together as a unit.

Amid the spending spree came another hallmark of the Yankees and Red Sox: the Angels have too many players who have a reasonable argument for playing regularly for too few spots in the lineup.

Bobby Abreu was outspoken in his unhappiness at being in the unfamiliar position of second or third DH and fourth or fifth outfielder. They were trying desperately to unload him in a deal for A.J. Burnett over the winter; then they wanted the Indians to simply take him. Both trades fell apart.

The Angels had been the team that did it their way for a long time. They’ve switched their strategy and it’s taking time to gel. The starting pitching has been shaky; the bullpen a catastrophe; the defense porous; and no one—specifically Pujols—is hitting.

As uncharacteristic as making those huge acquisitions was for the Angels, so too is the attention surrounding this star-studded group.

The Red Sox are openly at war with one another and their manager. This dynamic goes back to last season and beyond. It was glossed over for much of that time because they managed to win in spite of it. The Angels haven’t operated under that pressure. When they were prohibitive favorites it was mostly because they were in an awful division and had the history of winning within their parameters of top-down discipline, cohesion of purpose and pitching and defense.

It’s not the same and they’re off to a poor start.

Unlike the Red Sox, the Angels have time to right the ship before coming under attack as a disaster.

Unlike the Red Sox, there’s reason to believe the Angels will get their house in order.

But they don’t have forever and with the stifling expectations stemming from their winter spending, 4-8 is not how they wanted to start.

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Oswalt Overkill and Desperation

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In the category of unsubstantiated rumors of the day, the Angels are supposedly the “frontrunners” for fussy free agent righty Roy Oswalt and the Red Sox are thinking about moving Daniel Bard back to the bullpen.

Or not in both cases.

If there’s a grain of truth in the rumors, they’re connected to one another in what should happen.

Of course that has nothing to do with what will happen.

First, with the Angels and Oswalt, do the Angels need another name starter? Are they going to use whatever money it costs—even if the template for Oswalt’s contract is the Andy Pettitte deal with the Yankees—to bolster an overwhelming strength in the starting rotation?

With an innings-eating front four of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana, the Angels will be perfectly fine with Jerome Williams (who pitched quite well last season) as their fifth starter. In spite of the acquisition of Albert Pujols and what appears to be an overabundance of bats with too few positions to go around, the offense is still shaky with Vernon Wells a black hole; Bobby Abreu whining his way out of town; and the unknown of Kendrys Morales.

As of right now, the only true offensive guarantee they have is Pujols.

The bullpen may need boosting during the season as well. Are they intent on spending the money they have left now on a player they really don’t need in Oswalt?

Why?

Oswalt’s had multiple injuries in recent years and wouldn’t be ready to pitch until May.

And they don’t need him.

It makes no sense.

On the other hand, there’s one destination that makes sense for Oswalt, where he would be a need and not overkill—the Red Sox.

Another rumor that made the rounds this weekend (and was only reported as a possibility in one place—link) is that the Red Sox have seen enough of Bard in the starting rotation and he’ll be shifted back to the bullpen.

There are numerous possibilities surrounding this revelation if it’s true. The Red Sox could be dropping a rock into the water to see the ripples it causes in the public and media; perhaps they wanted to pressure Bard into pitching better in his next start (which was yesterday) after the story came out. His results were similar to what he’s done all spring—not particularly good—but manager Bobby Valentine made it a point to say he liked Bard’s demeanor better than he had in prior starts.

What that means for the future is anyone’s guess.

The Red Sox are not in a position to be putting Bard back in the bullpen. If they do that and move Alfredo Aceves to the starting rotation, they’ll be trading one problem for another. Aceves is not durable enough to be a 180-200 inning starter and he’s too valuable and versatile in the bullpen to start. If they determine that Bard can’t start, their only real option is Oswalt. Apart from that, they’re going to be in bigger trouble that I thought. And bear in mind that I picked them to go 81-81 this year. If Bard is unable to be at least a serviceable starter and they’re relegated to using castoffs in the number 4 and 5 slots in the rotation, they’re in trouble. A lot of it.

Oswalt would be their only choice and the same issues that make him a questionable fit for the Angels would make him a desperation shot for the Red Sox. If they continue down this line of thought, desperation might be all they have left.

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Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

If anyone has already purchased the book and noticed there were formatting mistakes, they’ve been fixed and republished; so you can re-download the book.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. (This sample is of the Rangers.) My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Bard or Feliz?

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ESPN has a video piece wonder which converted reliever will be a better starting pitcher, Daniel Bard of the Red Sox or Neftali Feliz of the Rangers.

(I didn’t watch the clip. It’s here if you’d like to see it.)

There are multiple factors to determine which pitcher is the better option for fantasy players and is likely to be better for his respective team on the field.

Let’s take a look.

Minor league success/failure.

Bard was a terrible starter in the minors—stats.

Feliz was a good starter in the minors—stats.

Obviously that doesn’t mean that either pitcher is going to be good or bad as a starter in the big leagues, but the best determinative factor in how a player will do in the future is how he did in the past.

Feliz, as a starter in the Braves and Rangers organizations put up excellent stats across the board with a low ERA regularly under 3, massive strikeout/innings pitched numbers and good control.

Bard was not good as a starting pitcher.

He had no idea where the ball was going; he walked far more batters that innings pitched; he didn’t strike anyone out.

As relievers, both were good. Feliz was able to handle closing whereas Bard wasn’t. Once he moved to the bullpen in Double-A, Bard was lights out. He racked up the strikeouts, threw strikes and had excellent hits/innings pitched ratios.

The main difference is this: Bard was bad as a starter and good as a reliever but unable to close; Feliz was good as a starter and a closer in the big leagues for a team that won back-to-back pennants.

Stuff.

Bard and Feliz both have the aresnal to be good starting pitchers.

Bard has a high-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup. As a reliever, the changeup was rarely used but he’ll have to use it as a starter. It’s a touch-and-feel pitch that requires timing, concentration, the same fastball arm action and command.

Feliz has a high-90s four seam fastball, a sinker, a cutter, a changeup and a slider. It’s a starter’s repertoire.

Injury history.

Health wise, Bard hasn’t had any issues in his three years in the big leagues; Feliz on the other hand missed two weeks in late April-early May of the 2011 season with shoulder inflammation possibly caused by the haphazard non-decision of “will he start or relieve?” the Rangers pulled in spring training of 2011.

The Rangers are generally savvy and gutsy with their pitchers, but the wishy-washy “we’ll let him start in the spring, then decide” was absurd. Now, with Joe Nathan onboard, the decision was smartly made in the winter for Feliz to start, period.

Limits.

The Rangers and Red Sox aren’t going to push either pitcher too hard, but the Rangers are more flexible with their innings limits and pitch counts than the Red Sox are.

It’s been an ongoing debate as to which club’s development apparatus is better. The Red Sox build their pitchers up gradually; the Rangers push their young starters deeper into games with higher pitch counts.

It’s hard to argue with either given their success rates. The Red Sox developed both Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz using their techniques and gradual buildups; the Rangers have developed Matt Harrison and Derek Holland and they’ve converted Alexi Ogando and C.J. Wilson from the bullpen to the rotation successfully.

The Red Sox moved Derek Lowe from the bullpen to the rotation, but that was ten years ago and it was before the new, stat/study-heavy regime took command.

If you’re looking for greater depth, Feliz is more likely to pitch 180 innings than Bard is. Bard will be handled very carefully. Feliz will be free form.

Team needs.

The Rangers are deep enough in their rotation—even with the departure of Wilson—to keep an eye on Feliz and not feel the need to bend the rules in order to win.

The Red Sox aren’t in that position. Their rotation is notoriously short after Josh Beckett and Lester. Buchholz is returning from a fracture in his back and they’re having an audition for the fifth starter between foundlings, journeyman and eventually Daisuke Matsuzaka.

With the way both teams are constructed, that the Rangers are more cohesive and organized and the Red Sox still in the middle of what can only be described as chaos, it’s clear that the better choice and higher immediate upside is Feliz.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide is now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book is now available on Kindle, Smashwords and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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