Yes, the Angels need a first baseman. But they also need better production out of every other infield position, left field, right and designated hitter – not to mention a more consistent rotation and significantly improved bullpen.
“I’m not sure even with Kendry Morales they were as good as they thought they were,” one American League general manager says.
There is no shortage of candidates to replace Morales, who will miss most or all of the season after breaking his lower left leg. But one upgrade for this team, even in a division full of questions, never was going to be enough.
The Angels generally operate with prudence, rarely parting with top prospects or trading for big-dollar contracts. Baseball America describes their farm system as “on the mend,” but both the Rangers and A’s are deeper in young talent.
One rival general manager says he expects the Angels to make the easiest possible move and sign free agent Jermaine Dye. The Angels had interest in Dye before they signed Hideki Matsui last offseason, but that was as a DH. Dye, 36, has not played since last October, and made only one career appearance at first.
The White Sox’s Paul Konerko is earning $12 million, just slightly less than Mark Teixeira was when the Angels acquired him for the final months of 2008. But the trade market figures to include plenty of lower-cost possibilities – Adam LaRoche, Russell Branyan, Mike Lowell (with the Red Sox paying most of his salary).
The best solution for the team might be to find a short-term backup catcher and continue using Mike Napoli at first and Bobby Wilson at catcher until Jeff Mathis returns from a broken bone in his right wrist. Such a plan would leave the Angels flexible enough to make other moves – say, for a starting pitcher or bullpen help.
Even with Morales, the Angels needed more out of Matsui, more out of Bobby Abreu, more out of Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick and whoever was playing third base.
First base is not the only area of concern.
A WALKOFF THAT NEARLY FELLED ROY O.
Astros general manager Ed Wade, reflecting on the injury to Morales, says right-hander Roy Oswalt had his own scary moment while celebrating a walkoff homer by Carlos Lee on May 5.
Oswalt, Wade says, was standing behind pitcher Bud Norris as the Astros prepared to greet Lee. Norris reared back as Lee crossed the plate and caught Oswalt’s thumb.
Oswalt, walking back to the clubhouse, told pitching coach Brad Arnsberg that he thought his thumb was broken. It wasn’t, but Oswalt was sore for some time afterward.
“We’ve got to go back to the old days where everyone just shook hands and walked off the field,” Wade says.
MEMO TO CHARLIE MANUEL
We all love Roy Halladay, but it’s difficult to love his 290-inning pace.
Halladay’s previous high of 266 innings was in 2003, and the next season he made only 21 starts because of shoulder trouble.
Now Halladay is 33, and the Phillies will pay him $20 million per season from 2011 to ’13. His 110.9 pitches per start not only leads the NL, but also would represent a career high.
Justin Verlander leads the majors with 112.9 pitches per start.
BIG PAPI REBORN
One rival GM offers an interesting take on Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, describing him as a “totally different human being.”
“Before, you’d throw him three fastballs 91 or above, and maybe a breaking ball in the dirt to get a check swing because he was cheating so badly,” the GM says. “The only thing he would hit was an 88-mph sinker.
“Now guys go up and in on him and he’s turning on it like it’s 2004. His bat is lightning right now. It’s the biggest turnaround I’ve ever seen.”
CARDINALS: IN NEED OF A STARTER?
The Cardinals believe their rotation will be fine if right-hander Brad Penny recovers as quickly as they expect from a muscle strain in his upper back.
Still, the extended loss of right-hander Kyle Lohse leaves the Cardinals vulnerable, and it would not be a surprise to see the club add a starting pitcher.
Rookie left-hander Jaime Garcia threw only 38 innings last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. The team will monitor his innings and pitch counts carefully; Garcia already has thrown 55 1/3 innings, and has exceeded 100 pitches in only two of nine starts.
The Cardinals will attempt to patch the loss of Lohse internally, but they also might need an occasional fill-in for Garcia – and that’s assuming that Chris Carpenter stays healthy.
While the Cardinals possess the flexibility to add payroll, they will be reluctant to trade prospects after moving a total of seven in deals for Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa and Khalil Greene since December 2008.
They gave up infielder Brett Wallace, the Blue Jays’ top young hitter, in the Holliday deal; dealt right-hander Chris Perez to the Indians for DeRosa; and sent righty Luke Gregerson to the Padres in the Greene trade.
Here’s a thought for the Cardinals, though it is merely speculation: White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle, a native of St. Charles, Mo., who always has wanted to pitch for his hometown team.
The White Sox, eight games back in the AL Central, would not necessarily concede by trading Buehrle; they could replace him in their rotation with Triple A right-hander Dan Hudson.
Buerhle gains full no-trade protection on July 15, but the bigger obstacle would be the money remaining on his contract – the balance of his $14 million salary this season and another $14 million next season.
LEAKE, AND NO LETUP, IN CINCINNATI
Reds GM Walt Jocketty acknowledged over the weekend that the team eventually will need to back off rookie right-hander Mike Leake, who is 4-0 with a 2.45 ERA in nine starts.
Leake averages 14.9 pitches per inning, eighth-lowest in the NL. But this is his first professional season, and the promotion of left-hander Aroldis Chapman and/or return of right-hander Edinson Volquez from Tommy John surgery would enable the Reds to create breaks in Leake’s schedule.
“He makes very few mistakes in the middle,” Astros GM Ed Wade says of Leake. “For a young guy, it seems like he has a plan. He’s not going to run any radar-gun readings up. But he’s also not going to run up a lot of high pitch counts.”
CUBS’ CASTRO: THE NEW KID IN TOWN
Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano, in addition to reviving his own career, is serving as shortstop Starlin Castro’s host in Chicago; the two are living together and sharing meals in Soriano’s three-bedroom apartment.
“I want to show him the right way. I want to make him comfortable,” Soriano says of Castro, who is 20. “If he’s comfortable, he can help the team more.”
Soriano remembers how difficult he had it when at Castro’s age — he was a minor leaguer with the Hiroshima Carp in Japan.
Cubs bench coach Alan Trammell reached the majors at an even younger age than Castro – he was 19 when the Tigers promoted him from Double A with second baseman Lou Whitaker in September 1977.
Trammell says he mostly just concentrated on playing defense, and that Castro is ahead of where he was offensively.
SILVA: ALL-STAR BOUND?
The Cubs had minimal expectations for right-hander Carlos Silva after acquiring him for Milton Bradley; they thought there was a small chance that Silva could be their No. 5 starter, a much greater chance that he would be nothing more than a long reliever.
Silva, though, met pitching coach Larry Rothschild for a bullpen session at Northwestern University while in town for the Cubs’ winter convention, and the two hit it off immediately.
Rothschild, who had studied video of Silva, suggested mechanical changes. Silva appreciates that the Cubs focus more on his pitching than his weight. But Rothschild modestly downplays his role, saying that Silva, more than anything, just needed a change.
Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik concurs, saying, “We didn’t see any flashes of him doing what he’s doing now. It just didn’t feel like it was going to work here.”
Maybe not, and Silva, like so many other pitchers, certainly benefited from the move from the AL to the NL. But now that Silva is 7-0 with a 3.12 ERA, the Mariners need to ask, “Where did we go wrong?”
SURPRISING ‘D’ FROM MARINERS’ LOPEZ
The Mariners’ Jose Lopez, after moving from second to third base, ranks first in two advanced defensive metrics – Ultimate Zone Rating (Lopez is tied with the Angels’ Brandon Wood) and the plus-minus rating on billjames.com.
Chone Figgins, after moving from third to second, rates near the bottom of both metrics, though Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik praises the way Figgins turns double plays and the “many little things he does.”
Some believe that UZR is best judged over a three-year period. But Zduriencik says that Lopez, while an offensive disappointment, has indeed adapted well to third.
“He’s making all the plays – backhand plays, going to his left real well,” Zduriencik says. “If he was on pace to hit 25 home runs like he did a year ago, you’d be talking a lot about this guy right now.”
Lopez has hit only two homers. His .550 OPS is the sixth lowest in the majors.
AROUND THE HORN
• A scout says of the Yankees, “They aren’t real good right now; they’ve got a lot of backup types in their lineup.”
Catcher Francisco Cervelli, the principal replacement for injured catcher Jorge Posada, is 7-for-37; Posada could be back this week.
Johnny Damon, meanwhile, continues to be missed. Left fielder Brett Gardner is 5-for-33, and the loss of designated hitter Nick Johnson creates another offensive hole.
The Yankees, in addition to looking for another bat, likely will seek bullpen help as well, even if right-hander Alfredo Aceves avoids back surgery.
• Things are not getting easier for the Diamondbacks, who are discussing internally the possibility of trading right-hander Dan Haren or Edwin Jackson.
The D-Backs’ next 10 series are against teams with winning records. They will face the Dodgers and Cardinals twice as well as the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays in inter-league play.
By the time the run ends July 4, the D-Backs could be clear sellers.
• Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday finally is getting hot, but doesn’t exactly deny that he has pressed to justify his seven-year, $120 million free-agent contract.
“You get a commitment from the team, you want to make good on it,” he says. “You try hard. It’s one of those things that probably is counter-productive, if you’re trying too hard.
“The bottom line is, you’ve got to go out there and get good pitches to hit. You worry about results, you get away from yourself.”
• Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd was roommates with Carlos Silva when the two played for the Phillies’ Double A Reading affiliate in 2001.
Silva, Byrd recalls, was “intense.” Astros right-hander Brett Myers was their other roommate, and Byrd says all they talked about was getting to the majors.
Silva made it first, Myers second, Byrd third.
• Once the Marlins promote Mike Stanton, they likely will use him in both left field and right.
Cody Ross will stay in right when Cameron Maybin is in center and shift to center when Chris Coghlan is in left.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez has said that Stanton will hit second or seventh.
• Some scouts remain skeptical of Buster Posey’s ability to handle the Giants’ pitching staff.
“He doesn’t move very good back there,” one scout says. “He’s not a receiver, he’s more a retriever. He’s adequate at best behind the plate – at best.”
The Giants plan to continue using Bengie Molina as their regular catcher. Posey, 6-for-9 in his first two games, will get the majority of his playing time at first base.
• Brewers GM Doug Melvin says rookie catcher Jonathan Lucroy reminds him of former major-league catcher Terry Steinbach.
Lucroy will make good contact, hit the ball in the gaps, produce maybe 8 to 10 homers per season. Steinbach had one season of 35 homers, but his next-highest total was 16.
• Cubs manager Lou Piniella is high on left-hander James Russell, who remained with the club even after the promotion of right-hander Andrew Cashner; the Cubs placed lefty John Grabow on the disabled list instead.
“I would put him in the rotation and let this kid pitch if we needed him,” Piniella says.
• One to watch: Jonathan Singleton, a first baseman for the Phillies at Single A. Singleton, a left-handed hitter, boasts a 1.146 OPS in his first full year of pro ball.
One scout says Singleton is “the best high school hitter I’ve seen since Ian Stewart in the South Atlantic League . . . and prior to him, Manny Ramirez.”
Sounds like trade bait; Ryan Howard is under contract through 2016.