Angels' Wilson was nearly a Marlin
To this day, the Miami Marlins believe they had little chance of preventing free-agent left-hander C.J. Wilson from returning to his native Southern California.
Little do the Marlins know, Wilson came within perhaps 15 minutes of taking their offer instead of agreeing to a five-year, $77.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
According to Wilson, his agent, Bob Garber and Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, here is how the deal went down:
Wilson flew to Dallas, the site of the winter meetings, on Wednesday, Dec. 7, landing at about 7:45 p.m. The Marlins had offered him a six-year contract. The Angels had stopped communicating. Wilson told his agent, Bob Garber, that he would sign with the Marlins if he didn’t hear back from the Angels by 9:30.
Fine idea, except for one thing.
The Angels were preoccupied with signing free-agent first baseman Albert Pujols.
Dipoto’s phone went dead at one point as he took an underground path from his tower at the Hilton Anatole to the tower where Pujols’ agent, Dan Lozano, was staying.
Garber sent Dipoto a text saying, “We need an answer, or we’re moving in another direction. We’re ready to take the Marlins’ offer.”
At the moment Dipoto saw the text, he was sitting in Lozano’s suite, hammering out the final details of Pujols’ deal.
“Just give me a half-hour,” Dipoto told Garber. “I’m in the middle of something right now, we’ll get this taken care of.”
At that point, the Angels had only offered Wilson four years.
Garber texted, “Five years, yes or no.”
“Five years, yes,” Dipoto responded.
That exchange took place around 9:15, or about 15 minutes before Wilson’s deadline. But the two sides still weren’t done, not even close. They had yet to talk dollars.
Dipoto, after finishing with Lozano, arrived in Garber’s room at around 11:30. The two began negotiating in earnest, but after a good amount of back-and-forth, Garber and Wilson asked Dipoto if they could resume in the morning.
Dipoto, knowing how close he already had come to losing Wilson, wasn’t about to give the Marlins another opening.
“If I leave,” the first-year GM said, “the deal’s off the table.”
That was the last thing Wilson wanted. Dipoto stayed. The talks continued. And sometime around 5 a.m. — it may have been 5:30 — the two sides completed the deal.
Wilson, 31, was going back to SoCal — he was born in Newport Beach and attended Fountain Valley High School, Santa Ana Junior College and Loyola Marymount University.
When he informed Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria of his decision the following morning, he said that Loria responded, “Is there anything I can do to change your mind?”
The answer was no, but Wilson had been impressed by Loria, by the Marlins’ new ballpark, by the culture change the team was trying to achieve.
Loria, in turn, had been impressed by Wilson.
“He had a lot of outside interests, which I kind of found intriguing,” Loria said. “He’s obviously a very bright guy. I’m always attracted to bright people, especially when they’re athletes.”
Loria said that Wilson was “very fair” with the Marlins, but the owner and other team officials always saw themselves as a longshot.
“It’s hard to take a kid out of his neighborhood,” Loria said.
The Marlins came close — closer than they know.
REST ‘EM, JOE
Yankees manager Joe Girardi is showing much more diligence this season in using third baseman Alex Rodriguez, 36, and shortstop Derek Jeter, 37, as designated hitters.
Rodriguez served as DH for the second time on Saturday; he did not fill that role last season until April 26. Jeter was a DH in the Yankees’ second game; he did not appear in that spot until May 12 a year ago.
Girardi said he asks himself, “How many days can I go without giving them a day off? How many days can I go if there are DH days in there?”
Rather than use a set schedule, Girardi said he relies on “feel.” He and his coaches can detect changes in a player’s swing or defensive movements that indicate a day as a DH might be helpful.
Rodriguez, for example, was drawing walks even as he slumped early in the season, but he had a poor offensive game Wednesday, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a popup against Orioles right-hander Jake Arrieta before hitting a single off reliever Luis Ayala.
Arrieta is the Orioles’ best starter, but Rodriguez also was playing for the sixth straight day and perhaps slowing down. The Yankees were off the next day, and A-Rod looked quite refreshed on Friday, going 3-for-4 with a home run. He went 0-for-4 as the DH on Saturday.
HERE COMES ALBERT
The Angels were not surprised to see Pujols go 2-for-5 on Saturday with an RBI double. Pujols worked off a tee before Friday’s game, and hitting coach Mickey Hatcher noticed immediate results — Pujols just missed a home run and hit a bullet to shortstop while going 1-for-4.
Hatcher said that working off the tee helps Pujols create better balance, allow the ball to travel deeper and get his hands square and quicker through the zone. Pujols understands his swing so well, he gives Hatcher certain “keys” to monitor — the height of his hands, for example.
“I don’t know if you’ll find a more efficient swing other than Paul Molitor, someone like that,” Scioscia said. “And Molitor couldn’t do what (Pujols) does in the box.”
THE YANKEES’ SECRET WEAPON
Right-hander David Phelps’ impressive 5 1/3 innings of relief Saturday underscored a hidden strength of the Yankees — pitching depth.
That depth goes beyond right-hander Michael Pineda and lefty Andy Pettitte, neither of whom is in the current rotation, and beyond righty Dellin Betances and lefty Manuel Banuelos, the team’s top pitching prospects.
Phelps, who has now allowed one run in eight innings, beat out Triple A righties Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell for the long reliever’s job. None of the three figures to become more than a back-of-the-rotation starter, but ask the Boston Red Sox — such pitchers are valuable.
Banuelos and Betances, the more ballyhooed youngsters, are off to rocky starts at Triple A; Banuelos just landed on the DL with a lattisimus muscle problem in his back. The Yankees expect him to miss only one turn, however, and envision him possibly serving as a lefty reliever in the second half.
A lighter note on the young pitchers: Girardi said that Phelps and Mitchell threw the exact number of pitches in spring training — he thought the number was 274. Girardi said he told pitching coach Larry Rothschild, “They can’t accuse of you not giving them both a fair shot.”
THE TRUMBO RULES
Some Angels fans are grumbling on Twitter that they want Mark Trumbo to get more consistent playing time to ease his transition from first to third base.
That, however, was never the team’s plan.
The Angels expect Trumbo to play only 40 to 60 games at third, and they will pick their spots when to use him. Trumbo has not started either game pitched by Wilson, a left-handed groundball pitcher. But he figures to play often behind righties Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, flyball pitchers who — according to the Angels’ charts — rarely allow grounders to third.
Trumbo, in addition to playing third, will spell Pujols at first, Kendrys Morales at DH and also play the corner-outfield positions. The Angels’ goal: To get him 400 to 500 at-bats, any way they can.
TORII: IT’S ABOUT WINNING
Angels right fielder Torii Hunter, a free agent at the end of the season, doesn’t want to be one of those older outfielders who struggles to find work on the open market.
Hunter, who turns 37 on July 18, lost 16 pounds during the offseason in an effort to remain agile and athletic. He would prefer to stay with the Angels, but Wells is under contract through 2014, Peter Bourjos is set in center and the Angels eventually need to make room for top prospect Mike Trout. Trumbo also could move to the outfield if he fails to master third base.
“They know I want to be here,” Hunter said, referring to Angels management. “It’s not about that. It’s not about me. I’m thinking about winning.”
WHY WE LOVE JETER, CHAPTER 3,612
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is off to a red-hot start, but when I asked a rival scout about him the other day, the scout raved instead about one of those unselfish plays that seems to define Jeter.
The play occurred in the sixth inning of Monday’s game against the Orioles, with the Yankees leading, 5-1. Jeter already had three hits, but rather than swing away with runners on first and second and none out, he laid down a sacrifice bunt to create an RBI opportunity for the hitters behind him.
Some people get tired of hearing about Jeter. Baseball people don’t get tired of talking about him.
AROUND THE HORN
•The Yankees signed Andruw Jones before last season because he mashes left-handed pitching, but GM Brian Cashman has come to view Jones as a special person, the same kind of clubhouse presence that Tony Clark and John Flaherty were for previous Yankee teams.
Jones stays ready, cheers his teammates from the bench, enjoys popularity in all corners of the room. Case in point: He frequently goes out with Jeter and trained in the offseason with A-Rod.
“I’m a neutral guy,” Jones said. “I get along with everyone.”
• Raul Ibanez isn’t a strong defender in either corner-outfield spot, but Girardi likes the flexibility he offers.
If center fielder Curtis Granderson is the DH, Girardi can slide Brett Gardner to center and play Ibanez in left.
Ibanez can play right when Nick Swisher is the DH, or when Mark Teixeira is the DH and Swisher is at first.
• Angels left fielder Vernon Wells hit his second home run on Saturday, but Sciosica had some interesting comments on him before the game.
“He’s got to be a hitter again first instead of treating it like a driving range,” Scioscia said. “This guy is a good hitter. Last year he hit 25 home runs but hit (.218). He’s a much better hitter than that.
“At first, for him, let’s get simple. Become a hitter first. As you get more comfortable, the ball will come off the bat again.”
• And finally, Granderson will wear special shoes Sunday night in honor of Jackie Robinson Day.
The shoes, which will feature the Robinson day logo on the back and No. 42 on the tongue, will be auctioned off at a later date. All proceeds will go to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, Granderson said.
Granderson is one of the few college graduates in the majors. To hear more from him on the importance of education, check out the video interview I did with him (at right) on Saturday.