December 2007

The Return of Dallas McPherson


Dallas McPherson with a broken wrist plays catch at Provo in 2001.

FutureAngels.com was there last September when Dallas McPherson began his long journey back to the big leagues. Dallas made his first rehab appearance on September 21 in a game at the Chicago Cubs’ complex in Mesa. The next day, against the Milwaukee Brewers’ instructional team in a home game at Tempe, Dallas homered in front of a crowd of … well, a couple dozen first-year players with dreams of a major league career.

I got Dallas’ homer on video. Click Here to watch. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection.

I’ve always been intrigued by Dallas’ career. I met him in 2001 at Provo. He was injured, having suffered a broken left wristplaying first base. A runner dove back into his arm on a pickoff play. Dallas was wearing a sling, but he was out in the field playing catch because he was so antsy to play. He left for home a couple days later, but watching him play catch in a sling was enough to tell me this is a guy who doesn’t give up easily.

Dallas suffered a lower back injury in the spring of 2003, but there was no reason to think it signalled a slow downward spiral. He reported a month late to Rancho Cucamonga, where on July 15 he hit a homer off a rehabbing Randy Johnson who was pitching for Lancaster. (I filmed that too; Click Here to watch.) McPherson ended 2003 with 23 homers and a late-season promotion to Arkansas. In 2004, Dallas hit 20 homers in Arkansas, another 20 for Salt Lake, and made his major league debut. The Angels let Troy Glaus walk as a free agent that winter, assuming Dallas was ready to go.

Three years later, McPherson has suffered one setback after another, enduring increasingly invasive surgeries hoping to correct the problem. The last surgery in January kept him out of action nine months, and he all but disappeared off the baseball radar.

In today’s Riverside Press-Enterprise, Angels beat writer Matt Hurst published an article about Dallas’ fall rehab. Hurst quoted McPherson:

"(My back) did better than I thought and better than a lot of other people thought," he said. "I was able play in back-to-back games, the end of games. The biggest thing is testing it out for five or six days in a row with a travel day in between, but we can’t test it until we get there."

Hurst wrote that "The Angels’ medical staff requested McPherson, who hit a combined 43 home runs in 2004, not play immediately in any winter league so he could continue to build up strength and stamina."

With Brandon Wood on the horizon, the Angels can’t afford to wait any longer for Dallas, but you can’t help but fantasize about a scenario that has a healthy McPherson at third base and Wood at shortstop. "Big Bat"?! There would be two of them.

Winter Meetings: Part 3


Baltazar Lopez was one of three Angels minor leaguers claimed in the Double-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft.

The big news today was … there was no big news.

It was get-away day for most GMs. Unlike a generation ago, these days the winter meetings are not one big long tradefest. GMs have their own separate meeting about a month earlier, and all thirty of them no doubt carry cell phones, so there’s no reason to wait until arriving at the hotel to have a conversation.

The only action involving the Angels was the Rule 5 Draft. As mentioned yesterday, there are actually three phases — the well-known major league phase, then the Triple-A phase, and finally the Double-A phase. Unlike the major league phase, for the minor league phases the player doesn’t have to be protected. A player chosen in the Triple-A phase draws $25,000 in compensation for his prior team; the Double-A phase nets $12,500.

The Angels lost three players in the Double-A phase, none of whom even played in the system in 2007. All three played on loan in the Mexican League.

First baseman Baltazar Lopez had an AVG/OBP/SLG of .296/.356/.471 over 63 games playing left field for Guasave. Baseball America ranked him the Angels’ #12 prospect in their 2005 Prospect Handbook, which at the time I thought was a real reach. Lopez was suspended for steroid use in April 2005.

Another casualty of the steroids investigation was right-handed pitcher Francisco Cordova. Also playing for Guasave, Cordova was 2-3 with a 4.31 in 14 games (13 starts) this year. He had a 28:30 SO:BB ratio in 56.1 IP.

The third player was right-handed pitcher Rafael Cruz Chavez. In 17 games (eight starts), he was 3-2 with a 3.88 ERA. In 67.1 IP he had a SO:BB ratio of 25:8.

I must admit that I’m a bit surprised in that I haven’t seen the usual rants demanding the Angels’ GM be fired for not getting "something" for unprojected organization players. Maybe they’re too busy ranting about Miguel Cabrera.

Meanwhile, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times had a nice article about Brandon Wood. When his cell phone showed the number calling had a 714 area code, Woody thought he’d been traded, but it was only the reporter calling. Brandon is one of the least pretentious players I’ve ever met.

Regarding his short stint in the Mexican League, Brandon left early due to the death of his grandmother. When he returned from the funeral, Guasave had activated another foreigner and there was no room for Wood, so he was released.

The only other news of consequence was that Gary Matthews Jr. won’t be suspended for HGH use due to insufficient evidence. Former Angels Troy Glaus and Scott Schoeneweis also escaped the hangman’s noose, but Jose Guillen and Jay Gibbons received 15-day suspensions.

In closing … For those looking for Angels minor league photos, I have two Rancho Cucamonga games left and the three fall instructional league games I shot in September, then all my 2007 photos will be on-line in the FutureAngels.com Digital Photo Gallery.

Winter Meetings: Part 2


According to one media report, the talks with Florida collapsed when the Angels took Howie Kendrick off the table.

The Marlins and Tigers made it official, executing the eight-player transaction that sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit for six young players.

Los Angeles Times beat writer Mike DiGiovanna reports that the Angels’ negotiations with Florida collapsed when the Angels took Howie Kendrick off the table. If you’ll recall, Angels owner Arte Moreno complained to the press that he thought the Angels twice had a deal done, only to have the Marlins renege. Marlins GM Larry Beinfest took issue today with that claim, although other teams also complained the Marlins were playing them against each other.

In yesterday’s blog, I speculated the Angels might be interested in Twins’ closer Joe Nathan. DiGiovanna reports, "Reagins spoke to Minnesota GM Bill Smith again Wednesday, ‘but not about starting pitching,’ he said. The two discussed Santana last week, but the Angels are not pursuing him aggressively."

There’s that odd phrase again.

Why did Reagins twice state they didn’t talk about "starting pitching"? Why not just say "pitching"?

Yesterday’s MLB.com article reporting Nathan was available indicated moving Nathan might come after Johan Santana’s situation is resolved. Media reports yesterday suggested the Twins and Red Sox had a tentative deal, but the latest reports suggest that deal isn’t imminent. One of the Boston players named in that trade was center fielder Coco Crisp.

If that deal doesn’t happen, then the Twins may look elsewhere for a CF. The Angels have several possible candidates — Reggie Willits, Nathan Haynes, and Terry Evans. Some will suggest Gary Matthews Jr., but he has a no-trade clause through 2009 and no incentive to waive it, especially since he’s building a new home in Newport Beach. Matthews will have a full-time job again after 2008, since Garret Anderson’s contract will expire and it’s unlikely he’ll be re-signed.

Of course, one of those three alone will not acquire Joe Nathan, so the Angels may need to add more. But as I wrote yesterday, once they have Nathan they can dangle Frankie Rodriguez, who like Nathan will be a free agent after 2008.

Mike Scioscia, meanwhile, told the press this afternoon what I’ve been saying for months — all the Angels really need to do is stay healthy, and they’ll have that "big bat" everyone wants.

Asked about the club’s inability to pry loose Cabrera from the Marlins, Scioscia said, "The cost was much higher to us as to where we were going to be. I think the balance of what they were looking for and what we could give up and still be the type of ballclub we feel we are was just something that couldn’t be met.

"Our offense right now, if nothing else happens, is deep enough to do what we need to do."

Keeping first baseman Casey Kotchman and second baseman Howard Kendrick healthy — injuries cost both players chunks of the 2007 season — "can easily add up to more than one more big bat," Scioscia said.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Oh, wait a minute, I did.

Coming up tomorrow … the Rule 5 Draft. Not many people know there are actually multiple levels of the draft, the commonly known major league version and two minor league phases. In the latter, there’s no requirement to keep the player on a major league roster for a year; the player’s former employer simply gets a cash compensation. Watch BaseballAmerica.com tomorrow for Rule 5 updates.


UPDATE 9:00 PM PSTThe Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports:

The Angels, who have power-hitting infield prospect Brandon Wood, weren’t involved in [Johan] Santana talks as of Wednesday afternoon. But the teams had met to talk about other Los Angeles players. The Twins need a center fielder, and the Angels have two available in Reggie Willits and Gary Matthews Jr.

As I said upstream, Matthews has a no-trade clause.

Winter Meetings: Part 1


Joe Nathan pitches for the Giants in the spring of 2003.

It looks like Autryism has been averted for one day, as the Detroit Tigers agreed to flush their future to acquire Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Florida Marlins. Good luck signing those guys in their free agent years.

A rumor made the rounds earlier in the day that the Angels had made a bid for Twins ace Johan Santana, but Angels GM Tony Reagins squelched that rumor.

"We haven’t had any discussions with regard to adding starting pitching," Reagins told MLB.com’s Lyle Spencer. But he did acknowledge discussions with the Twins. Spencer wrote, "Reagins did speak with new Twins general manager Bill Smith on Monday, as the four-day Winter Meetings commenced, but he claimed Santana’s name did not surface in the conversation."

I’m going to speculate that they talked about Twins closer Joe Nathan.

MLB.com ran a story that the Twins might be shopping Nathan, who’s a free agent after 2008. Reagins said he and GM Smith hadn’t talked about "starting pitching." Well, what about relief pitching?

According to the MLB.com article, Nathan (who turned 33 last month) will be paid $6 million for 2008, making him an affordable commodity. Angels owner Arte Moreno has said the Angels are already over budget for 2008.

I wrote in my October 9 blog that I thought the Angels should move Francisco Rodriguez this winter. Frankie made $7 million in 2007 and is up for arbitration this winter, so he’ll certainly make more than Nathan. Rodriguez will be a free agent after 2008, and personally I have strong doubts he’ll sign an extension with the Angels. Frankie is an increasingly unstable personality on the mound, as demonstrated by his having "no game plan" facing Manny Ramirez in Game #2 of the ALDS playoffs, surrendering a walkoff homer that essentially sank the Angels’ hopes to advance in the post-season.

At the time, I suggested the Angels pursue Mariano Rivera if he hit the free agent market, but he’s returned to the Yankees. I also thought Troy Percival might help the bullpen depth, but he signed a two-year deal to join Joe Madden in Tampa Bay.

So if the Angels can swing a trade for Nathan, it’ll free up Rodriguez for a deal. Package Frankie with a spare starting pitcher and other teams will come flocking to Reagins’ suite door.

Reagins also told Spencer he’d had no contact with Baltimore, so I think the Miguel Tejada deal is moribund for now.

What would Minnesota want from the Angels in exchange for Nathan? I’ve no idea. I don’t follow the Twins. But he’ll sure be a heckuva lot cheaper than Cabrera or Tejada.

This article is copyright © 2007 Stephen C. Smith DBA FutureAngels.com. It may not be reprinted elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author. To obtain permission, e-mail Stephen at home@futureangels.com.

Autryism


Howie Kendrick is rumored to be one of the players demanded by Florida in exchange for Miguel Cabrera.

Au · try · ism [aw - tree - iz - uhm] -noun 1. Failure to stick to a long-term plan. 2. Overpaying for aging free agents. 3. Trading one or more top prospects to acquire a famous or well-liked ballplayer. [Origin: 1961-1996]


The Angels head for the winter meetings in Nashville apparently bent on making the same mistakes that inflicted four decades of futility on their long-suffering fans.

Gene Autry, the team’s first owner, was a country singer and serial Western actor who bought the American League’s expansion franchise in Los Angeles scheduled to begin play in 1961. He’d gone to the December 1960 winter meetings in St. Louis intent on acquiring the radio rights from whomever got the franchise, but left town with the franchise in his pocket.

Autry’s public persona kept him popular with Angels fandom while the team failed to achieve any long-term success. He’d invest in "name" players who would attract paying customers even though they were beyond their best years.

After eleven seasons of futility, Autry lured Harry Dalton to Anaheim to build a productive farm system. Dalton had built a powerhouse Baltimore Orioles machine that contended almost every year from the late 1960s and far past his tenure into the early 1980s. After joining the Orioles in 1954, he worked his way up the organizational ladder including a stint as director of the farm system. When GM Lee MacPhail departed in 1965, Dalton succeeded him. During his tenure, the Orioles went to the World Series in 1966, 1969, 1970, and 1971. His first trade was to acquire outfielder Frank Robinson from Cincinnati in exchange for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun. Robinson is now in the Hall of Fame.

Dalton inherited from MacPhail a fertile farm system. In Anaheim, the cupboard was bare, so he methodically went about building the foundation for a productive minor league system. Dalton was patient, but Autry was not, as the parent club suffered through one of the worst eras in its history. After players won the right to take their free agency, Autry redirected his investments from player development into free agent acquisition. The Angels signed "stars" such as Joe Rudi, Bobby Grich and Don Baylor — the latter two former Baltimore Orioles who’d come up in their system under Dalton — but injuries and flops kept the Angels from post-season competition.

So after the 1977 season, Autry fired Dalton and brought in Buzzie Bavasi, a former Dodgers and Padres executive. Bavasi began trading off young talent to acquire "name" players. Some of those trades turned out to be pretty good moves, such as acquiring Rod Carew from the Twins for Brad Havens, Paul Hartzell, Dave Engle and Ken Landreaux. He also signed more free agent "name" players such as Reggie Jackson. While the Angels got close in 1979, 1982 and 1986, they could never get over the hump into the World Series. Meanwhile, as Autry’s money went into "names," the farm system slowly withered. In some years, they had as few as four minor league teams. When the "names" faded by the late 1980s, there was nothing left in the pipeline, and the Angels began a ten-year era of mediocrity.

Autry entered his 80s and the front-office mantra became "Win one for the Cowboy," so more short-sighted decisions led to feel-good trades that swapped young talent for fading "names." In 1982, they traded young outfield prospect Tom Brunansky to the Twins for veteran reliever Doug Corbett. In 1991, they traded young outfield prospect Dante Bichette for veteran outfielder Dave Parker. In 1992, they traded young pitcher Jim Abbott to the Yankees for Russ Springer, Jerry Nielsen and J.T. Snow. In 1996, his best years behind him, the Angels reacquired Abbott for Bill Simas, Andrew Lorraine, John Snyder and McKay Christensen. Fading veterans such as Fernando Valenzuela, Eddie Murray and Cecil Fielder were signed more as marquee attractions than for any substantive contributions they might make.

The Walt Disney Company acquired the Angels franchise in May 1996, but on the baseball side Autry’s people remained. Bill Bavasi, Buzzie’s son, became GM in January 1994 and kept the "country club" atmosphere that prevailed under Autry. Disney was more concerned with keeping the Angels in Anaheim than running the ballclub, so Bavasi was left to his own devices working within budget constraints that were left over from Autry’s last years when his wife was in charge trying to protect the dwindling family assets.

A decade later, Arte Moreno, the Angels’ third owner, heads for the winter meetings in Nashville with new general manager Tony Reagins in tow. Moreno is starting to show signs of Autryism.

Last week, the Angels signed free-agent outfielder Torii Hunter to a five-year $90 million contract. Even Hunter himself said the Angels overpaid, telling the media he would have signed for less.

But the more prominent symptom of Autryism is the apparent willingness to ship off a good chunk of the fertile farm system to Florida for Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera. Rumors are no more than that, so media reports of specific names should be treated skeptically, but Moreno himself has stated the Angels twice had a deal done with the Marlins, only to have Florida try to raise the ante by taking bids from other teams. The Angels have also reportedly inquired about Twins’ lefty Johan Santana, who can be a free agent after 2008.

The names most prominently mentioned are catcher Jeff Mathis, second baseman Howie Kendrick, third baseman Brandon Wood, pitcher Nick Adenhart, and outfielder Reggie Willits. No one can predict the future (not even the statheads who claim otherwise), and at age 25 next April Cabrera will be poised to enter his prime. But the Angels would be flushing the cream of their crop for one player, hoping that Cabrera doesn’t suffer a freakish injury as did Mo Vaughn in his 1999 Angels debut. Cabrera goes to arbitration this winter and will certainly improve on his 2007 salary of $7.4 million, but the nightmare scenario is that he takes his free agency after 2009 and the Angels will have had nothing but an expensive two-year rental. To keep him will probably require something like a seven-year $150 million package.

Meanwhile, all that young talent will be performing quite cheaply for the Marlins, who used that model to win world championships in 1997 and 2003. And money that the Angels could have invested in scouting and player development will be going to Hunter, Cabrera, and the inevitable contract extension for Vlad Guerrero.

Sure, the Angels will continue to contend for the next few years, and might even win more world titles. But when those aging players retire or no longer produce, there won’t be any talent left in the system because the Angels failed to properly invest in and protect their future. It could be 1987-1994 all over again. As those of us who went to sparsely attended Angels games in that era recall, the fickle fans will move on and the franchise will decline once more into mediocrity.

Media reports claim native Floridians Howie Kendrick and Jeff Mathis are already part of the Cabrera deal. I hope the fans clamoring for this trade will remember this when they see those two kids representing the National League in All-Star Games for many years to come.


UPDATE 3:45 PM PSTJon Heyman of Sports Illustrated reports the Angels “offered top young hitter Howie Kendrick, young catcher Jeff Mathis, one of two coveted young pitchers — Nick Adenhart or Ervin Santana — plus an additional pitcher prospect described as a "mid-level” talent” for Miguel Cabrera.

That’s not just overkill, that’s Autryism.

This article is copyright © 2007 Stephen C. Smith DBA FutureAngels.com. It may not be reprinted elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author. To obtain permission, e-mail Stephen at home@futureangels.com.

They’ll Manage

The Angels announced yesterday the 2008 coaching staffs for their minor league teams. Click the team’s name below for their official press release, except for Salt Lake which hasn’t posted its press release yet. I haven’t seen any information about Tempe, other than the Cedar Rapids press release said Ty Boykin would return to Tempe.

I’ve listed below who were the 2007 staffs too, so you can see who moved up and who moved on.

TEAM MANAGER HITTING COACH PITCHING COACH
2007 2008 2007 2008 2007 2008
SALT LAKE Brian Harper Bobby Mitchell Jim Eppard Jim Eppard Charles Nagy Erik Bennett
ARKANSAS Bobby Magallanes Bobby Magallanes Keith Johnson Eric Owens Erik Bennett Ken Patterson
RANCHO CUCAMONGA Bobby Mitchell Ever Magallanes Craig Grebeck Francisco Matos Ken Patterson Dan Ricabal
CEDAR RAPIDS Ever Magallanes Keith Johnson Eric Owens Damon Mashore Dan Ricabal Brandon Emanuel
OREM Tom Kotchman Tom Kotchman Francisco Matos Brent Del Chiaro Zeke Zimmerman Zeke Zimmerman
TEMPE Ty Boykin Ty Boykin **** Schofield **** Schofield Brandon Emanuel Trevor Wilson

UPDATE 11:30 AM PST — I just found the Angels official press release on AngelsBaseball.com announcing their 2008 coaching staffs, including the Tempe assignments, so I’ve updated the above table accordingly. The rovers remain the same as 2007.

The Minor League Game of the Week


Jeff Mathis was the starting catcher on April 26 when the Bees hosted Sacramento.

April 26, 2007 — The Salt Lake Bees host the Sacramento River Cats in a Pacific Coast League squareoff between the Triple-A affiliates of the Angels and the Oakland A’s.

Jeff Mathis and Joe Saunders, two names mentioned recently in trade rumors, are in the starting lineup. The game also features the first rehab appearance by Chone Figgins after breaking two fingers in spring training. Brandon Wood had just been called up to the big leagues, so Kendry Morales returned to Salt Lake and makes a critical pinch-hit appearance late in the game.

The webcast begins with a pre-game interview of Matt Brown by Bees broadcaster Steve Klauke.

Click Here to listen to the game. You need Windows Media Player to listen.

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