By Ross Newhan
With each clutch, Bunyanesque hit during the post-season, with each base stealer thrown out (and everyone in Anaheim remembers how bad a defensive catrcher he was supposed to be, as the Angels alleged), the albatross that was the trading of Mike Napoli tighens around the necks of Arte Moreno, Tony Reagins and Mike Scioscia.
It doesn't matter who does the finger pointing among the three or in which direction the finger is pointed, Napoli simply keeps hammering it in, driving the division rival Texas Rangers toward a World Series title, and this could be painful to the Angels for more than one year and in more than one way.
First of all, catchers with Napoli's offensive prowess (he hit 66 homers in three seasons--two of which were part-time--with the Angels) and 30 with the Rangers this year aren't hanging from every tree or easily apparent on every big league roster. There's Brian McCann of Atlanta, OK. After that, Joe Mauer is probably headed to first base in Minnesota, Geovanny Soto has not regained his 2008 Rookie of the Year form with the Chicago Cubs, Buster Posey of the Giants is recovering from a broken leg, Yadier Molina of the Cardinals is more defense than offense, and Jorge Posada of the Yankees is in the twighlight of an outstanding career and no longer a fulltime catcher. With Posey sidelined, the only young catcher that stirs a little Napoli imagination is Matt Wieters, who hit 22 homers and drove in 68 runs in his second full season as Baltimore's catcher, although the Angels will try to say that Hank Conger's promise (six homers in 197 at bats) was part of the reason Napoli was available.
Secondly, the Angels are burdened with three more years and $63 million of Vernon Wells' contract, and it is anyone's guess which direction Wells is headed after leaving Toronto. He kept looking for his lost form during sporadic trips to the Angels' bench and never found it in any kind of definitive way. He did end the season with 25 home runs, but he batted .218 with a sickly on base percentage of .248. Wells' financial burden could limit what the club's new leadership can do during the coming winter.
In the meantime, Napoli's post-season barrage, in the aftermath of a season in which he helped the Rangers leave the Angels 10 games back in what is essentially a two team division, has Angel fans shaking their heads and some legitimately asking if Napoli's departure surpasses the departure of Nolan Ryan as the worst mistake in Angel history. Ryan left after the 1979 season when owner Gene Autry and general manager Buzzie Bavasi refused to meet his free agent demand of $1 million. Ryan had thrown four no-hitters with the Angels and set a single season strike out record as a workhorse drawing card. He would go on to pitch 14 more years, throw three more no-hitters and finish with a record 5,714 strike outs and 324 wins.
Bavasi, who passed away recently, sent Ryan a wire as he continued to enhance his Angels statistics, first with Houston and then with Texas, that read: "I have already said that not re-signing you was my biggest mistake. You don't have to keep rubbing it in." As Napoli rubs it in, Fox cameras have been sending nightly views of Ryan, now the Texas co-owner, cheering on his catcher--a double dose of sad longing for Angel fans.
We are in the process of re-designing this blog site.
My son, the former major leaguer David Newhan, was sharing the site and doing some outstanding blogs when we first got started, but he now coaches in the San Diego Padres system and has a baseball academy in the Carlsbad area in the off-season.
For more information on that you can check DavidNewhan.com.