Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It's the Holidays: Credit Dipoto's Aggressiveness Amid Restrictions

      By Ross Newhan

      Caught between Arte Moreno's mandate to avoid the payroll luxury tax and the organization's unwillingness to lose a draft choice as compensation for signing a veteran and higher priced free agent, Angels general Jerry Dipoto addressed his rotation vacuum by pulling the trigger on his only real option.

       He traded his most dependable home run hitter, Mark Trumbo, to Arizona in a three team trade that netted a fourth starting pitcher and (potentially) a fifth.

       The acquisition of Hector Santiago, 25, from the Chicago White Sox and Tyler Skaggs, 22, from Arizona at the expense of Trumbo may intensify the gallows spotlight under which both Dipoto and manager Mike Scioscia are now operating, the result of a miserable 2013 and absence of a playoff in Anaheim since '09, but the GM hasn't hesitated, moving quickly to fill a third base vacancy (David Freese), bolster his bullpen (Joe Smith and Fernando Salas) and--with Tuesday's trade--economicaly address gaping holes at the back end of the rotation.

         Southpaw Santiago will definitely be there--behind Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards--and southpaw Skaggs might be, but if the moves of a winter programmed to keep the club payroll under $189 million fail to click, the memory of Trumbo and Peter Bourgos is likely to weigh heavily on a fan base not adverse to expressing its opinion.

          The home grown Trumbo led the Angels in home runs in each of his three seasons. He hit 34 last season with 100 RBI, and his 95 homers since 2011 are tied for fourth most in the major leagues. However, in 1,718 at bats he has also resembled Adam Dunn or Mark Reynolds, compiling (sort of)an on-base percentage of .299 with 465 strikeouts, including 184 in 2013.

          Primarily a first baseman and DH with the Angels, Trumbo will play a nervous left field with Arizona while possibly hitting 40 to 50 home runs given the cozier confines of Chase Field.

         The D-Backs were believed to be pursuing free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo before Trumbo became available. In facilitating the latter's acquisition, general manager Kevin Towers sent center fielder Adam Eaton to the White Sox for Santiago, who was then packaged with Skaggs, who alone would not have been enough to get Trumbo.

        "I liked the Angels part of it no matter how many home runs Trumbo hits," an American League scout told me. "Santiago can start or relieve, but as a full-time starter he can definitely win in double figures. He has a great changeup that makes his fastball better and he is really just getting his feet on the ground in the big leagues. I also still like Skaggs even though he lost his way some last year when his mechanics broke down and his velocity suffered. The Angels can fix that."

        Santiago, 4-9 with a 3.56 ERA and 26 next week, was one of four left handed starters in the Chicago rotation.  The Angels would have preferred Chris Sale, but the White Sox wouldn't budge, and Santiago's potential "isn't reflected by the stats," the AL scout said. "This was the first year that he began to start regularly, and I really believe he's going to get better."

        Skaggs was a first round draft choice of the Angels in 2009, then traded with Patrick Corbin to Arizona for Dan Haren. Dipoto was the DBacks assistant GM at the time, so he has now traded for Skaggs twice. The former Santa Monica High pitcher rode a shuttle between Reno and Phoenix in 2013, dominating Texas in his first 2013 start with Arizona before ultimately compiling a 5.12 ERA in 38 2/3 innings. If he becomes the No. 5 starter he would be the third left hander (Santiago and Wilson the other two), a potential plus in a division that has welcomed the left handed hitting Prince Fielder and Robinson Cano.

        Enthused about the acquisition of two starting pitchers 25 and younger, Dipoto said at the Florida meetings that he retains enough financial flexibility to continue arming his staff.

        However, he added, "I have no delusions about the difficulty replacing Trumbo's power."

        Clearly, weighing that slack, he is counting on an invigorated Freese, a better acclimated Josh Hamilton, an injury free Albert Pujols and the promise that Kole Calhoun, who will play left field, displayed in 194 at bats at the end of 2013.

        He knows his job may depend on it, but in keeping with the holiday spirit, give him credit for aggressively addressing his team's needs amid restrictions in payroll and personnel.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Cano and Mariners: Even the Answer Man Is Confounded

                 By Ross Newhan

                 So, on another bucks busting day in baseball, what do we, you and the psychiatrists make of the 10 year, $240 million agreement that has lured Robinson Cano--the top player in a free agent market that continues to go bananas--away from the New York Yankees in favor of the, yes, Seattle Mariners?

                 How do you leave a legacy of pin stripes for a franchise that has become a pin cushion, losing 91, 87, 95 and 101 games over the last four years and failing to reach the playoffs since 2001?

                 What prompts the Mariners to offer the third biggest contract in baseball history--with little of encouragement to say about those others--at a time when they have been struggling to build from within?

                 And why would the Yankees, with holes everywhere, allow a second base hit machine of 40 plus doubles, 25 plus homers and .900 OPS annually to get away?

                 Well, there is enough here to confuse even the most knowledgeable answer man, but it is safe to offer some assumptions.

                 --Money speaks, of course, and it didn't take Jay-Z's rap or the negotiating sklll of co-agent Brodie Van Wegenen to convince Cano that the Mariners were offering about $70 million and three years more than the Yankees, and Cano didn't need his agents to figure out that if the Yankees were going to offer a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate of their own only about $17 million more than they just gave Jacoby Ellsbury they really don't appreciate or respect him that much.      

                 --The Yankees will argue that (they have to) but then they are clearly determined to stay under the $189 million luxury tax thresehold and, having invested $153 million in Ellsbury and $85 million in catcher Brian McCann, they now re-bank Cano and have the flexibility to address an array of needs, possibly even pursuing Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka if he is posted. Brian Cashman started the process on  Friday by re-signing pitcher Hideki Kuroda while closing in on Omar Infante to fill the Cano vacuum and, it is believed, continuing a pursuit of either Carlos Beltran or Shin-Soo Choo.

              --Respect had to play into the Seattle equation as well. Attendance has dropped close to 1.5 million over the last six years, and the parade of clubhouse departures (Griffey, A-Rod, Big Unit, Beltre, for example) extends beyond that. Cano is 31. Mariner management obviously recognizes the long-term risk. Didn't the Angels give the same contract to Albert Pujols and have injuries claim him in Year 2? Didn't A-Rod leave for 10 years and a record $250 million only to have Texas dump the contract after three years, and now look at the mess the Yankees created with their 10 year extension.  No one in the Mariner front office was born yesterday, but here's another team flush with TV billions and looking to restore a measure of local faith and excitement, hoping that some of the prospects who have been looking more like suspects can turn it around and a) thinking Cano will help them land another free agent like Choo or Nelson Cruz and b) thinking they can now take two or three of those "prospects" and possibly trade them for a pitcher of David Price's stature.

             As it is, Cano is pretty much alone in a lineup lacking experienced protection (two Seattle veterans, Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales, are free agents), and there is no short portch for a left handed hitter in Safeco that there was in Yankee Stadium.

           As it is, he will be spending at least six months in the fickle weather of Seattle, more than seven hours from his native Dominican, and flying more than 50,000 miles a year with a team that logs more air time than any other. He is also rich (richer, actually) beyond measure, and those are facts beyond assumptions regarding an otherwise confounding bit of business that finds Cano giving his regards to Broadway and saying hello to....Pike's Market?




Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ellsbury Opens Familiar Wound in Boston

        By Ross Newhan

        It would be natural to brand the New York Yankees' signing of Jacoby Ellsbury as "Johnny Damon 2.0" if it wasn't even bigger than simply another Boston center fielder moving to the Bronx, to the once (and future?) Evil Empire.

        On a torrid and relentless Tuesday that found twitter junkies having a difficult time keeping up and which saw Oakland's Billy Beane and Detroit's Dave Dombrowski continuing to stoke a blazing Hot Stove (with the winter meetings still several days away), the Yankees delivered the capstone-- temporary as it is in a winter market that closed only briefly over the holiday.

        In this case, if Red Sox Nation was becoming adjusted to the liklihood that agent Scott Boras would take 30 year old Ellsbury elsewhere, the seven year, $153 million agreement with the dreaded Yankees still had to represent a dagger coming eight years after Damon, then 32, left for New York and a four year, $52 million contact.

        Ellsbury, after all, had been the leadoff trigger in a Boston resurgence culminated by the World Series victory over St. Louis. He batted .298, stole a league leading 52 bases and now becomes the cornerstone of  an outfield rebuilding project that still finds the Yankees--determined as they are to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold and having already committed $85 million over five years to catcher Brian McCann--with enough financial resources and flexibility to pursue Shin Soo Choo and/or Carlos Beltran while also attempting to retain second baseman Robinson Cano.

        The Yankees and Cano are anywhere from $80 million to $100 million apart, and if anyone really believes the rumors about Jay-Z taking his clint to Seattle--well, anything may be possible in this inflationary and non-stop market--but that one would be too much for even the imaginative Boras and his use of a "mystery team" negotiating tool to try and sell.