Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Interview conducted by David Saltzer, Senior Writer

When the Angels drafted catcher Taylor Ward with their first round draft pick in June, 2015, the reaction from the front office was one of jubilation. A big cheer erupted in the draft room, as if they had won the lottery. However, many of the national pundits had a different reaction—confusion. A big question arose amongst the “experts” as to whether this was an overdraft pick. Without a doubt, the combination of these two opposing reactions led to a lot of speculation about the pick, and what it meant to long-term health of the Angels farm system.

In talking with many within the Angels organization, I’ve been assured that their feelings were genuine and that they were very thrilled to be able to pick Taylor Ward in the first round. According to many, this was all part of a multi-year draft plan to rebuild the overall depth and quality of the organization. As has often been the case (such as when national pundits ranked Mike Trout lower than when the Angels picked him), the Angels had their own reasons for identifying his talent, and went in a different direction than the general consensus.

Since signing with the Angels, Taylor Ward has done everything to silence the questions of the critics and confirm the analysis of the Angels. As of this writing, Taylor has posted a .357/.469/.439 line across two levels this season (Orem and Burlington) erasing the questions some had about his bat. He has walked more times than he has struck out (32 BBs to 15 Ks), More importantly, he has continued to show the plus arm and defense that made him a standout catcher by throwing out 34% of opposing baserunners. He is quickly becoming noticed as one of the top catching prospects in the Minor Leagues.

When I met Taylor Ward, I was very impressed by the quality of his responses to the interview questions. He was genuine and sincere.  More important, he was very focused on his craft and his skills. With the Angels developing a new core for their rotation, Taylor Ward makes a lot of sense for the long-term stability of the organization. He’s a quality player and a quality person.

Please click below to watch to our interview with Angels catcher Taylor Ward.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

By Glen McKee, Staff Writer - 

Throughout my average day I get asked a lot of questions, some of them quite often.  “Who are you looking at through those binoculars?”  “Aren’t you supposed to be 500 feet away from schools?”  “Why are you so fat?”  Those are some of the most common questions, but amongst those who know me and are casual (or not at all) baseball fans the question lately has been “What the hell happened to your team?”

That’s a very good question indeed.  What the hell happened to this team?  They had a great regular season last year and then folded like origami in the playoffs.  They made a few seemingly good moves in the offseason and played at least decent ball for most of the season, including almost a month when they looked like the Blue Jays look right now.  After that month though, right around after the All Star break, the team has fallen apart.  They went from division leaders to chasing for a wild card berth.  Again, what the hell happened?

Last night I was watching the latest reimagining of “Cinderella,” this one directed by Kenneth Branagh.  Everybody knows the story, even dudes like me, but it offered a few little surprises.  One of the turning points in the story is when Cinderella is working her evil woman magic on the unsuspecting prince (not Prince; that would be an entirely different and great movie) and she suddenly realizes it’s almost midnight and needs to beat feet out of there before she reverts to her true form.  While watching this I realized the parallels with the Angels, who at that moment (I checked my phone) were behind 12-3 to the Blue Jays.  The Angels’ stagecoach was turning into a pumpkin, and in spectacular fashion.  In less than a month the Angels went from a playoff presence to having genuine questions about if they’ll even make the playoffs (spoiler alert: they won’t).  What the hell happened to the Angels?

In a few words, the team expired.  

This was a team that started the season with more question marks than the Riddler’s costume.  How would whomever was playing at 2B do?  How would Freese do at 3B?  Would Richards and Shoemaker be able to duplicate their success from last year?  Would the bullpen be the same without Jepsen, and can you imagine we’re even asking that?  How many more times would we be subject to lame jokes about Scioscia and food on

In short, to answer each question: mediocre, good until injured, no, no/no, and way too many.  Seriously, people.  Making a joke about Scioscia and pasta is almost like asking somebody where the beef is.  Give it up.

They had a good run, as good a run as could have been expected.  Then reality kicked in.  As a football coach once said, “we are what are record says we are.”  That’s what the Angels are.  A team that isn’t strong enough to make the playoffs as currently constructed.  Consider that this is also during a year in which injuries have not been a major factor.  Yes, losing Freese has really hurt the team, but that’s it.  Texas is still missing their ace pitcher (among many other injuries) and they just blew past us like we were stalled on the side of the road. 

How did this happen?  In short, the offense was completely ignored and we’re now seeing the results.  This team is terrible at executing with RISP and has been for most of the year.  At the start of the season Giavotella was a pleasant surprise but he has, you guessed it, expired.  Conor Gillaspie started fast but expired.  Anybody we’ve had at 3B since Freese has expired.  Pujols had a hot month and then he expired.  Even super stud Mike Trout has expired lately, although he is always a candidate to unexpire. 

On the mound, amazingly enough the team hasn’t found anybody to reliably fill the seventh-inning role.  Imagine for a moment, before the start of last season, thinking that we’d be missing Kevin Jepsen.  It’s true, brother.  The bullpen has been a roller-coaster.  The starters have regressed.  Shoemaker is back in AAA.  Richards is working his way to a 4+ ERA.  Heaney, before Sunday, was the sole bright spot.
The team as a whole has regressed and there has been nobody to turn it around.  With a nod to tdawg, the team spent the trading period looking for a clean peanut and the closest they have come is David Murphy.  At first I was frustrated by the lack of trades, especially when seeing what teams like the Blue Jays did, but now I understand it.  Stoneman is many things but he isn’t an idiot and he knew this team wasn’t one bat or one arm away from being solid.  It wasn’t worth blowing up what little value the farm system had to make a push for this year.  Sure, having Cespedes or Gonzales on this team might have netted us another win or two so far, but it’s entirely possible they would have caught whatever it is that has infected Angels’ batters this year.  It just wasn’t worth taking a chance.  Stoneman saw what we’re all now seeing: that this team has expired, and in spectacular fashion.  The Angels are like that Tupperware container with the leftover chicken salad that got shoved to the back of the fridge and forgotten about for a month, and now somebody just opened the lid and let the stench out.  It’s nauseating.  

The good news is that with a few moves and a little luck, they can start next year with a clean Tupperware container.  I hope they do, because right now the only thing this team is inspiring is apathy.  I’ve had that for too many years as an Angels fan.  I don’t want it again next year.  Heck, I can’t even write anything funny about the team, which might say more about my failings as a writer than the failings of this team.  It’s not much fun to joke about something you love that is down in the dumps.  They need to get better so I can make fun of them again.

Monday, August 24, 2015

By Jonathan Northrop, Columnist - 

After last night's loss the Blue Jays, completing a three-game blow-out sweep in which the Angels were outscored 10-36 and saw them drop from 2.5 games behind to 5.5 games behind the first place Astros, and out of 2nd place into 3rd. After the Josh Hamilton debacle earlier in the year and the “Dipoto drama” of a couple months ago, the team is in a dark place, circling the drain of the 2015 season. Certain the Angels have fallen far from their glory days of the Aughties, a decade that saw them win a World Series and make the postseason in seven out of nine years from 2002 to 2009. Diehard fans are left asking, in angry or sad bemusement, how did we get here? How have the Angels fallen so far? Well, let's take a look.

2002-09: The Golden Age of Angels Baseball
I want you to think back for a moment, about a decade. Let's be a bit more exact and go back exactly ten years, to late in the 2005 season. The Angels had won an improbable and first World Series just three years before. After a disappointing follow-up 2003 campaign, new owner Arte Moreno opened his pockets and General Manager Bill Stoneman built a formidable 2004 team, including signing superstar Vladimir Guerrero. The Angels had a strong 2004, finishing 92-70, although going out in the first round in a sweep from the team that became their mid-Aughties nemesis, the Boston Red Sox.

2005 proved that the 2004 team wasn't a fluke. Ten years ago today (August 24) they were 20 games over .500 and in first place and on their way to another division title and 90+ win season. To put that in context, it was only the second time in franchise history that the Angels had back-to-back 90-win seasons, the other being 1985-86, and 2005 was only the 7th 90-win season in what was then a 45-year franchise history. 

But even in 2005, there were glimmers of future problems, perhaps symbolized by Arte's name change, which wasn't horrible in and of itself (although the awkwardness of the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” was a tad embarrassing), but it displayed for perhaps the first time Moreno's signature combination of business-minded focus and an almost petulant willfulness to do things his way, clearly intent on competing in the southern California market with the Dodgers and desiring to appeal more fully to the Hispanic population of Los Angeles.

But in 2005 the organization was flying high. The memory of a championship was fresh, even if the 2005 team was very different from the soulful grittiness (if less talented and admittedly more fluky) 2002 cast; the team had a legitimate superstar in Vlad Guerrero, and a farm system that was considered one of the best in the sport, with a handful of “can't miss” prospects like Dallas McPherson, Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Kendrys Morales, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, and of course Brandon Wood, who had an unbelievable season, hitting .321/.381/.667 with 101 extra-base hits mainly in A+ ball as a 20-year old. 

Even though the Angels missed the postseason in 2006 due to a poor first half, they were so good in the second half—going 54-29 from July on—that it seemed like a glitch. And sure enough, the team rebounded and won the division every year from 2007-09, or five out of six years total from 2004-09.

All in all, 2002-09 was the Golden Age of Angels baseball. Even if we take out 2002, the 2004-09 six-year span saw the team average 94.5 wins per season, and five out of six years making the postseason. Younger fans don't remember that the Angels only saw the postseason three times (1979, '82, and '86) before 2002, and were one of the worst franchises in baseball. 2002 was a dream-come-true for long-time fans, made even better by the fact that for most of the Aughties the team was one of the best in baseball. Yet there were problems, which grew increasingly evident.

Three Problems Leading to the Fall
Problem #1: Postseason Flop. After leading the team to that improbable world championship in 2002, Mike Scioscia seemingly bought himself a decade and more of invulnerability; he has guided the franchise ever since. Yet from 2004-09, he was 2-5 in postseason series, or 10-19 in postseason games, never making it past the ALCS and back into the World Series. Whatever worked for the Angels in the regular season just didn't last into the postseason – perhaps at least partially due to the fact that the rest of the division was generally quite weak during those years.

Problem #2: Lack of Balance. The team never seemed to be good in all ways. In most years the pitching staff was strong and the offense just adequate. In one or two years it was the other way around. Even the 100-win 2008 season saw an AL 3rd ERA coupled with an AL 10th OPS and Runs scored. Yet somehow Scioscia led the team to numerous wins, notoriously out-performing the team's Pythagorean record. But the lack of balance became accentuated in the postseason when they faced stronger competition, which takes us back to the first problem.

Problem #3: An Overrated (and Declining) Farm. Ten years ago, Angels fans dreamed of a future infield of Jeff “almost as good as Joe Mauer” Mathis, Casey “California Helton” Kotchman, Howie “Future Batting Champion” Kendrick, Brandon “Future 40 HR” Wood, and Dallas “Troy Who?” McPherson – not to mention back-up plans Kendrys Morales, Erick Aybar, and Sean Rodriguez. But of those players, only Kendrick and Aybar had substantial careers as Angels, and even Howie couldn't shake the feeling that he was a disappointment, especially when you consider his Hornsby-esque minor league numbers (.360/.403/.569 in 399 minor league games) that never translated to the majors.

Prospect after prospect underperformed expectations – and not just fan expectations, but those of analysts. Bill Stoneman was known for hoarding prospects, including his infamous refusal to trade away players like Mathis and Kendrick for then-24-year old Miguel Cabrera. Yet his hoarding didn't lead to wealth; the farm began to dwindle, only spiking briefly when a certain kid named Mike Trout was drafted in 2009. But all in all, the talent level plummeted from one of the most highly regarded farms in the mid-00s, to one of the very worst over the last few years.

2010: End of an Era
After another disappointing postseason in 2009, a year that started with the tragic death of young pitcher Nick Adenhart, the Angels decided to shake things up. They let much of the team's core go: spark-plug Chone Figgins, staff ace John Lackey, an aging Vlad Guerrero, and their closer Francisco Rodriguez, bringing in only Hideki Matsui as a notable free agent in the offseason. Perhaps the moment that figuratively, if not quite literally, ended the Golden Age of Angels baseball was on May 29 of 2010, when the team's best hitter Morales hit a walk-off 10th inning grand slam and then broke his ankle in a celebratory jump on home plate. Morales didn't play again for over a year and a half and has never been the same since. The Angels let him go to free agency and the Mariners after 2012.

The team plummeted from 97 to 80 wins, with perhaps Brandon Wood's complete failure being the hallmark of the year. Wood hit .146/.174/.208 in 243 plate appearances. His average was the worst by a major leaguer with 200+ PA since Ray Oyler hit .135 in 1968. Inexperienced GM Tony Reagins then fumbled what turned out to be the first in a series of truly awful offseasons. Refusing to give Adrian Beltre, who reputedly desperately wanted to be an Angel, a fifth year, and then (thankfully) missing out on the Carl Crawford sweepstakes, Reagins panicked and sent Mike Napoli to Toronto for Vernon Wells and almost all of his $89 million owed over four years. 

2011-13: Big Splashes Belly-flops
The team improved a bit in 2011, but still missed the postseason leading to Reagins' “resignation” in late September. Another unproven young GM in Jerry Dipoto was brought in. Dipoto conspired with Moreno and made the “big splashes” of the Winter Meetings in what was seemed like a coup at the time, signing mega-star Albert Pujols and rival Rangers ace CJ Wilson, the top free agent hitter and pitcher. Angels Nation ignored the subtle feeling of dread at the 10-year contract Pujols was given despite the fact that his numbers were down the year prior, dreaming of a return to greatness for Pujols and the Angels.

But it wasn't to be. Over the last four years, Pujols and the organization as a whole have mirrored each other. Pujols started his first year as an Angel terribly, not hitting his first home run until May 6, still hitting below .200 as late as May 14 and hitting .213/.258/.331 through 45 games on May 23. But then he caught fire and it seemed that if we weren't getting vintage Pujols, we were getting at least his 2011 performance level. But then in 2013 he was injured. He bounced back a bit in 2014, but it was a much reduced Pujols; he played his best month or so stretch as an Angel earlier this year, but his overall numbers are similar to last year, and after almost four years of relatively consistent play, it is time to accept Pujols for what he is: an above average player, but no longer a star let alone the superstar he was in St. Louis. Through August 24 of this year, he's hit .269/.328/.483 and 9.0 fWAR in 531 games as an Angel. To put that in context, since joining the Angels, according to fWAR Pujols has been the 84th best position player in the game, just ahead of Andre Ethier and behind Alcides Escobar. His 9.0 fWAR is about one-quarter of Trout's 35.7 in the same span of time. 

When Dipoto and Moreno signed Pujols to a ten-year contract, they knew they weren't going to get ten years of peak Pujols, but they probably assumed they'd get several years of peak, then several years at a high level, with a few years of decline. All we've really seen is the last phase, with short glimmers of the Pujols of old. It will certainly go down as one of the worst contracts in baseball history. 

To make matters worse, Dipoto and Moreno—unsatisfied with the team's 2012 performance—did not bid against the Dodgers for Zach Greinke and instead made a surprise grab of Josh Hamilton, allegedly far out-bidding all competitors. I won't belabor the details of which are well-known, but in short the Hamilton contract has been disastrous and will remain a “gift that keeps on giving” for a couple more years. But perhaps more than anything, the Hamilton Debacle represents the state of the organization. 

The 2013 season was perhaps a low-point, as what should have been a powerhouse offense led by Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton only scored a modest 733 runs (6th in the AL), with sub-par performances from Pujols (.258/.330/.437,  17 HR, 112 wRC+, 0.5 fWAR) and Hamilton (.250/.307/.432, 21 HR, 105 wRC+, 1.9 fWAR) – despite Trout's best year as an Angel so far (.323/.432/.557, 27 HR, 176 wRC+, 10.5 fWAR). The 2013 team also “featured” Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson in the rotation, both of whom were terrible, as well as a declining Jered Weaver and a CJ Wilson who wasn't quite as good as his Texas incarnation.

2014: A Return to Greatness? Or...
After three years in a row of big acquisitions leading to bigger disappointments, the Angels took a more moderate approach after 2013. Perhaps they were hesitant to repeat the Wells-Pujols-Hamilton mistakes, but regardless Dipoto's were more modest. Despite an unpopular trade that saw fan favorite Peter Bourjos and first round draft pick Randal Grichuk shipped to the Cardinals for David Freese and Fernando Salas, Dipoto made what were the best transactions as the Angels GM: One, he turned Mark Trumbo into Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago, and two, he traded a few decent but unspectacular prospects for Huston Street. 

The 2014 squad won an improbable 98 games, but exhibited the problem that Scioscia's teams tended to have. After winning 10 in a row and 25 of 31 games, the team took their foot off the gas in mid-September and coasted into the playoffs where they faced the red-hot Kansas City Royals and were swept in three quiet games that saw the team bat .170/.248/.311 against the Royals' potent pitching staff, including a 3-37 (.081) batting line from Hamilton, Pujols, and Trout.

2015: ...It was a Dead-Cat Bounce
GM Jerry Dipoto was markedly quiet in the offseason, both because the Angels payroll was virtually maxed and and perhaps because the front office thought that they could only tweak a few things to repeat their strong 2014. But whatever they did, it hasn't worked. The 2015 season has been an unmitigated disaster. It began with the Josh Hamilton drama, then saw the team coast for the first few months, standing at 37-37 on June 26. Despite a second massive drama that saw Jerry Dipoto quit over a power dispute with Mike Scioscia, the team caught fire in late June and went 17-3 over their next 20 games. But then it all fell apart. From July 23 to August 23, the team has gone 9-21, dropping from a brief stay in 1st place all the way down to 3rd place and out of even the 2nd Wildcard slot. While there is still a lot of baseball left, it would take a truly remarkable transformation to see this listless team into the postseason.

Summary: The State of the Organization
Right now the Angels are an organization in crisis. Their saving grace is that they have the best player in baseball, at least for a bit more than five years. Beyond Trout there are some lesser glimmers of light: Kole Calhoun, and several of the pitchers. But the major league roster—especially the lineup—is  lacking in impact talent, and there isn't a lot on the farm. Despite Arte Moreno's desire to compete with the Dodgers, the Angels have been unable to do what the Dodgers due so well: develop homegrown talent, mainly from Latin scouting. The Angels have seen a series of solid player graduate to the majors, but not enough to fuel the organization back to the inner circle elite.

So there you have it: A magical 2002 season followed by a Golden Age from 2004-09, then steep decline and floundering since. When Jerry Dipoto signed on he talked about a plan that would see the Angels both strengthen their farm and future, but also remain competitive year-to-year. We have not seen that plan come to fruition. 

Addendum: Where to From Here?
But wait a minute...let's not call the franchise dead, kaput, game over, man. There must be a way forward, right? In this last part we will look at what (I think) the Angels need to do to return to perennial contention, another Golden Age if you will.

The immediate problem is the lack of lineup talent. The Angels have one megastar in Trout, but then a big drop to two players who aren't really stars, more like above average regulars or borderline stars at best, in Kole Calhoun and Albert Pujols. After those two, well, the drop is precipitous. Erick Aybar is erratic and still a solid player, but is having an off year. Cron has been a bit better but is hardly an impact bat, at least yet. Iannetta, Giovatella, Freese, and the motley crew that is left field, are all poor to average at best.

And there's very little help on the way. The only potential impact (meaning above average) hitters in the minors are several years away, and there really aren't any “can't miss” hitting prospects at any level. One bright spot this year has been the reemergence of Kaleb Cowart as a legitimate prospect and the team's potential future third baseman. After a couple years of floundering in AA, Cowart was sent back to high-A ball where he started slow but then improved. When the Angels surprisingly promoted him to AAA, he took off. He just hit his first major league hit out of the park, albeit in his fifth game. At this point we can be cautiously hopeful that he'll at least turn out to be a solid major league regular.

I do think the Angels can tweak here and there while focusing on farm development – the Dipoto Plan of remaining in competitive while building from within. But the bottom line is that the organization really needs an overhaul, and patience from the management and fans. The team is burdened by a number of albatross contracts in Pujols, Hamilton, Wilson and Weaver, who will be making over $90 million next year. After 2016, Wilson and Weaver come off the books; after 2017, so does Hamilton. But even so, the team needs to put their focus on developing the farm, on scouting international talent and maneuvering the draft so that they get better picks, and making savvy trades that will bear fruit later on. But this requires a degree of patience that Arte Moreno might not have.

This offseason we'll probably see the Angels go after one of the big three outfield free agents available: Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, or Jason Heyward. I personally think Heyward is worth going after hard; he is an excellent defender, a good hitter still with some upside, and only just turned 26. But he'll be expensive; he'll probably get 8 years at $20-25 million per year. Still, if Moreno was willing to spend that kind of money on an aging Pujols and problem child Hamilton, why not Heyward?

The Dipoto Plan is still a good one, but in order to actualize it the Angels will need to acquire more offensive talent. There are a few ways to go about doing this, and probably all are necessary: signing a big bat like Heyward or Cespedes via free agency, trading someone like Santiago or Tropeano for a prospect or two, and praying that someone like Kyle Kubitza, CJ Cron, and/or Kaleb Cowart works out better than hoped.

Right now the biggest holes in the lineup are left field, third base, second base, and catcher. Left field will likely be a free agent or trade; third base will probably be filled from within, either Cowart of Kubitza; the Angels will probably try to acquire a catcher, someone like Matt Wieters, as the potential Perez-Bandy tandem is unproven, although we shouldn't expect that Moreno will pay for both a premier outfielder and Wieters – it is likely one or the other. As for second base, Giavotella is what he is: a replacement level player who has kept the position warm enough. Supposed future second baseman Alex Yarbrough has struggled in AAA this year, and Grant Green is just never given a chance. The Angels could use an upgrade at 2B, but if they improve elsewhere then they could probably carry Gio for another year.

The farm system is like a barren field that is just showing signs of new life, little sprouts here and there showing up, but nothing substantial. It will likely be a few years before it is thriving again, if it is tended properly. And again, that is the key. Arte needs to realize that the Dodgers are successful largely because of their farm system, which has developed star talent like Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Clayton Kershaw, and Kenley Jensen, and according to John Sickels' midseason Top 75 prospects, includes two of the top three prospects in baseball in Corey Seager and Julio Urias, and five total in the top 34. Again, the key for the Dodgers has been scouting – their system was weak a few years ago, but has returned to elite status on account of an increase in scouting dollars.

So Bill Stoneman, or whoever takes his place as the Angels GM, has his work cut out for him. Given the amount of work that it will take to rebuild the lineup, the Angels will be either forced to trade big, make substantial trades, or just ride out several years in which the team will be around .500. One deadline to keep in mind is that Trout is signed through 2020. It would be nice to see the Angels assemble a strong club around him before then, both so that the franchise's greatest player has a chance of shining in the postseason, but also so that he is inspired to finish his career as an Angel. 

All of that said, it isn't completely hopeless. There is a core group of young players to build from in Trout, Calhoun, and perhaps Cowart, as well as a nice handful of young pitchers in Hector Santiago, Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Sean Newcomb, and others. But it will require a combination of smart signings, savvy trades, and patient nurturing of the farm system to get there. If nothing else, this offseason will be very interesting in that it may very well determine the direction of the organization for years to come.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Goldman: What are your feelings about going into the Angels Hall of Fame this weekend?

Chance: I feel great about it. I’ll be there with Eli Grba, Bobby Knoop, equipment man Bob Case, batboy Scotty Keene, and a few more who were there in the old days reliving all the memories of the Angels and the early 60’s. 

Goldman: What are some of your favorite memories of those years?

Chance:  I would say 1962 when we finished third. It’s a lot more fun playing when you win and Bill Rigney (manager) did a tremendous job. We thought we were going to win the pennant and almost did. The Yankees came in and we’d fill Dodger Stadium every game. I can’t tell how exciting those days were.

Goldman: Will there be some people you’re going to miss when you come to LA this week?

Chance: I’ll be thinking of Jim Fregosi. What a tremendous year he and Bobby Knoop had in 1964. That was Bobby’s first year. Jim came up in June 1962. One game I recall. It was 1964. We were playing against the Twins and I was going for my 20th win. They had runners on first and third with one out and Jimmie Hall hit a line drive up the middle. I don’t know how Knoop got to it. He slapped it back with his glove to Fregosi and we got a double play and the inning’s over. If he doesn’t get to the ball the game is tied and I don’t get my 20th win. It’s the defensive best play I’ve ever seen.

Goldman: In a recent vote among fans, MLB named Nolan Ryan, Tim Salmon, Mike Trout, and Vlad Guerrero as the four greatest Angels.  Do you think Jim Fregosi deserves to be on the list?

Chance: Ability wise, Nolan Ryan is the greatest Angel ever, and I would say Trout, the way he’s going is in the same boat. Guerrero and Salmon, they were both tremendous hitters. As far as Fregosi, he absolutely belongs on that list. He played 11 years for the Angels and later managed the club. He always gave 100 percent. He’ll go down in history as one of the top Angels

Goldman: How has baseball, in particular pitching, changed since you played?

Chance: Well they have relief pitchers now and they got it down to a science. Some guys are good for six innings, some seven. In our day, guys like Denny McLain had 28 complete games in one year. (1968) I mean look at Koufax and his innings pitched. His records are unbelievable.

The problem with our era, they burned everybody out real early. These pitchers today with the money spent on them, you can’t afford to burn them out. The way they’re doing it now they’ll be around a lot longer. 

Goldman: Do you think any modern pitcher will ever match your 1964 season?
 (20-9; 1.65 ERA; 207 K’s; 278 innings; 15 complete games; 11 shutouts; won the only Cy Young Award over Sandy Koufax.)

Chance: They won’t let pitchers get complete games anymore. They don’t want them to go that many innings. If they do get a complete game they have to do it with under a hundred pitches. The times have changed. If someone gets three complete games a year it’s a lot.

Goldman: Do you still have your Cy Young Award? 

Chance: The Cy Young is still setting on the wall. Bob Case (equipment man) wants to buy it and he’s the only guy I would ever sell it too. 

Goldman: What are your thoughts on the Gene Autry era compared to the Arte Moreno era?

Chance: It’s all completely different now. The TV money and the corporate sponsorships, everything has changed. When I played the minimum salary was $7.000 a year, now it’s $500.000 a year. That’s the minimum they can pay you.

Goldman: Do you wish you could have played now?

Chance: Well the money would have been great but now they take half of it in taxes. Both eras are great. Back in my days you could watch a Willie Mays, a Mickey Mantle, or a Brooks Robinson the whole game and you got your money’s worth. Now, you get the same feeling watching a guy like Mike Trout, or this Bryce Harper, or Miguel Cabrera. They generate the same kind of excitement.

Goldman: What pitchers impress you the most these days?

Goldman: Clayton Kershaw and Madison Baumgartner, they’re tremendous. And (Zach) Grenke’s having a great year.

Goldman: As you know, the Angels had a rough spell of late. What are the Angels missing this season?

Chance: Everything in baseball is momentum. You got cold streaks like their having during a season but they still have a lot of baseball to play. That extra inning game they lost the other day at KC (Aug. 16th) hurts because they had it won. 

If they don’t win the western division they won’t make it because other teams will beat them out percentage-wise for the two Wild Card spots. So they’ve got to win the division. 

Goldman: What do you think your thoughts will be when you are inducted on Saturday and you walk onto the Anaheim Stadium grass again?

Chance: I have no idea. I’m just playing it by ear. I’m going to see a lot of my friends. I have no idea what I’ll be thinking of.

Goldman: What’s your fondest memory of LA when you played for the Angels?

Chance: When we were playing the Yankees at Chavez Ravine and it’s totally sold out. It couldn’t get any bigger then that. 

Goldman: You played alongside many of baseball’s all time greats. What are your favorite memories of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays?

Chance: The only guy who could hit a ball farther then Mickey Mantle hitting left handed was Mickey Mantle hitting right handed. When he would take batting practice all the visiting players would go out to the dugout just to just watch him hit. The ball would go off his bat like a golf ball.
Mantle was a better hitter right handed. (Left-handed he was a dead low-ball hitter.) I think he hit the longest ball ever recorded, 565 feet. It was against a lefthander named Chuck Stobbs at Griffith Stadium in Washington DC.  

Goldman: How did you fare against Mantle?

Chance: In 1964, we were facing the Yankees and winning 2-0. It was the 8th inning nobody on base, 3-1 was the count. I’d rather give up a home run then walk a guy and Mantle got hold of a ball, a line drive that hit the top of the fence that went over. 

It was the only run the Yankees got off me the whole year. I faced them 5 times for 50 innings and allowed just 14 hits. 

Goldman: Who was tougher on you, Mantle or Roger Maris? 

Chance: I would say Mantle was a lot more dangerous then Roger. Maris never hit a home run off of me. Mantle came up in 1951 and I never faced him until 1962. From 1962 to 1967, he hit three home runs off me. He retired after 1968. 
Goldman: How about Willie Mays?

Chance: They could hit a ball to Mays and he could shut his eyes and his instincts would take him right to it. The first time I pitched to him was in the Polo Grounds in Palm Springs in 1962 and I was just a wild rookie then. We always got along. 

Goldman: How did Mays compare to Hank Aaron?

Chance: Well I think Willie was a better outfielder. I only pitched to Aaron a couple times, the All Star Game in 1967 and once in spring training. 

Goldman: Who was the toughest hitter you ever faced?

Chance: Tony Oliva and Carl Yazstremski. They were both left-handed hitters who could take me the opposite way. 

Goldman: Should Oliva be in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Chance: Yes. He was unbelievable. If his knees hadn’t been hurt he would have been up there with the all time greats.

Goldman: You had the honor of throwing the first pitch in Anaheim Stadium in 1966. Do you have any special memories of that game?

Chance: It was an exhibition game with the Giants. Hal Lanier, the Giants second baseman led the game off and Emmett Ashford was the umpire. Lanier came over to me and said, “Dean, throw the first pitch for a strike and I’ll take it.” Well, luckily, it went over and Emmett, he was a real show off, lifted his arm and yelled, “Strike one!” So the first official pitch in Anaheim was a genuine strike.

Goldman: At Minnesota you had the honor of playing with another Angels Hall of Famer, Rod Carew.

Chance: He was tremendous. Rod came up with the Twins in ’67 as a rookie second baseman. I saw him steal second base once in 1969 when the pitcher was still in his stretch.

Going into the Hall of Fame with Fregosi, Knoop and Carew, is special because I knew them. But it’s great going into the Hall of Fame with all of ‘em. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Angels promoted former 1st round pick Kaleb Cowart today after thriving in Triple-A Salt Lake, batting .323 with a .395 on-base percentage, .491 slugging percentage, six homers, 13 doubles and 45 RBIs in 62 games in the PCL, striking out 64 times and walking 29 times in 220 at-bats. He also played some left field, shortstop and first base while with the Bees. 

Cowart reverted to his old batting stance, moving his hands farther away from his body and standing in a more upright position, and that helped according to to farm director Bobby Scales. "Cowart's been repeating his swing over and over again and understanding what pitchers are trying to do with him." 

But for one of the Angels' top prospects after 2012 it hasn't been pretty the past couple seasons. Cowart was sent to Double-A after the former first-round pick out of a Georgia high school in 2010 had a monster year at Class A Cedar Rapids and Inland Empire in 2012, hitting a combined .276 with 16 homers, 31 doubles, seven triples and 103 RBIs in 135 games. After his promotion to Double-A in 2013, Cowart hit just .221 with six homers, 42 RBIs and 124 strikeouts in 132 games in 2013, then followed that season hitting just .223 with six homers, 54 RBIs and 99 strikeouts in 126 games in 2014.

The Angels assistant general manager in charge of player development, Scott Servais, suggested the Angels promote the former top prospect, and the Angels sent him there with simple instructions: Just go hit. Don’t worry about your stance or mechanics. Cowart has done just that and the Angels rewarded him by promoting him to the big league club today, waiving the struggling Conor Gillaspie. 

Cowart didn't get a hit in tonight's MLB debut with the Angels, but he looked confident at the plate and made two really good defensive plays, handling all of the routing grounders as well. 

Here's your chance to get a chance to know Kaleb Cowart better and hear what the Angels 3B prospect had to say two years ago after his monster season in 2012. 

Click on the video below to view our interview with Kaleb. 

Kaleb Cowart Interviews with from on Vimeo.

Friday, August 14, 2015

By Robert Cunningham, Columnist - 

Chase Utley is on the market!

The Angels have been hinted as showing interest!

What could possibly be holding us back from this blockbuster move?

Actually nothing should be!

From a past performance history and contractual point of view there should be little hesitation by the Angels to acquire Chase Utley and let me explain why.

So it’s no secret that Utley has been injured for a large portion of this year.

In fact from April 6th to June 22nd, across 249 plate appearances, he has produced a meager .179/.257/.275 slash line split pretty evenly against both sides of the mound.

This is a far cry from his full 2014 season where he produced a .270/.339/.407 slash line with quality defense, good for an overall wRC+ of 106 (94 vs. LHP, 112 vs. RHP) and 4.5 WAR, per FanGraphs.

Clearly the drop off on a year by year basis is wildly out of whack which brings us back to the ankle injury.

In the handful of games back off of the disabled list has he shown signs of recovery?

The answer is, in a very limited sample size of 18 plate appearances, yes.

Chase, in those short five games, has produced a .412/.389/.588 slash line.

Now clearly his .438 BABIP has something to do with that but it is obvious he is feeling a bit better.

But how much better?

ZiPS sees him producing a .242/.313/.383 slash line the remainder of the season, good for a wRC+ 90. Steamer and Depth Charts see slightly better production but they are pretty much in line with ZiPS.

Johnny Giavotella has almost a nearly identical ZiPS projection but the primary difference is that Utley performs better against RHP whereas Giavotella does better against LHP.

Additionally Utley has a career OBP of .366 vs. LHP and .365 vs. RHP, although in recent years he has tailed off a bit against LHP. In contrast Giavotella has career OBP’s that are below league average against both sides of the mound, although he has improved vs. LHP’s this year with a .350 OBP.

So where does this leave the Angels?

It would seem wise to take a gamble on Utley. He has a past history of offensive and defensive excellence even as recently as last season. Although he doesn’t hit LHP as well as he used too, he still does well against RHP which is what he would face approximately 70% of the time.

A platoon of Utley and Giavotella at 2B would bring out the best in both players. Chase would get a large number of regular plate appearances and would be a solid bat off the bench and a late game defensive replacement on those days Johnny starts.

Johnny with his .350 OBP vs. LHP and Utley with a recent past history of approximately .345 OBP vs. RHP could combine to be the Voltron of 2B platoons.

Additionally, when Freese returns, Utley could possibly split some time at 3B as he certainly has the arm for the hot corner and his quality defense could be a plus over David. He could also provide insurance in case Freese’s injury lingers on longer than expected.

Chase’s contract, according to COTS, will pay him approximately $4.5MM for the remainder of this season. He has no-trade protection that he would have to waive in order to be moved to another team.

Utley has three, optional, vestment years that could potentially extend his contract through 2018. However these option years only vest (guaranteed) if Chase has at least 500 plate appearances in the previous season.

Clearly he will not meet that goal this year as he only projects to get to approximately 400 plate appearances.

What that means, according to COTS, is that instead of the option years vesting they become club options valued between $5MM-$11MM based on days on the disabled list in the previous season.

Additionally in 2016 there is a buyout option for the controlling team of $2MM to get out of the contract.

Without the actual contract in front of me to read, COTS is saying that Utley’s 2016 season option will be worth approximately $12.8MM and is a club option with a $2MM buyout.

Based on his 2012-2014 seasons it would be conservative and reasonable to assume that Utley, in a full 2016 season, would likely produce close to 3 WAR. That is probably worth $20MM-$30MM on the free agent market.

Continuing further down the WAR rabbit hole if you believe that Chase produces 2.5 and 2 WAR in 2017 and 2018 respectively over a full season of plate appearances (thus paying him the full $15MM each season) you’re still seeing at least a breakeven, if not positive, return on investment.

The bottom line is that if the Angels can acquire Utley it would add a veteran left-handed hitter who brings a sterling reputation to the clubhouse and the pedigree of a championship player to a currently deflated team.

More importantly it would likely reinvigorate Chase to be in another pennant race and help balance out the team offensively and perhaps most importantly defensively at the keystone (and perhaps even the hot corner).

The risk here isn’t high. If Utley gets injured again and misses enough time to not receive 500 plate appearances his option year in the following season is a club option which means the Angels can simply not pick it up.

On the flip side if he does produce, like he is capable of, the Angels won’t mind paying $15MM for a veteran left-handed hitter with average to above average defense at the keystone.

This is a win-win scenario in acquiring Utley with the only real price and big question mark being: What would we have to give up to acquire him?

There are more teams than just the Angels interested in Chase’s services including the Giants, Yankees, and the Cubs.

The Giants lost Panik for a while but when he returns Utley is likely to see significantly less playing time. The Yankees have had a black hole at 2B all year. Chase will likely have a similar situation to what the Angels can offer him if he were to go to the Cubs.

Chase cleared waivers so teams clearly didn’t want to just pick up his contract which personally I think was an error in judgement if my interpretation of COTS is true as the risk of having to pay out those option years is low and even if he does vest that means he’s healthy and producing reasonable numbers.

At this point if the Angels offered to absorb some of his remaining contract and give up one or two mid-tier prospects it might get the job done. Alternatively the Phillies might want to absorb his contract this year (and maybe some from next year) and get a higher quality prospect or two back.

A package of RP Michael Brady and SP Ryan Etsell might get it done. If the Phillies absorb more salary then SP Nate Smith or SP Tyler Deloach might be in play instead.

Besides the opportunity to receive fairly regular playing time, the chance to play with Mike Trout might be enticing enough for Utley to waive his no-trade protection and help the Angels make a playoff run.

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