Pondering up the middle, and opposite ends.
I promise: This is not going to be a post hand-dipped in schadenfreudian bacon-chocolate, but I do want to lead into my point with a quote from Fox Sports columnist Ken Rosenthal, who delivered 1,100 words on the plight of the Angels this weekend and included this quote, two-thirds of the way in, about the club that now sits with a record better only than the two lowest-payrolled teams in baseball, the stripped-down Marlins and the brutal Astros (who beat Los Angeles last night):
“But want to know what is really scary? For the Angels, in the foreseeable future, this might be as good as it gets.”
Rosenthal goes on to talk about the fact that shortstop Jean Segura and lefthanders Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin and righthander Johnny Hellweg were sent away in Angels trades, with nothing left to show for them, while they also forfeited first- and second-round draft picks in 2012 for signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson (they didn’t make their first selection until 114th overall) and a first-rounder in 2013 for signing Josh Hamilton (they won’t pick this June until number 59). The Angels’ farm system is widely considered to be baseball’s worst, decimated by recent trades and compromised going forward by high-end free agent moves.
There’s not really a correlation between the fact that St. Louis and Texas are each one win short of the most in baseball, have two of the top three or four farm systems in the game, and didn’t put up any more resistance than they did as Pujols and Hamilton bolted for Anaheim, but, you know, the best organizations tend to feature a strong mix of aggressiveness, good judgment, and restraint. The others don’t.
The idea that Hamilton, who hit four home runs on May 8, 2012 to lift his season slash to .406/.458/.840, would be hitting .202/.248/.287 on May 8, 2013, a fifth of the way into his first Angels season and a twenty-fifth of the way into his eighth-of-a-billion dollar Angels contract, would have been rejected in Hollywood, but then again, you know. And now I’m getting all schadenfreudian again.
Maybe there’s an Angels fan out there celebrating the Rangers’ third two-game skid in a week and a half, and hey, Los Angeles is only 8.5 games back – the A’s were 13 out last year as late as the end of June.
Maybe there’s a Los Angeles fan who gets to the games late and leaves early rejoicing at the developments that have seen Mike Olt and Cody Buckel jump out to brutal starts that, at least for now, don’t appear to be physical, that have Martin Perez just now getting his season started and Ronald Guzman still waiting, and that led Jurickson Profar to exit last night’s game in Las Vegas with an apparent hand issue.
But depth is king in minor league development – there are a hundred reasons prospects end up not making it, so you hedge against that reality by pushing and pushing to keep the pipeline full – and while Olt and Buckel have struggled out of the gate, set aside the last couple nights and look at what Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm have done overall. And Tanner Scheppers, whose fastball was too straight last year. And Joseph Ortiz, who slid through two Rule 5 Drafts unprotected before landing on the 40-man roster this winter and making sure in camp he wouldn’t need that first option.
And Joey Gallo, whose 10 home runs are exceeded in pro ball only by Atlanta’s Justin Upton (12) and Corpus Christi’s George Springer (11).
And Gallo’s Hickory teammate Lewis Brinson, who’s on the minor league leader board with seven bombs of his own while playing a premium up-the-middle position.
And don’t get me started on Gallo’s and Brinson’s teammate Jorge Alfaro, who plays the up-the-middle position I’m desperate to see Texas find a stable answer at, a potentially elite defender at catcher who came into 2013 with 12 career home runs in 604 at-bats, and who now has eight in 109 at-bats this year, including four the last four nights. (I’m reminded of this comment a high-ranking Rangers player development official shared at Fall Instructs in September about Alfaro: “It’s starting to come together – and when it gets there, it’s over.”)
All three are 19 years old, Brinson as of today.
And Jake Brigham and Neil Ramirez, and Luke Jackson and Victor Payano, and C.J. Edwards and Alexander Claudio.
And Roman Mendez.
Check that one out if you have a minute.
As for Josh Lindblom and Robinson Chirinos, who are on the roster, and Neal Cotts, who is not, you may get the chance to check them out on Fox Sports Southwest by summertime.
Bob Nightengale (USA Today) tweeted this weekend: “The Texas Rangers are in first place on this week’s power rankings, playing better than anyone envisioned, and only getting better.” But let’s widen the lens.
Think back on Rosenthal’s quote about the Angels, and you might agree we can flip it as far as Texas is concerned:
“But want to know what is really scary? For the Rangers, in the foreseeable future, things might actually get better.”
They’re 20-13. The only team with more wins is Boston, who got spanked in Arlington this weekend.
The outfield defense is brutal, a few aging hitters look like aging hitters, the pitchers and catchers aren’t controlling the running game, the rotation has been racked by injuries.
They’re 20-13, and no team has a bigger division lead than the 2.5 games the Rangers have on Oakland. (While the Angels are closer to fifth place in the West than to third.)
And in July, when Giancarlo Stanton is healthy again and maybe available, and when David Price is dealing again and maybe available, and the trade market gets populated by names we haven’t even though of yet as available, Texas will be able to talk about Grimm and Gallo and Jackson and Mendez, not to mention Leury Garcia and Luis Sardinas, Hanser Alberto and Rougned Odor, Wilmer Font and Lisalverto Bonilla, Engel Beltre and Nick Williams, and plenty others who will be on selling clubs’ watch lists.
And I’m betting Olt is back in a groove, and maybe Guzman, too.
The Cardinals will be able to compete with Texas at trade deadline time. Boston, too.
So can Kansas City and Pittsburgh, if they hang around, but there are a few others (Houston, San Diego, Minnesota to start) who won’t be buying in July, even though they could.
The Angels won’t be buying, and they wouldn’t be able to anyway.
Of course, the same probably could have been said a year ago, when they took Segura and Hellweg and Ariel Pena from an already weak system and mortgaged them for two ultimately meaningless months of Zack Greinke.
Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) spitballed this one over the weekend: “[H]ere’s my made up trade rumor of the day. . . Profar, Grimm and Olt to Tampa Bay for David Price . . . who says no?”
But it’s a hypothetical you can’t even entertain in Anaheim.
I’d suggest the Angels will be sellers this July, except for that problem of not having a whole lot of meaningful pieces they can sell.
It’s a safe bet that the Texas outfield, for the second straight off-season, will undergo a significant transition. Probably the catching tandem, too.
In Anaheim, they transition by throwing massive money at aging icons.
In Texas, they spend money, too (Adrian Beltre, Yu Darvish, extensions for core veterans), but they make the whole thing work by reloading through player development, which delivers assets both to the manager and to the GM, routinely so in the current era of Rangers baseball.
Well, crud. I said I wasn’t going to hound the Angels too much today, and I blew it.
But rubber-necking on rock bottom is hard to avoid, and somewhere between Holland-Lohse in Milwaukee tonight and Colby Lewis, Neil Ramirez, Luke Jackson, and C.J. Edwards getting minor league starts tomorrow, I’ll be keeping an eye on Blanton-Norris and Vargas-Harrell in Houston, as the Angels and Astros, each losers of 8 of 10, keep the Minute Maid field warm until the Texas Rangers, playing better than anyone envisioned and only getting better, come in to pay a weekend visit.