With seven free agents, change coming for Angels

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The Angels made the right calls a year ago in declining to ante up for Mark Teixeira and turning instead to Kendry Morales and Bobby Abreu to round out their lineup. Factoring into the decision was that GM Tony Reagins knew Teixeira’s $20 million salary would make it very difficult to keep the team together starting in 2010. The Angels have seven free agents this winter, and those players combined to make more than $50 million in 2009. For that reason, Reagins is going to be faced with as many difficult decisions as any GM in the game.
Let’s run down the list (rankings taken from our Top 111 Free Agents):
Robb Quinlan (not rated) – Quinlan has been pretty worthless coming off the bench for three straight years now, finishing with OPSs of 652, 637 and 614. If the Angels want to continue carrying a right-handed reserve for first and third, then minor leaguer Matt Brown could prove to be an upgrade.
Kelvim Escobar (No. 104) – Escobar, who made $9.5 million this year, pitched a total of five innings over the last two years because of shoulder problems. If he’s re-signed, it would be to a one-year deal with a minimal guarantee and plenty of incentives.
Darren Oliver (No. 77) – Oliver accepted arbitration as a free agent after last season and ended up taking a one-year, $3.665 million contract. Something similar could happen this winter. Oliver would probably draw a couple of two-year offers if he shopped himself around, but he’s talked about just pitching one more season anyway and he’d likely prefer to do it in Anaheim.
Vladimir Guerrero (No. 17) – It’s been assumed for months that Guerrero wasn’t in the Angels’ plans for 2010, but the excellent postseason will add to the sentiment for keeping him. He hit .378/.425/.541 with seven RBI in nine games against the Red Sox and Yankees. Guerrero would surely prefer to stay in the area, and he’s a favorite of owner Arte Moreno. Odds are that he’s a goner, but perhaps if the Angels can’t get anything done with the next person on the list, they’ll reach back out to him.
Bobby Abreu (No. 16) – Abreu expected two-year offers in the $30 million range after last season, only to eventually have to settle for $5 million over one year from the Angels. Now that’s bounced back defensively and he can benefit from a free-agent market that’s short on left-handed-hitting outfielders — he and Johnny Damon are clearly the best — he shouldn’t have much difficulty landing a multiyear pact. The Angels reportedly offered him $16 million for two years earlier this month, only to have it turned down. A two-year, $20 million deal would be fair for both parties.
Chone Figgins (No. 5) – Another ugly postseason won’t help Figgins, but it’s probably not going to hurt too much, either. The 31-year-old was an exceptional player until October, hitting .298 and leading the AL with 101 walks. Versatility also works in his favor. Not only is he arguably the best third baseman on the market, but he’s probably the best center fielder as well. Since that will increase his number of suitors, he could land a four-year deal worth $12 million per season. The Angels have Brandon Wood ready to take over at third base if they lose him.
John Lackey (No. 3) – There’s no replacing the ace, though. The Angels still have Jared Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir under control, giving them a fine regular-season rotation in the event of Lackey’s departure. But who from that group is going to start Game 1 against the Yankees or Red Sox? Lackey is the one free agent the Angels simply must keep, and there should be more than enough money to make it happen.
The Angels are expected to dabble in the Matt Holliday sweepstakes, but it’d make a lot more sense to keep Lackey and Abreu than it would to pay even more for Holliday and Randy Wolf. If the Angels retain those two and Oliver, they shouldn’t have a lot of difficulty filling the other gaps. Wood is ready to take over at third, and Erick Aybar is an option to replace Figgins in the leadoff spot. The Angels will also look at potential leadoff-hitting left fielders, with the idea that they can give Juan Rivera more DH time.
In the end, there’s really no way Reagins can play it badly enough for the Angels to enter 2010 as anything less than the AL West favorites. However, the division is improving as quickly as any in baseball. If the Angels don’t get start getting younger, they might find themselves poorly set up for 2011 and beyond.

The idiocy of baseball’s replay system was on full display in St. Louis last night

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 29: Matt Carpenter #13 of the St. Louis Cardinals scores the game-winning run against the Cincinnati Reds in the ninth inning at Busch Stadium on September 29, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Baseball’s current instant replay system, in place since the beginning of the 2014 season, has experienced hiccups, but it has generally avoided extreme controversy or high profile failures. Last night in St. Louis, however, the replay system failed in spectacular fashion, potentially costing a team a playoff berth.

We wrote about the play last night: bottom of the ninth in a tied Reds-Cardinals game, Matt Carpenter on first base, Yadier Molina at the plate. Molina hits a ball which should’ve been a ground rule double, halting Carpenter at third. The umpires missed the ball bouncing out of play, however, and Carpenter was allowed to run home, scoring the winning run. Due to the noise and confusion of the Cardinals’ apparent walkoff win, Reds manager Bryan Price could not hear the phone call from his video coordinator telling him to challenge the play. By the time the message got to Price, he was told his challenge was too late. Game over.

The lack of a replay review in that situation was huge. The call would’ve, without question, been overturned if it were reviewed. If that had occurred, there is a possibility that the Cardinals would’ve lost that game, putting them two games back of the Giants with three to play. Instead, they were gifted a win and are now one game back with three to play. At the very least, this will cause the Giants to have to play one more meaningful game this weekend than they might’ve otherwise had to, in turn giving them one less game to rest players and set up their pitching staff for the Wild Card game. It could also, of course, prove to be the difference between them making the Wild Card game and going home after Sunday’s finale against the Dodgers.

If this comes to pass, Major League Baseball will no doubt characterize Thursday night’s events as a freak occurrence. Just one of those things that you could never predict and thus could never prepare for. If you don’t buy that they’ll admonish you that this outcome would’ve occurred the same way had it happened before replay was instituted in 2014 and, hey, we’re doing the best we can. If you’re still not satisfied, baseball will ignore you and pivot to the fans who care less about it, casting the replay failure as a charming and memorable historical event, a la Merkle’s Boner, the Pine Tar Game or Don Dekinger’s blown call at first base in the 1985 World Series. One which, however bad it seemed at the time, is poised to become just another chapter in baseball’s grand history, ready for highlight reels and preroll ad-sponsored video clips. Baseball will turn the page on this, so why can’t you?

Don’t buy any of that. Not for a second. Don’t buy the notion that this was some sort of freak play because freak plays are, by definition, unforeseeable. And while the narrow specifics of last night’s replay failure in St. Louis may not have been predicted, the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of instant replay as implemented were foreseeable from the moment baseball idiotically decided to use a challenge system to initiate replay reviews.

We sharply criticized the use of a challenge system for instant replay in baseball at the time it was adopted in August 2013. Indeed, we sharply criticized a challenge system almost a year earlier when it was merely suspected that baseball would go in that direction with all of this. The reasons were pretty straightforward. Conceptually speaking, it should not be the responsibility of managers to correct the mistakes or oversights of umpires on the field, which is what a challenge system requires. Moreover, a challenge system, and its rules limiting the number and manner of challenges, subordinates getting the call right to strategy and gamesmanship with respect to when and how to use the arbitrary number of challenges granted, and that makes zero sense when the point is to simply correct mistakes.

The problems with a challenge system were not all conceptual, however. Some were practical. In January 2013, Mike Port, who served as Major League Baseball’s vice president in charge of umpiring between 2005 and 2011, talked about how managers were the weak link in a challenge system, saying “you would be amazed how many managers, coaches, and players are not conversant with the rules.” He might’ve added, as others have, that managers cannot possibly see everything that happens on the field from their vantage point, including balls hit to the boundaries. As a result, the notion that a manager can always instantly and knowledgeably pop out of the dugout to challenge a call is unrealistic. He’s going to need some help.

Which is why every team hired a video coordinator, sitting in the clubhouse watching the plays, ready to call the manager in order to tell him when to challenge and when not to. This arrangement solved one problem — the manager’s inability to see it all — but created others. For one thing, it creates potential inefficiencies and inequalities, with some clubs inevitably having more savvy or highly-skilled coordinators, giving them an edge that fair and impartial umpiring would never have created. For another, it necessitated the use of technology — video and phone lines — and technology can always fail. Just as it did last night when Bryan Price’s phone could not be heard over the roar of the crowd in a pre-playoff frenzy.

It was a technological failure that last night’s crew chief, Bill Miller, implied could’ve been fixed if Price had “made eye contact” or something but, hey, he didn’t, so the game was over. When baseball first announced the challenge system in 2013, John Schuerholz, tasked with defending it, said that it would create “a happy balance that will retain the uniqueness and charm of baseball.” I suppose there’s something “charming” about the need for a major league manager to have to gaze into the eyes of an umpire in order to get a blown call corrected, but one would hope that, in 2016, there are better ways to handle things.

Of course it was obvious that there were better ways to handle it in 2013 when Major League Baseball came up with this dumb system. Baseball’s managers, who did not want a challenge system, knew it. Baseball’s former umpire chief knew it. Even dumb bloggers in their mother’s basement knew it. In 2013, baseball had carte blanche and the support of everyone in the game to institute a system that got calls right. They chose, however, to go with a system that, by definition, does not have getting calls right as its sole objective and by necessity limits the ability for calls to be reviewed in the first place due to managers not being omniscient and omnipresent and due to technological limitations.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of an answered phone call, a playoff spot might be too. It never had to be this way, but baseball wanted it this way. If the Giants end up sitting at home next week rather than playing the Mets in a Wild Card game, I’m pretty sure they won’t be comforted by whatever baloney Major League Baseball dishes out to tell everyone why this is all OK.

Cardinals walk off on controversial double by Yadier Molina

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Yadier Molina #4 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts after he was called out on strike against the San Francisco Giants in the top of the six inning at AT&T Park on September 15, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Update (11:09 PM EDT):

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From unlucky to lucky, the Cardinals maintained their position in the National League Wild Card race with walk-off victory over the Reds on Thursday night.

The Cardinals went into the top of the ninth with a 3-2 lead over the Reds, but saw the game tied when Scott Schebler dribbled a two-strike, two out ground ball down the third base line. It seemed as if the baseball gods had turned their backs on the Cardinals.

In the bottom of the ninth against reliever Blake Wood, Matt Carpenter drew a one-out walk. Randal Grichuk then struck out, leaving all of the Cardinals’ hopes on Yadier Molina. Molina went ahead 2-0 in the count, then ripped a 95 MPH fastball to left field. The ball bounced high and over the left field fence for what seemed like an obvious ground-rule double. Carpenter motored around third base and scored the winning run.

The Cardinals poured onto the field in celebration and the umpires walked off the field. Manager Bryan Price wanted to have the play reviewed, but when he went onto the field, the umpires were nowhere to be found. Price chased after them but to no avail. As the Cardinals left the field and the stadium emptied, the Reds remained in the dugout. The Reds’ relievers were left in a bit of purgatory, standing aimlessly in left field after exiting the bullpen. Finally, the game was announced as complete over the P.A. system at Busch Stadium. The results are great if you’re a Cardinals fan, but terrible if you’re a Mets or Giants fan.

As Jon Morosi points out, the rules clearly state that the signage above the fence in left field is out of the field of play. The umpires got it wrong.

Price, however, also took too long to speak to the umpires. Per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

If this happened between two teams playing a meaningless game, it would’ve been a lot easier to swallow, but Thursday’s Reds-Cardinals game had implications on not only the Cardinals’ future, but the Mets’ and Giants’ as well.