Spring training questions: Los Angeles Angels

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Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking at a few of the questions facing each team this spring.
1. Will Maicer Izturis beat out Howie Kendrick at second base or Brandon Wood at third base?
Izturis finished last season as the starting second baseman against right-handers, and the Angels made a commitment to him last month, giving him a three-year, $10 million deal that bought out his first two seasons of free agency. Still, that doesn’t necessarily make him a starter. Kendrick hit .358/.391/.558 in 165 at-bats during the second half of last season, and the 26-year-old is clearly worthy of another opportunity to play regularly. Wood is out of options, so it’s now or never for the former top prospect. Odds are that Izturis will end up with 400 at-bats, but the Angels should go ahead and try the guys with more upside first.
2. Can Brian Fuentes hold off newcomers Fernando Rodney and reemerge as a quality closer?
Fuentes led the majors with 48 saves last season, but he also blew seven chances, took five losses and posted his worst ERA (3.93) and WHIP (1.40) since 2004. After the All-Star break, he gave up 13 runs and posted a 12/15 K/BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings. Wanting to shore up the pen, the Angels gave Rodney a two-year, $11 million contract over the winter. Rodney had worse marks in ERA (4.40) and WHIP (1.47) than Fuentes last season, but he managed to convert 37 of his 38 save chances for the Tigers. If Fuentes gets off to a rough start at all, the Angels might want to have the two switch roles. Rodney is no better of a pitcher than Fuentes, but he may play better in the ninth. Plus, if Fuentes isn’t locked into the closer’s role, manager Mike Scioscia can do a better job of playing matchups with him.
3. With Chone Figgins gone to Seattle, will the Angels get quality OBPs from the top of the order?
The guess was that the first two spots in the order would be divided between Erick Aybar, Izturis and Kendrick this year. However, Scioscia is again talking about using Bobby Abreu there. It worked out very well last year — he scored 36 runs and drove in 40 in his 50 games as a No. 2 hitter — but Scioscia still preferred him batting third. As things stand now, the Angels could be looking at the following lineup:
SS Aybar
RF Abreu
CF Torii Hunter
DH Hideki Matsui
1B Kendry Morales
LF Juan Rivera
2B Kendrick
C Mike Napoli/Jeff Mathis
3B Wood
When Izturis starts against right-handers — something that figures to happen a lot — it’s possible he’ll lead off, with Aybar getting dropped to the ninth spot.
Hitting Abreu second clearly is the best strategy for the Angels. If Abreu bats third, that means either Morales or Matsui would hit sixth and there’s no reason for either to be down that low. The Angels will be just fine if they get a .350 OBP from Aybar and Izturis in the leadoff spot and then Abreu’s .370-.390. We’ll just have to wait and see if Scioscia sticks to the plan this time.

Derek Jeter calls Bryant Gumbel “mentally weak”

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Derek Jeter has not covered himself in glory since taking over the Miami Marlins. His reign atop the team’s baseball operations department has been characterized by the slashing of payroll in order to help his new ownership group make more money amid some pretty crushing debt service by virtue of what was, in effect, the leveraged buyout of the club. A club which is now 5-16 and seems destined for five months more and change of some pretty miserable baseball.

Jeter has nonetheless cast the moves the Marlins have made as good for fans in the long run. And, yes, I suppose it’s likely that things will be better in the long run, if for no other reason than they cannot be much worse. Still, such reasoning, while often accepted when a lesser light like, say, White Sox GM Rick Hahn employs it, isn’t accepted as easily when a guy who has been defined by his hand full of championship rings offers it. How can Derek Jeter, of all people, accept losing?

That’s the question HBO’s Bryant Gumbel asked of Jeter in an interview that aired over the weekend (see the video at the end of the post). How can he accept — and why should fans accept — a subpar baseball product which is not intended to win? Jeter’s response? To claim that the 2018 Marlins are totally expected to win and that Gumbel himself is “mentally weak” for not understanding it:

JETER: “We’re trying to win ball games every day.”

GUMBEL: “If you trade your best players in exchange for prospects it’s unlikely you’re going to win more games in the immediate future–”

JETER: “When you take the field, you have an opportunity to win each and every day. Each and every day. You never tell your team that they’re expected to lose. Never.”

GUMBEL: “Not in so–”

JETER: “Now, you can think — now– now, I can’t tell you how you think. Like, I see your mind. I see that’s how you think. I don’t think like that. That’s your mind working like that.”

. . .

DEREK JETER: “You don’t. We have two different mi– I can’t wait to get you on the golf course, man. We got– I mean, I can’t wait for this one.”

BRYANT GUMBEL: “No, I mean–”

DEREK JETER: “You’re mentally weak.”

I sort of get what Jeter was trying to do here. He was trying to take this out the realm of second guessing among people who know some stuff about sports and subtly make it an appeal to authority, implying that he was an athlete and that only he, unlike Gumbel, can understand that mindset and competitiveness of the athlete. That’s what the “get you on the golf course” jazz was about. Probably worth noting at this point that that tack has never worked for Michael Jordan as a basketball executive, even if his singular competitiveness made him the legend he was on the court. An executive makes decisions which can and should be second-guessed, and it seems Jeter cannot handle that.

That being said, Gumbel did sort of open the door for Jeter to do that. Suggesting that baseball players on the 2018 Marlins don’t expect to win is not the best angle for him here because, I am certain, if you ask those players, they would say much the same thing Jeter said. That’s what makes them athletes.

No, what Gumbel should have asked Jeter was “of COURSE you tell your players to win and of COURSE they try their hardest and think they can win every night. My question to you is this: did YOU try YOUR hardest to get the BEST players? And if not, why not?”

Question him like you’d question Rick Hahn. Not like you’d question Future Hall of Fame Shortstop, Derek Jeter.