Fake trade: Mike Napoli to Texas for Frank Francisco

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Rangers acquire C Mike Napoli from the Angels for RHP Frank Francisco and RHP Brandon McCarthy
Why it works for Texas: The Rangers were thought to have an embarrassment of riches behind the plate a couple of years ago, but Jarrod Saltalamacchia hasn’t hit or remained healthy and Taylor Teagarden has been a strikeout machine. They can and likely will stick with the pair and hope for the best. Napoli, though, would give them another big-time power threat for the bottom third of their order. One of the game’s five-best offensive catchers, he’s a career .255/.356/.490 hitter in 1,105 at-bats. Also, this wouldn’t add to the payroll of a team that probably can’t take on any money until Tom Hicks’ sale goes through. Napoli is making $3.6 million this year, compared to $3.265 million for Francisco and $1.3 million for McCarthy.
Why it works for Los Angeles: Despite Napoli’s huge advantage offensively, Angels manager Mike Scioscia thinks his team is better with Jeff Mathis behind the plate. Also, the Angels like Bobby Wilson, who has stuck on the roster as a seldom-used third catcher because he’s out of options. In Francisco, the Angels would get a third closer-type reliever and one who is more dominant than either Brian Fuentes or Fernando Rodney when he’s on. While he’s off to a rough start right now, Francisco was 25-for-29 saving games last year and he limited hitters to a .200 average in 2008 and a .214 mark last season. McCarthy could also be of real use to a team that lacks pitching depth. Like the Rangers have done, the Angels could stash him away in Triple-A until they need another starter. Matt Palmer just isn’t likely to prove to be an adequate fallback again, and the Angels can’t expect Scott Kazmir or Ervin Santana to throw 200 innings.
Why it won’t happen: Obviously, neither the Angels nor the Rangers is going to want to risk helping the other in a year in which both are aiming to take the AL West. That’s the only reason that matters. The Angels, though, might be able to do better for Napoli if they put him on the open market. I still think Francisco could be one of the AL’s better relievers this year, but he has a history of getting hurt. Also, he’s in his walk year, whereas Napoli won’t be eligible for free agency until after 2012.

Playoff Reset: The AL Wild Card Game

Wild Card

Each day throughout the playoffs we’re going to be doing what we’ll call a reset. Not always a preview, not always a recap, but a generalized summary of where we stand at the moment and what we have to look forward tonight.

Today, of course, is Day One of the playoffs so we can really only look ahead, so let’s look ahead to what’s on tap in tonight’s one and only game.

The Game: Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees, American League Wild Card Game
The Time: 8:08 PM Eastern. Or thereabouts.
The Place: Yankee Stadium, New York
The Channel: ESPN
The Starters: Dallas Keuchel vs. Masahiro Tanaka

The Upshot:

  • Dallas Keuchel is the Astros’ ace and may very well win the Cy Young Award, but he’s (a) pitching on three-days’ rest; and (b) not in Minute Maid Park, where he is clearly superior compared to how he does on the road. At the same time, (a) the Yankees haven’t figured him out this year, going scoreless against him in 16 innings and striking out 21 times, including a poor performance against him in the Bronx a month or so ago; and (b) lefty sinkerballer types are basically the platonic ideal of a pitcher you want to throw against the Yankees to drive them crazy. While, historically, pitchers going on short rest in the playoffs fare poorly — in the past 20 years they are 18-37 — sinkerballers and extreme groundball pitchers fare much better than most. It ain’t a perfect setup for him, but you gotta like Keuchel here.
  • Meanwhile, Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka has made one career start vs. the Astros: this year, back on June 27. He got beat up, allowing six runs in five innings, receiving no decision. Those disclaimers about past performance not being indicative of future results you see in financial services commercials should apply to this and all other past matchup stats you see in the postseason, however. One random start here or there — or two in Keuchel’s case — doesn’t tell us a ton. This is baseball and tomorrow is always another day. At least if you don’t lose the Wild Card Game. More of a concern for Tanaka: rust. He has pitched only once since tweaking his hamstring against the Mets on September 18 and it wasn’t a good outing. At least he’s rested?
  • Both teams are dependent on the longball but both teams have struggled at times on offense down the stretch, with the Yankees’ bats being particular quiet in the season’s last month or so. Someone needs to wake up A-Rod. And Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley and Brian McCann for that matter too. Of course, all of that firepower may not matter. The playoffs often see offenses go quiet and pitching come to the fore. Both teams have decent bullpens — the Yankees’ far, far more than decent — and given Tanaka’s rust and Keuchel’s short rest, this one is very likely to come down to multiple innings of hard-throwing relief. That favors the Yankees if they can keep it close.
  • Both teams are basically stumbling into the postseason, with the Yankees having lost six of their last seven games. They’re also under .500 since the end of July. The Astros swooned themselves in the second half, going 11-16 in September before rebounding in the season’s last week. Good thing momentum generally isn’t a thing in the playoffs — remember those 2000 Yankees losing 15 of 18 before the playoffs started and then won the World Series! — because neither team here has much of it.

This is the Astros’ first playoff game in a decade. While the Yankees haven’t been in the postseason since 2012, there is a lo tof playoff experience here, making this an interesting study in contrasts from a storyline perspective. At least if you’re into storylines. Personally I’m not. I’m more into baseball games and in this baseball game, I think Keuchel is a tough draw for the Yankees, even on short rest, and that for New York to advance they’re gonna have to be a team they haven’t been for weeks and maybe months: one that lays off junk down low and hits the ball hard.


Mike Scioscia will return as Angels manager in 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 21:  Manager Mike Scioscia #14 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the dugout during batting practice before a game against the Minnesota Twins at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 21, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

It was assumed already, but Mike Scioscia made it official during Monday’s press conference for new general manager Billy Eppler that he will return as Angels manager in 2016.

Scioscia, the longest-tenured manager in the majors, has been at the helm with the Angels since 2000. There was a clause in his contract which allowed him to opt out after the 2015 season, but he has decided to stay put. He still has three years and $15 million on his contract, which runs through 2018.

Jerry Dipoto resigned as Angels general manager in July amid tension with Scioscia, so there were naturally questions today about what to expect with first-time GM Eppler in the fold. According to David Adler of MLB.com, Scioscia isn’t concerned.

“I think we’re going to mesh very well,” Scioscia said. “If we adjust, or maybe he adjusts to some of the things, there’s going to be collaboration that’s going to make us better.”

Eppler is the fourth general manager during Scioscia’s tenure with the team.

After winning the AL West last season, the Angels finished 85-77 this season and narrowly missed the playoffs. The team hasn’t won a postseason game since 2009.