That was quick.
Earlier today I wondered if Scott Downs might be an option to replace Fernando Rodney as the Angels’ closer if he came off the disabled list before manager Mike Scioscia was comfortable giving rookie Jordan Walden a shot at the job, but apparently he was already comfortable.
Scioscia announced this afternoon that Rodney has been removed from the closer role until “he gets back in touch with some things” and in the meantime Walden will work the ninth inning.
Even at his best Rodney is a setup-caliber reliever who’s been given several opportunities to be a closer and with his command abandoning him early on this season the switch is justified, albeit much sooner than expected.
Walden impressed in his 16-appearance debut last season, racking up 23 strikeouts in 15 innings thanks to his high-90s fastball and mid-80s slider combination. In fact, at 98.8 miles per hour Walden’s average fastball velocity was the third-highest in all of baseball among pitchers with 10-plus innings in 2010, behind only Aroldis Chapman (99.6 mph) and Joel Zumaya (99.3 mph).
His minor-league track record was surprisingly mediocre even after making the transition from starter to reliever, but Walden has overpowering raw stuff and if the 23-year-old rookie falters in the closer role the Angels can always turn to Downs (or back to Rodney, perhaps) in a couple weeks.
With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.
For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.
Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.
Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.
Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.
The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.