Mike Cameron well entrenched in the Hall of Very Good

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A Hall of Famer he obviously wasn’t, but Mike Cameron, who announced his retirement Sunday at age 39, might be the game’s most underrated player of the last 20 years.

Cameron nails just about all of the factors that makes a player underrated. He hit for low averages, he struck out a lot, he spent much of his career in pitcher’s parks, he changed teams frequently and he didn’t get the kind of defensive reputation early on that would have let him coast to Gold Glove awards like Torii Hunter and Ichiro Suzuki did.

But when Cameron was at his best, he was one of the top players in his league. Unfortunately, his two best seasons happened to come in Safeco Field in 2001 and in Petco Park in 2006. In 2001, he was the AL’s seventh-best player, according to Baseball-reference’s WAR. In 2006, he was the NL’s 13th best.

Cameron was more about consistency, though. From 1999-2009, he had OPS-pluses between 104-123 every year. He was a pretty exceptional defender right up until the end of that stretch, and he played in 140 games in nine of the 11 seasons.

Unfortunately, because of the kind of hitter he was, Cameron was typically typecast as a No. 6 batter. He never hit even .270 in a full season. The only time he ever led a league in anything was when he fanned 176 times for the Mariners in 2002. He drove in 110 runs in 2001, but his next highest total was 83. In 2004, he managed to drive in just 76 runs despite hitting 30 homers for the Mets.

So, no, Cameron wasn’t a superstar. He wasn’t necessarily the guy a team wanted up with the winning run on second in the bottom of the ninth (though he wasn’t exactly unclutch; he hit slightly better with runners on and with RISP than with the bases empty over the course of his career). He struggled mightily in his four postseasons, hitting .174/.309/.272 with one homer in 92 at-bats.

But as a third banana, he was quite an asset. WAR rates him the 24th best player of the aughts (2000-09), and I wouldn’t quibble with that. He comes up short just looking at his statistical line — he finished his career with a .249 average, 278 homers and 297 steals — but there were just so many pluses outside of that. He earned three Gold Gloves and deserved at least a couple of more, he was a terrific baserunner and he rarely grounded into double plays. There’s no doubt he won more games for his teams with those skills than he lost with the strikeouts.

Ohtani keeping watch on Angels’ offseason moves from afar

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SAN DIEGO – Even though Shohei Ohtani is back in Japan for the offseason, he has been in frequent contact with Los Angeles Angels general manager Perry Minasian about the team’s offseason moves.

“We talk a lot. He’s asking me daily who we’re getting,” Minasian said during baseball’s winter meetings. “He’s into it. We have a lot of players like that. Mike (Trout) and Anthony (Rendon) are like that. I think it’s a very motivated group.

“They want to see activity. They want to see the organization making a commitment to making the team better. We’ll see how it shakes out when we get to spring training what exactly we have, but we’re going to continue to look for opportunities to improve,” he said.

Minasian also reiterated his support for Ohtani taking whatever role he deems best for Japan during the World Baseball Classic in March. Ohtani said he is open to being a reliever.

“I don’t have any issue with whatever he does. He’s not one I’m worried about,” Minasian said. “He knows what he needs to do to get ready for the season. I know when the bell rings, he’ll be ready to go. There’s a comfort and trust to that.”

The Angels’ offseason moves, their future owner and the team’s performance will all be under the microscope as the two-way Japanese superstar begins his final season before hitting free agency.

Ohtani agreed to a $30 million contract for next season in September. After winning the AL MVP award in 2021, Ohtani finished second to New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge after going 15-9 with a 2.33 ERA on the mound and batting .273 with 34 home runs and 95 RBIs.

Despite Arte Moreno putting the team up for sale, the Angels have been proactive since the season ended. They acquired outfielder Hunter Renfroe from the Milwaukee Brewers and infielder Gio Urshela from the Minnesota Twins. They upgraded the rotation by signing Tyler Anderson and added to the bullpen with Carlos Estevez.

Minasian said the message from ownership has been business as usual.

“I know we’ve spent more money, I guess. But I mean nothing’s been drastically different for me. I think there have been more things that have presented themselves that made sense, compared maybe in previous offseasons, where we were and what we were trying to do,” Minasian said.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said on Tuesday that multiple groups have expressed interest in the Angels with a possibility that a sale could be completed by opening day.

Manager Phil Nevin also is on a one-year deal as the Angels try to end a string of seven consecutive losing seasons and eight consecutive years out of the postseason after going 73-89 this past season. Both are the longest active skids in the majors.