At some point you have to hit rock bottom. It’s just that, if you can’t hit anything, even rock bottom looks hard. But maybe last night the Angels finally turned things around, putting together a game that went the way they hoped things would go often this year.
The Pujols signing aside, the team’s strength heading into the season was its rotation, with four guys — Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana — who could lead most teams’ rotations. It’s been an erratic year for them so far, but last night Haren pitched a four-hitter and struck out 14. While he’s still only 2-5, he lowered his ERA to 3.76 and, for once, got a couple of runs to work with.
Those runs came from the other piece of the puzzle: Albert Pujols. He hit a homer and singled twice, driving in two of the three Angels runs. It’s a modest turnaround so far, but he has hit in nine of his last ten games and has raised his average and his OBP by nearly 30 points since Mike Scioscia gave him a day off on May 5.
False hope? Reading too much into a performance against a poor Mariners team? Something to grow on? It could be any or all of those things. But for at least one night, the script was followed for Anaheim.
In an age in which even baseball’s richest teams talk about tight budgets and keeping payroll low, it’s pretty rare to hear anyone connected with a front office talking about freely spending money. Phillies owner John Middleton, however, offered up something rare about the team’s approach to free agency.
“We’re going into this expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it,” he told Bob Nightengale or USA Today. He then added, “we just prefer not to be completely stupid.” That save aside, it was a pretty unusual sentiment these days.
“Stupid” could certainly mean Bryce Harper, who the Phillies have long been expected to pursue. It could even mean Harper and Manny Machado. Why not? At the moment the Phillies’ payroll for 2019 is looking to be just a shade above $100 million, so even adding, say, $70 million to that would not put them in an unreasonable position compared to other competitors. And that’s before you figure in any sort of back-loading or deferred money that Harper and/or Machado might agree to.
Or, even if they didn’t get one or both of those guys, they could spend that same kind of money on multiple free agents. Patrick Corbin? Marwin Gonzalez? A handful of others? We counted down the top 100 free agents last week and any number of them could be acquired given the sort of payroll flexibility a large market team like the Phillies appear to have. It merely requires the will to do it. A will which, it seems, John Middleton possesses.