Will Angels have a Kendry-Albert 1-2 punch? - NBC Sports

Will Angels have a Kendry-Albert 1-2 punch?
Southpaw slugger, and several other major-leaguers, are seeking big comebacks
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No comeback might have more importance this season than that of Kendry Morales. If he's the middle-of-the-order, left-handed threat he was in 2009, the Angels' lineup takes on a far more dangerous look.
February 14, 2012, 5:02 pm

Baseball Expert Tony DeMarco has been covering the big leagues since 1987, and been casting Hall of Fame ballots for the last 14 years. He answers questions weekly here:

Q. Adam Dunn had by far the worst year of his career last season. Do you think he is due for a big bounce-back in 2012? Who are some other candidates to improve after subpar seasons?
- Aaron, Colorado Springs

A. There will be a bounce-back, but count me as skeptical about how big it will be. The problem here was Dunn wasn't hurt in 2011. He simply fell off the map statistically - a historical drop-off that must be blamed mostly on mechanics, with a contributing factor of changing leagues and having to learn a new set of pitchers.

At 32, his days as a 40-homer, 100-RBI guy are in the past. I see him hitting in the low .200s with about 25 homers and 75 RBI.

You also can place Dunn's teammate - Alex Rios - in that category: Not hurt for any significant length of time, just collapsed in 2011. But at 30, he's two years younger than Dunn, so we'll give him a better shot at returning to his typical season line of .275/.323/.434 with 17 homers, 70 RBI and 21 steals.

These other 2012 comeback candidates are more health-related:

How about Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson? Nagged by back issues, Ramirez was limited to .245/10/45 in 385 at-bats. Johnson (shoulder) made nine great starts before shutting it down in May, and not returning. If these two potential All-Stars put up 2010-type numbers, watch out for the Marlins.

The Rangers are betting that Joe Nathan still has plenty left in the tank in his second season after Tommy John surgery, and you figure he'll get close to 50 save opportunities.

Shin-Soo Choo, 29, had back-to-back .300/20-homer/20-steal seasons in 2009 and 2010 before injuries cut his 2011 season almost in half.

Carl Crawford gets an asterisk, as he'll be coming off wrist surgery, and likely won't be ready until May.

And no individual comeback may have more importance than that of Kendry Morales. If he's the middle-of-the-order, left-handed threat he was in 2009, the Angels' lineup takes on a far more dangerous look.

Albert Pujols needs protection from the cleanup spot, and a fully healthy Morales is by far the best option over right-handed hitters Torii Hunter, Mark Trumbo and Vernon Wells.

The other category that often produces comeback success stories is third-year players who suffered through sophomore-jinx second seasons after strong rookie campaigns. For me, this category is led by Jason Heyward, who's still only 22, and did have injury issues last season.

Q. I just watched 'Moneyball'. How accurate is it compared to what really happened? What do the people involved have to say about the movie?
- Ernie, Taiwan

A. I'd call it loosely accurate. The then-groundbreaking idea of placing heavy emphasis on on-base percentage, the position switch of Scott Hatteberg, and utilizing unorthodox reliever Chad Bradford - all big in the movie - certainly were parts of the A's success that season (2002).

But the more important aspects of that team are all but ignored in the movie - which of course, is based on the book by Michael Lewis, who drew his share of criticism for using only the facts he felt supported his case.

The success of the A's in 2002, and that entire 1999-2006 period (five playoff appearances), centered on the fact that they got tremendous production from Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito while all three were making relatively small amounts of money. They're ignored in the movie.

Miguel Tejada also fits in that big stats/small salary category, although he does have a part in the movie (as played by former big-leaguer Royce Clayton).

The one highly inaccurate portrayal in the script was that of manager Art Howe. He wasn't necessarily on board with all the new ideas Billy Beane was employing, but anybody who knows him (myself included) says he was one of the nicer people in the game. But Howe (as played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), was surly, recalcitrant and self-centered in the movie, and he has spoken out against that characterization.

The Jonah Hill character is based on then-Beane assistant Paul DePodesta, who chose not to be attached to the film in any way. Hill's character (named Peter Brand) is a socially awkward, nerdy type who presents Beane with sabermetrics data. DePodesta is a Harvard grad, but played football and baseball there.

One more thing: Although Beane and Brad Pitt are very different physically (Beane is 6-4, over 200 pounds and has black hair), Pitt nailed Beane's mannerisms.

Q. If the Seattle Mariners are going to turn things around and become a contender again, what's it going to take?
- Steven Smith, Quincy, Wash.

A. A good place to start would be to land a new, huge local television rights deal. That's what both the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have done - and they've stepped up to join the AL elite franchises as a result.

The Angels' recently re-negotiated deal is worth $3 billion - that's right, billion with a 'b' - over 20 years, or $150 million annually. That's before the gates are even opened, or a ticket is sold. So now you see why they can afford to give Albert Pujols $240 million over 10 years, even though it's almost a sure bet he won't be the same player he is now come 2018 or so.

The good news for the Mariners is their current TV deal - worth a reported $450 million over 10 years - has an opt-out clause in 2015. So that's their chance for a dramatic increase in rights fees - although it must be said they can't expect to land an Angels-type deal due to market size.

Another thing I'd consider doing is moving in the fences at Safeco Field, which is an extreme pitchers' park -- to the point that no free-agent hitter is going to sign with the Mariners if he has a relatively equal offer to play elsewhere.

I think that's at least part of the reason why the Mariners pulled the trigger on the Michael Pineda-for-Jesus Montero deal. Unless they develop sluggers of their own, the trade market is the only way for them to go.

General manager Jack Zduriencik has had some hits and misses since taking over, but his track record in drafting and developing talent is solid. He was instrumental in the Brewers' building a contender around homegrown stars Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, Corey Hart, etc. So there's reason to believe he can do it again in Seattle.


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