Los Angeles Angels

Angels' moves hurt Phillies' chances of catching Trout

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Angels' moves hurt Phillies' chances of catching Trout

The Eagles made Angel Stadium in Anaheim their home away from home last week. The entire team was greeted with a gift of a Mike Trout bobblehead. Nigel Bradham even used the Millville native and Birds season ticketholder's locker to dress. Trout left a personalized message to his favorite team prior to the Rams game.

Yet another link that it is kismet for the native son, the best player in his sport, to return someday soon to Philadelphia and play for the team he grew up rooting for? After all, the Phillies are flush with spending money should the opportunity arise. They appear to have the makings of a strong nucleus that could lure the 26-year-old back East. His deal runs through 2020 and Trout would be only 29 at the end of that contract. Seems perfect, right?  

Not so fast, my red pinstriped friends.

Hold on, we'll get to that in one minute. If you've been comatose the last seven seasons, all Trout has done since debuting in the big leagues in 2011 is win two MVPs, finish second in MVP voting three times and make six All-Star Games. The marriage here with the Phillies, a team he was a die-hard fan of growing up — even attending the 2008 World Series Championship parade as a senior in high school — would be one made in heaven. 

Adding fodder to the Trout-to-Philly hype is the Angels have reached the postseason only once in his time there. The hope from a fan's perspective would be Anaheim would continue to languish in mediocrity and eventually be forced to move Trout to possibly begin a rebuild, or he would play out his deal and walk. Wishful thinking? Sure. Out of the question? No. Trout has a full no-trade, so he can pick and choose where he ends up if he wishes to leave Southern California for South Philly prior to the end of his deal.

However, there may be a fly in the ointment. Despite it being only December, the Angels have had themselves an offseason. They signed Japanese two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani. The 23-year-old is a three-pitch starter who can touch over 100 mph on the gun with his fastball. He posted a 1.86 ERA in 140 innings for his Nippon-Ham club in Japan's Pacific League, a very high level of baseball. He also batted .322 with a .416 on-base percentage, while slugging .588 last season. In 2016, he hit 22 home runs. This was a major coup for the Angels, who won a bidding war over many other suitors around the league to land the right-handed pitching, left-handed hitting Ohtani.  

The Angels also signed veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler, a four-time All-Star and 2016 Gold Glove winner. Despite being 35, Kinsler is a major upgrade from what they had last year at the position. Anaheim also traded for Justin Upton late last year and re-signed him in the offseason. He'll play next to Trout in left. The Angels still need to upgrade their pitching. But on paper, they have the makings of a potent lineup that, with some pitching help, could land a wild-card spot in the playoffs. That is not music to Phillies fans' ears.

We're a long way away from 2020, so a lot can happen both here and 2,376 miles away in Orange County. The Phillies need to hope their current young nucleus blossoms like the group of Rollins, Utley, Howard and Hamels did in the mid-2000s. They should also keep a close eye on their neighbors to the West and cross their fingers things don't go so well. If both scenarios play out in their favor, the Phillies could reel in the biggest fish in franchise history.

Shohei Ohtani chooses Los Angeles Angels

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Shohei Ohtani chooses Los Angeles Angels

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Shohei Ohtani has decided he's on the side of the Angels.

The Japanese two-way star announced Friday he will sign with the Los Angeles Angels, ending the sweepstakes surrounding his move to the majors in a surprising destination.

Ohtani, who intends to be both a starting pitcher and an everyday power hitter, turned down interest from every other big-league club to join two-time MVP Mike Trout and slugger Albert Pujols with the Angels, who are coming off their second consecutive losing season and haven't won a playoff game since 2009.

The Angels' combination of a promising core and a beautiful West Coast location clearly appealed to the 23-year-old Ohtani, who has confounded baseball experts at almost every step of his move to North America as one of the most coveted free agents in years.

Ohtani and his agent, Nez Balelo, issued a statement Friday announcing the decision after meeting with several finalists for his services earlier in the week.

Balelo said the 2016 Japanese MVP "felt a true bond with the Angels. He sees this as the best environment to develop and reach the next level and attain his career goals."

After his unusual courtship, Ohtani will attempt to chart an even more unique career path as the majors' first regular two-way player in several decades. Ohtani already has drawn numerous comparisons to Babe Ruth, who excelled as a hitter and a pitcher early in his Hall of Fame career.

Ohtani is expected to be both a right-handed starting pitcher and a left-handed designated hitter for the Angels, who are expected to give him ample playing time in both roles.

Many baseball observers have long assumed Ohtani would choose a higher-profile franchise such as the Yankees or Dodgers, who would have both welcomed him into their rotation and lineup. He received serious attention from Seattle and Texas, who both could have given him more money than the Angels.

Ohtani listened to his suitors' final pitches in Los Angeles before choosing the Angels, who play about 28 miles from downtown LA in laid-back Orange County. Most of the Angels live in coastal Newport Beach and enjoy a comfortable, warm-weather lifestyle with ample big-market media attention, but without the withering scrutiny of other top destinations.

Yet Angels general manager Billy Eppler is very serious about winning, and he has spent several years scouting Ohtani, ever since his previous job with the Yankees.

"We are honored Shohei Ohtani has decided to join the Angels organization," the franchise said in a brief statement. "We felt a unique connectivity with him throughout the process and are excited he will become an Angel. This is a special time for Angels fans."

Ohtani has ample opportunity to fulfill his biggest ambitions with the Angels, who are in need of a top starting pitcher. They should also be able to fit him into their lineup when he isn't pitching: Pujols has largely been a designated hitter for the past two seasons, but the three-time NL MVP is expected to be healthy enough to play first base more frequently in 2018.

Ohtani's new teammates greeted the news joyously. Left fielder Justin Upton tweeted , "So pumped right now..."

Trout, who is getting married this weekend to his longtime girlfriend, simply sent out the emoji of two bugged-out eyes .

Ohtani's disappointed suitors included Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, who had hoped Ohtani would follow in the footsteps of Yu Darvish, their former Japanese ace, instead of going to one of their AL West rivals.

"We're disappointed we weren't Shohei Ohtani's choice, but wish him the best in Anaheim," Daniels said. "He impressed us on and off the field at every turn. However, had he asked our opinion, we would have suggested the National League."

Ohtani was coveted by every team because of his exceptional pitching talent and powerful bat, but also because he represents an extraordinary bargain due to baseball's rules around international players.

The Angels will have to pay the $20 million posting fee to Ohtani's previous club, the Nippon Ham Fighters, but Ohtani will not be paid a huge salary for the next three seasons. Ohtani, who will be under the Angels' contractual control for six years, will sign a minor league contract and can receive up to $2,315,000 in international bonus money from the Angels.

Ohtani likely could have received a deal worth more than $100 million if he had waited two years to move stateside, but Ohtani wasn't interested in delaying his progress for money.

Ohtani should get an immediate spot in the front of the rotation for the Angels, who have endured brutal injuries to their starting pitchers in recent years.

Los Angeles' ostensible ace is Garrett Richards, but he has been limited to 62 1/3 innings over the past two seasons. The rotation also currently includes Matt Shoemaker, Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs, who have all dealt with major injury setbacks.

Ohtani was 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA this year while slowed by thigh and ankle injuries, but those numbers don't indicate the incredible potential seen in a pitcher whose fastball has been clocked above 100 mph. While he has occasionally struggled with control, Ohtani is widely thought to be a surefire big-league pitching prospect.

Scouts are more divided on Ohtani's ability to hit big-league pitching consistently, but the Angels intend to find out. He hit .332 in 65 games with eight homers and 31 RBIs last season, occasionally unleashing the tape-measure blasts that had teams salivating.

The Angels could ease Ohtani's transition to the majors by resting him on the days before and after he pitches, as he did in Japan. Los Angeles also has thought about trying a six-man starting rotation, which would allow Ohtani to have ample arm rest after pitching roughly once a week in Japan.

The Angels have missed the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons, but Ohtani's arrival is only the latest in a series of big moves for Eppler, who is determined to build a World Series contender during the remaining three years on Trout's contract.

Shortly after the World Series ended, the Angels secured a five-year, $106 million deal with Upton, their late-season trade acquisition. The veteran slugger is an ideal solution after years of underperformance in left field for the club.

Earlier this week, Eppler bolstered his much-improved farm system by signing 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan, a coveted prospect considered the best of 13 players recently taken away from the Atlanta Braves for violating international signing rules.

Southern California feeling just like home for Eagles

Southern California feeling just like home for Eagles

ANAHEIM, Calif. — For Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor and defensive end Chris Long, their game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday represents a sort of homecoming. For the rest of the team, Angel Stadium represents a pretty good facsimile of the trappings of home.

The Eagles held their first practice at the Big A on Wednesday (see story), preparing for the showdown against a fellow NFC division leader, and were surprised how similar it was to their NovaCare complex back in Philadelphia. 

“They did a great job of throwing this thing together. This is unorthodox, but it’s worked out pretty well,” Long said.

“We just made it into the NovaCare the best way we can,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “That’s what makes it even more interesting, just by bringing what we have and making it like a home.”

It did take some time to adjust to the grass of a baseball diamond. Safety Rodney McLeod said the field was a bit slippery at first, but everyone quickly settled in, especially to a locker room with more space and trappings than are typically associated with football. 

“Oh man, it’s nice,” McLeod said. “This is probably my first time inside a baseball locker room and pretty impressed. Those guys live a nice lifestyle so I appreciate them lending us their locker room.”       

Each locker had a bobblehead of Angels outfielder Mike Trout in it as a welcome gift, but Bradham gets to use the slugger’s space for the week (see story). Mychal Kendricks received the adjacent locker, where Trout usually stores extra items such as signed jerseys from visiting players and his clothes.

“I just grabbed a locker for the week,” Bradham said. “But that is nice though, to be able to have a guy of that caliber and share the same locker as him. Glad he's letting me rent it for the week.“

Bradham was even more pleased he got a hotel room all to himself. He had to put up with a roommate last season as solo stays are granted only to players with at least six years experience. There are no such issues this time around, but he does view the extended stay as a valuable chance to continue to refine team rapport for the stretch run. 

“You get used to being able to be on schedule, not be jet-lagged, I think that’s the advantage,” Bradham said. “Spend time with the boys and build that chemistry, to continue to build it, and study, that’s the main thing. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to get a win.”

Winning is something Agholor did plenty during his three seasons in college at USC, and he is looking forward to being back in the Coliseum as he continues a breakout campaign. Agholor has set career highs with 40 receptions for 599 yards and seven touchdowns, looking more like the star he was with the Trojans. 

Agholor had 12 receptions for 120 yards and one touchdown in his last game at the Coliseum, a 49-14 win over Notre Dame in 2014. His favorite moment there, however, was in his first game in the stadium that hosted the first Super Bowl.

Marqise Lee had a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown in the third quarter of a 49-10 win over Hawaii in 2012, with Agholor serving as the lead blocker coming out of the end zone.

“I got to chip a guy, then I chipped the kicker,” Agholor said. “You would have thought I returned the kickoff return, that’s how hyped I was. That was my earliest and one of the memories that lasts the most.”     

Long’s earliest memories of the Coliseum are a bit fuzzier, a young boy when his father Howie was wreaking havoc for the then-Los Angeles Raiders.

Still, Long is excited to have a chance to play in the Coliseum. The venue opened in 1923, which technically makes it the oldest stadium in the NFL while hosting the Rams until their new home in Inglewood, California, is completed in 2020. Chicago’s Soldier Field opened one year after the Coliseum in 1924.  

“Definitely even if my dad didn’t play there some, I would appreciate the history of it,” Long said. “I love playing in these old stadiums. There’s only a few left, so it’s going to be a great experience and I’m sure a couple memories will come back.”