Understanding Ortiz, Not Understanding the Angels

Big Papi gets his biggest wish . . .

What I do understand is the Boston Red Sox coming to agreeable terms with David Ortiz, no matter how soon before the deadline to pick up or decline 2013 options or for teams to make qualifying offers to players in order to protect draft picks. With Ortiz having made plain his wish to finish his career in a Red Sox uniform, the Red Sox almost didn’t have to make just as plain their wish to see him finish that way.

Ortiz wasn’t even close to the reason the Red Sox went to hell between September 2011 and October 2012—did you realise he’s trailed only four players in on base percentage plus slugging percentage (OPS) over the past three seasons?—and he was striking toward his best statistical season since 2007 before his Achilles tendon cut him down for keeps in early September.

Two years, $26 million. That’s a big price tag for a designated hitter, but it’s also less than the average salary of the top 125 players. (It’s also a little less per year than they paid him in 2012, but with Ortiz it isn’t always about the absolute top final dollar.)

With the likely interest in him if the Red Sox didn’t re-sign him, as compared to last off-season, when he wasn’t even close to alone among big free agency bats, married to his value as a clubhouse presence as well as his lineup impact, the Big Trade that unloaded $262 million in payroll was merely the exclamation point to the fact that the Red Sox simply weren’t going to deny the mutual wish they share with the franchise’s most popular player.

The fact that the Ortiz signing further makes a first class chump out of their now-former manager, who had the audacity to call Ortiz a quitter against every shred of evidence that proved otherwise when Ortiz went down for what was left of 2012, is mere gravy.

What I don’t understand, however, is not so much why the Los Angeles Angels decided to decline pitcher Dan Haren’s 2013 option, but why on earth they tried to trade him for a closer whose track record is spotty at best and alarming at worst.

Haren—Option declined after deal for Marmol fell . . .

Haren fell in the eyes of the Angels when he turned out a so-so 2012 season, hampered in large part by back trouble that underwrote a loss of fastball velocity that the club considered drastic enough. He did manage to make thirty starts, his ERA did rise by a full run or better, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio fell from a league-leading figure to a comparatively modest 3.74, but for a lot of teams Haren would be the closest thing they could get to an established ace.

The Chicago Cubs were interested enough in him to try swinging a deal for him before Friday night’s deadlines.¬†What the Cubs offered, however, was Carlos Marmol, a closer who lost that job for a serious spell during 2012 and finished with 44 walks (leading all relief pitchers) and a 1.54 walks and hits per inning pitched rate, number twelve among National League bulls.

The Angels need a bullpen repair after a 2012 in which their pen led the Show in blown saves, the highest rates of inherited runners scoring in baseball, and the third-worst ERA of any bullpen. Whatever made general manager Jerry DiPoto think Marmol might be any key repairman, enough to be willing to flip a Dan Haren for him, is temporarily unavailable to the rational thought process, even if you factor that flipping Haren helps gird the Angels for a serious bid to keep the free-agent starter they most want to keep, Zack Greinke.

But if the idea was to flip Haren rather than pay him a buyout in a bid to begin rebuilding a bullpen that needs the job done badly enough, the Angels surely could have gotten better than Marmol. Unless, of course, they plan to dip into the open market with targets such as Rafael Soriano (Yankees, opted out of his deal after a brilliant season as The Mariano’s stand-in made his market value look a lot more glittering), Jonathan Broxton (Reds; rebuilt himself after injuries killed his 2011, closing successfully for the Royals before a mid-season deal turned him into Aroldis Chapman’s best setup man), Jeremy Affeldt (Giants, who shone in the postseason, was the club’s best middle reliever in 2012 overall, but whom the Giants may not be able to retain if they decide they want to keep at least half their seven free agents), or Ryan Madson (Reds; never threw a pitch for them after tearing an elbow ligament in March, but recovered, free, and possibly on a few wish lists as a prospective setup man).

In some ways, the Angel pen still hasn’t recovered from the loss of its two most significant pitchers of the past decade, closer Francisco Rodriguez (free agency, though—all things considered since—the Angels may have known something his next two clubs, the Mets and the Brewers, had to learn the hard way) and setup man Scot Shields (retired after 2010, following two injury-riddled seasons, the last man standing from the Angels’ 2002 World Series winner).

But the repairs can begin in earnest. Ernesto Frieri (obtained from San Diego in May) was a true find in 2012; barring injury or regression, he looks to have resolved the Angels’ closing need, saving 23 out of 26 and keeping hitters to a .156 average against him. Scott Downs turned in a solid season, but he’s 36. The Angels need far more than those two for a pennant race-worthy pen.

Making a run at Affeldt might be wise. He’s a lefthander who’s a pain in the neck to hitters from both sides of the plate, and he just spent the postseason proving he does the job no matter when you need to bring him in. That alone could give the Angel pen a big vitamin shot.

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