12/17/10 10:24 AM EST
Inbox: Would Damon be leadoff solution?
Beat reporter Lyle Spencer fields Angels fans' questions
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
-- George K., Irvine, Calif.
Damon is 37. He has played 2,276 games. He has played at least 140 games every year since 1996. He had a solid season as the Tigers' designated hitter, appearing in 145 games. He would take all the anxiety out of the leadoff spot and let younger players relax and just play the game.
Damon has played on World Series championship teams in two places, and he was a big reason for those teams' success in both cases. The guy is a winner. He is a leader. I like having those kinds of players on my team.
With the Angels, Damon would serve primarily as a DH, playing about twice a week in left to give Bobby Abreu a breather or when Abreu moves over to right to spell Torii Hunter, assuming Peter Bourjos wins the center-field job. Damon would be a great fit here. He would act like the youngest kid in the clubhouse, bringing life to the room, and there's something to be said for that.
As for Willits, I think he would tell you I've been his biggest supporter since he came up in 2007. I believe in the guy. I'd be fine with him leading off and playing regularly. I just don't think that's in the cards. He's been cast as a role player, and it's very difficult to change perceptions.
If the Rangers sign Adrian Beltre, will the Angels have any interest in trading for Michael Young?
-- Chuck M., Bellflower, Calif.
As much as they respect Young -- one of the game's class acts and solid all-around talents -- it's doubtful the Angels would deal for him, primarily for financial reasons. He's owed $16 million a year for three more seasons. That's a major investment. Moving Young would allow the Rangers to, in effect, trade him for Beltre. And that's a plus for Texas.
At this stage of their careers, Beltre is the superior player. He's better defensively than Young and hits with more power. I was surprised by all the anti-Beltre sentiment I was getting from readers when I wrote that the Angels should go get him, and then it occurred to me: He has played for two of the three teams Angels fans hate most -- the Dodgers and Red Sox. The only one that's missing is the Yankees.
It's the same with Damon, who played for the Red Sox and the Yankees. Of course Angels fans are going to detest him. He's beaten them too often in those hated East Coast uniforms.
Beltre, like Young, is pure class all the way. I've never heard anything bad about the guy from other players. They respect his toughness, his talent and his leadership. He's the guy the Angels need.
Can the Angels reasonably expect to contend without a legitimate closer like Rafael Soriano? They're kidding themselves if they think the guys they have can get it done in the ninth inning.
-- Randy R., Temecula, Calif.
Sure, it would be nice to land Soriano. But he's 31, and he's been a closer for only two years. Yes, he was dominant in 2010 for the Rays and would represent an obvious upgrade for the Angels. But at more than $10 million a year for three or four years, that's risky business.
Manager Mike Scioscia was a young Dodgers catcher when a kid named Steve Howe came out of nowhere to become a superb closer for the Dodgers. This was before Howe's life took some wrong turns. He helped pitch the Dodgers to the 1981 World Series, and was as tough-minded and unflappable as any closer in the game with very little experience.
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My guess is Scioscia thinks he can get something special out of Jordan Walden or Kevin Jepsen in the closer's role. Both have the right stuff to get it done. It's only a matter of experience. And how do you get experience -- by getting the opportunity to prove yourself. Nobody is born a closer. Even Mariano Rivera set up for John Wetteland before becoming the greatest ever to do the job.
How good are the two new free-agent lefties in the bullpen, Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi?
-- Bill C., Escondido, Calif.
They're two of the best at what they do, and that makes the Angels a whole lot better. The absence of a left-handed presence in the bullpen, apart from closer Brian Fuentes, was an issue last season. Darren Oliver's talent and presence were missed almost as much as Chone Figgins' ability as a catalyst.
Downs throws strikes and gets outs. He is highly respected. Takahashi is remarkably versatile, one of the few pitchers in the game who can throw six innings in a spot start and get an out in the eighth inning two days later to help save a game. Don't underestimate these moves.
Why are the fans so upset with Jeff Mathis?
-- Sabra A., Henderson, Nev.
They do seem to have made Mathis the main target of their venom, and I'm not quite sure why. He's a good guy, tough and team-oriented, and a fine player when he's healthy. If he can just hit between .235 and .250, he's an asset. I remain convinced he can do that.
Mathis was seriously hurt three weeks into the 2010 season, fracturing his right wrist. After a great start, he was never the same. Playing with a damaged right wrist is a severe handicap for a catcher, something nobody seems to want to accept. The Angels won 94, 100 and 97 games in consecutive seasons with Mathis and Mike Napoli sharing the catching job. They couldn't have been too bad.
Fans like to focus entirely on offense. Defense is just as important; without quality defense, a pitching staff can collapse. As for Mathis' erratic arm last season, he was never really comfortable after the wrist fracture. Besides, throwing out runners is at most 20 percent of the overall job of catching. Far more important is how the catcher relates to pitchers and manages to bring out the best in them -- and Mathis has shown he can do that about as well as anybody.