December 01, 2011
When Tony Reagins shipped Mike Napoli(notes) to the Toronto Blue Jays in the disastrous Vernon Wells(notes) trade, he did so with the understanding it would change the landscape of the Los Angeles Angels. Depending on who you want to believe, he may have also done so with the understanding that the Jays would flip Napoli to the Texas Rangers, thus changing the landscape of the entire league.
While Napoli went on to enjoy a true breakout season — career highs in home runs (30), RBIs (75), batting average (.320) and on-base percentage (.414) — which helped push Texas to the AL West crown and a second straight World Series appearance, Angels fans were forced to endure a three-handed monstrosity consisting of Mike Scioscia favorite Jeff Mathis(notes), along with Bobby Wilson(notes) and Hank Conger(notes). Together that trio hit .188 with 10 home runs and 49 RBIs in 605 plate appearances.
That's difficult to digest even if you hold no emotional ties to the Angels, but especially so for Reagins. He stepped down as Angels' general manager on Sept. 30. On Oct 29. Jerry Dipoto was hired as his replacement, making it his responsibility to right Reagins' wrong, while helping Angels get past the Napoli disaster.
It'll take awhile, but Dipoto believes he found the man to do it on Wednesday when he acquired catcher Chris Iannetta(notes) from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for 21-year-old right-hander Tyler Chatwood(notes).
According to Dipoto, the move checks two boxes off his wish list. The first is obviously upgrading the catching position. The second is adding a hitter with strong on-base skills. Iannetta is certainly that, boasting a .370 on-base percentage in 2011 and a .357 mark in six big-league seasons. Those are very solid on-base numbers, especially from a catcher.
But the numbers that attract Dipoto have also led to division amongst Rockies fans, bloggers and analysts. Sure, Iannetta getting on base is good enough for some and will definitely satisfy the numbers crunchers, but to others his performance has been underwhelming. That's not to say Iannetta has performed poorly. Few would make that argument. He's just fallen short of expectations, which may or may not have been fair to begin with.
I'll be honest, for four years I've been waiting for Iannetta to breakout with an all-star caliber season. To hit 22-25 home runs and be that third run producer in a Rockies lineup that desperately needs one. It never happened.
I put some of that on Jim Tracy, who has refused to hit Iannetta higher than eighth in his lineup. Iannetta's OBP alone should have dictated a move up the card, but the stubborn Tracy never budged. In the National League that obviously limits a hitter's impact, and in this case probably hampered Iannetta's development.
But Iannetta can't be completely excused. There are just times when a hitter needs to take his hacks, and Iannetta's reluctance to do so has been a constant source of frustration. Throw the pretty OBP numbers out. Throw out a walk's as good as a hit. If a slugger can turn a game around with one swing, he shouldn't be waiting around for a walk, or as is too often the case with Iannetta, taking a peek at strike three.
If that's an approach the Angels are comfortable with, they'll be happy with the current Chris Iannetta. But he's only 28, and to me there's still tremendous breakout potential if he's allowed to move up the order and he's encouraged to take a more aggressive approach. As he is, Iannetta is a solid ballplayer and an obvious upgrade to their current situation. But the potential for further development with better opportunity could make this an excellent first trade for Dipoto.
Though I wouldn't dare project Iannetta to match the numbers Napoli put up in 2011, one significant step forward for him and one obvious step back for Napoli could give them similar value in 2012.
As for the Rockies' end of the deal, they continue stockpiling young arms with the addition of Tyler Chatwood (right).
On his way in the door he'll be met with the same two pieces of advice Drew Pomeranz(notes) and Alex White(notes) were greeted with when they were acquired for Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) in July. First: Throw strikes. Second: Keep the ball down and throw more strikes.
I only saw bits and pieces of Chatwood in 2011, but looking at scouting reports it appears those are two things he struggled with quite a bit in his first big-league season. Coors Field will not support that.
He relies mostly on his fastball (clocked at around 95 mph), throws an above-average curveball, but currently lacks a quality third pitch. At 21, there's obviously still time for him to improve and develop, but given his profile and the Rockies' recent history, don't be surprised it he's eventually groomed for a late-inning relief role.
Also, to fill the void left by Iannetta, the Rockies are nearing a two-year deal with former Cincinnati Reds catcher Ramon Hernandez(notes). Hernandez, 35, posted numbers similar to Iannetta in 2011, and makes more sense splitting time with the up-and-coming Wilin Rosario(notes).