Today marks the one year anniversary of the biggest loss the Angels have suffered in rece..."/> Today marks the one year anniversary of the biggest loss the Angels have suffered in rece..."/>

Man Down! Man Down!


Today marks the one year anniversary of the biggest loss the Angels have suffered in recent history.

Between dwelling on Kendrys and the Giants loss of Buster Posey this last week, I found myself asking most certainly the same question the Giants themselves are asking… “Where do we go from here?”  The loss of a single player, a single position player… the captain of the team, has all but crippled San Francisco’s chances of returning to the Fall Classic.

Perhaps the biggest breakout player of 2010, and most definitely the most sought after catcher in Fantasy Baseball (if you’re into that sort of thing), Buster Posey in my eyes is simply irreplaceable.  What does this have to do with my beloved Angels you ask?  See if you can follow my train of thought for a bit…

Since the Angels won the World Series in 2002, they have shown that there will always be a chink in their armor.  The closest thing to a five star backstop the Angels have had in recent history is Bengie Molina, who contrary to popular belief, was at the time one of the premier catchers in the game.  Nowadays, the Angels catching regiment consists of a very inconsistent Jeff Mathis, a very underused Bobby Wilson, and a very inexperienced Hank Conger… who many, including myself, believe to be the future of this franchise.

In my opinion, the Angels made one of the worst trades ever when they let Mike Napoli escape to the Rangers via the Blue Jays in exchange for Vernon Wells and a potload of incurred debt.  He was the closest thing the Halos had to a sure thing behind the plate, but with Mathis being the clear club favorite, Naps just never stood a chance to become the elite Mike Piazza like catcher that I saw him becoming.  So, again… the question remains, where do we go from here?

If you look back at every Championship team going back to 2002, there was not a winning club without a single (or battery of) elite catcher(s).  In ’02 it was the Angels who rode the leadership of the Molina brothers to their first club championship.  In 2003 it was the Florida Marlins, who relied on the leadership of Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez to lead them to victory.  2004 brought the Red Sox Nation and Boston by, backstop Jason Varitek a sigh of relief and their first championship in like 1,000 years.  One year later, the White Sox rode A.J. Pierzynski to the promised land.  Then, in 2006, another Molina brother burst onto the scene and showed that leadership runs thru their veins as he and the St. Louis Cardinals laid claim to the best in the land.  2007 sent the Championship back to Beantown where long time Captain V-Tek and longtime backup Doug Mirabelli showed their experience by winning their second series in 5 seasons.

In 2008, the first time since ’02 a team won with a starting catcher that did not play the magic number of games.  The six previous years, each teams catcher had played in no less than 120 games.

There is, at least to me, a clear relation between having your captain in the game, and winning on a consistent basis.  In ’08, the Philadelphia Phillies rode to the series on the backs of a tag team effort from Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste, and in ’09 the Yanks played the double dip game on the backs and experience of Jorge Posada and Jose Molina.  Then this last year in San Francisco, Buster Posey showed that although he didn’t even play in 100 games, he learned from one of the absolute best in the business… Bengie Molina.

So, again… what does this have to do with the Angels?  Well, Jeff Mathis has only caught more than 80 games once in his career, and is on pace to catch roughly 75 games this season.  With Hank Conger in the lineup and with the ability to hit from the left side, the chances of Mathis seeing more games than Conger is highly unlikely. Although many scoff at the thought of a rookie catcher becoming the everyday starter, Angels fans have been waiting for Conger to make his mark in the Bigs for some time now.

The only problem is, he has nobody to learn from.  The one person that Hank is going to have to rely on for his on the job training is an underachieving, defensively overrated Jeff Mathis.  The fact that Scioscia was once a backstop himself means nothing when his duties don’t quite extend to that of development.  The clear choice for this club at catcher should have been Napoli… the clear choice now must be Hank.  The question I ask now is the same as I am sure the Giants are asking this week… Where do we go from here?  Well I can tell you where we will not be going… the post season.