Los Angeles Angels move on after Eric Kay trial

TEMPE, Ariz. — Most organizations start spring with hope and a clean slate. The Los Angeles Angels are different. Every year, it seems, they gather behind the boulder that crashed down on them the previous season and, grunting and straining, band together and begin to attempt to push it back up the mountain.

This spring’s Angels, however, isn’t another take on “Let’s see if we can get Mike Trout to the Playoffs.” Instead, it’s a bruised and battered organization emerging from a devastating winter.

In February, less than two years after the horrific death of Tyler Skaggs, former team communications director Eric Kay was found guilty in a Texas courtroom of distributing an opioid containing fentanyl at Skaggs, which resulted in the pitcher’s death. During the trial, former Angels Matt Harvey, CJ Cron, Mike Morin and Cam Bedrosian testified that they obtained painkillers such as oxycodone from Kay.

Kay, who was a friend and colleague of many in the Angels front office for more than 20 years – as well as a handful of players this year – is expected to be sentenced in June and faces decades in prison.

It’s safe to say that each of Major League Baseball‘s 30 teams couldn’t wait to get to spring training and get past the homeowner-called lockout that had paralyzed play for much of the winter. . But no team needed the annual revival more than the Angels.

“It’s just tough in the sense that, of course, you don’t want to see any negative publicity befall your band,” said manager Joe Maddon, who led the Chicago Cubs when Skaggs died. “And, on top of that, it was hard to listen to everyone involved, and then of course the disappearance of Skaggs…it was all awful.

“Having said that, it’s really up to us now to try to promote the good side of this organization. We had a tragedy, and this is another. You mean Nick Adenhart, that’s another one. There are so many things that have happened here.

Adenhart, a 22-year-old promising pitcher, was killed in a car accident on a Friday night after a game at Angel Stadium in April 2009. Going back further, outfielder Lyman Bostock was shot dead after a game in Chicago in 1978. And former closest Donnie Moore death by suicide in 1989.

“I was there, I knew Donnie very well,” said Maddon, who in his decades with the organization – interrupted by two managerial stints with other clubs – was a minor league coach when Moore is deceased and minor league catcher when Bostock was killed. . “There are a lot of things, and we would like to eradicate that image and move on.”

On backfield 3 across the Tempe Diablo stadium parking lot here the other day, the Angels were trying to do just that as Noah Syndergaard, who signed a one-year, $21 million contract to leave the Mets, threw 50 pitches. in a minor league game. The start came two years to the day after undergoing Tommy John surgery. His rehabilitation following this operation had limited him to two starts in a heat last year.

“I barely slept last night,” said Syndergaard, whose fastball hovered between 93 and 95 miles per hour, according to a nearby scout’s radar gun, and who launched his first sliders in competition since the operation. “My nerves were flowing all morning long.”

Syndergaard quickly found solace in his new organization thanks in part to his longstanding relationship with Angels general manager Perry Minasian. Minasian was a professional scout for Toronto when the Blue Jays drafted Syndergaard in 2010, two years before they traded him to the Mets as part of the RA Dickey deal.

“It was encouraging,” Syndergaard said of his familiarity with Minasian. “Someone who saw my abilities and my talent from the start. And I knew I could play with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, two of the most exciting players to ever walk this earth. almost everything.

Of course, Syndergaard also knew something else about angels. And that’s what happened in the Texas courtroom after he was signed.

“We heard the news,” he said. “It’s a huge, traumatic and really unfortunate thing that happened. I just want to bring awareness, bring light and raise Tyler’s name as much as possible.”

Minasian, entering his second year as general manager, was assistant general manager in Atlanta when Skaggs died in 2019. The Angels’ best baseball player at the time was new Mets general manager Billy Eppler. Minasian therefore does not know many details. He’s just thrilled that the second team he built is now away and on the pitch.

“It’s great to be here,” Minasian said. “Seeing some of the faces on the court, the Anthony Rendons, the Mike Trouts, makes me smile a lot.”

The Angels have been terribly short of pitchers in recent years, the main reason Trout, 30, has played in just three playoff games in 11 seasons — none since the Angels were swept in their divisional series of the American League in 2014. Minasian targeted specific personalities as he revamped the staff this year, prioritizing aggression over talent. That’s why he’s focused on Syndergaard despite the big right-hander having pitched just two major league innings in the past two seasons as he recovered from elbow surgery.

“He fits that mold of one of the best pitchers in the game when he’s Noah,” Minasian said.

When is he Noah? But what about Thor? Which is the most fearsome?

“Yeah, Thor, Noah, whatever,” Minasian said smiling. “I love seeing him on the mound.”

Both Minasian and Maddon have said that, just as they did in scrapping ‘Ohtani Rules’ last year from the American League’s Most Valuable Player, they will place no restrictions on Syndergaard and will will defer to the launcher for the workload.

“You never want to get in the way of someone being great,” Maddon said, adding, “We tend to be very restrictive. That was a big part of why fans were drawn to certain teams and certain games on certain nights.

The Angels also added three independent right-handers to their bullpen in Ryan Tepera (who was with the White Sox last year), Aaron Loup (Mets) and Archie Bradley (Phillies). As Minasian said, “The average start for a big league is five and a third innings. Your paddock is therefore an everyday player.

“In recent years, the perception of this team is that it’s an always stacked roster, big names,” Tepera said. “They always needed a little pitch in a lot of guys’ eyes to take them to the next level.”

Through it all, Trout, who signed a 12-year, $426.5 million contract in 2019, is smiling and appears to remain exceptionally patient. After a calf tear limited him to 36 career games last year, he said he worked on his flexibility over the winter – he will stay in center field even after Maddon floated the idea of ​​moving it to a corner – watched Minasian add pitching, caught a few whitetail deer with his bow and arrow, and enjoyed life with his son.

From a distance, he also watched the inevitable with sadness.

“It was tough for everyone, the baseball family in general,” Trout told reporters of Kay’s trial upon arriving at camp. He politely declined to give details in an interview on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Minasian also made another valuable pre-camp acquisition. Due to the lockout, the angels released Ohtani’s longtime translator, Ippei Mizuhara. It was a technicality: during the lockout, as a front-office employee, Mizuhara was not allowed to speak with Ohtani.

So the angels let him go – but brought him back once the lockdown ended.

“It made sense, it was the most natural way to handle the situation,” Mizuhara said with a smile. “They guaranteed me my place. I wasn’t too worried.

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