There is a philosophical war coming amongst the Angels fan base and maybe amongst Angel management too. In the next few weeks, Alberto Callaspo will come off of the disabled list only to find himself pitted against his fill-in rookie Luis Jimenez. It isn't a position battle that anyone anticipated happening, but boy is it going to spark a debate.
Pretty much nobody like Alberto Callaspo. He is as unsexy a player as there is. He's a slap hitter who's main offensive skills are that works counts, draws a decent number of walks and doesn't swing-and-miss much. He has virtually no power nor much any speed. He rates as a strong defender at third base but is not the sort who is given to make the highlight play so nobody ever really notices. He is also something of a dirtbag off the field as his arrest record shows, so that doesn't endear him to many people despite his steady ability to perform as a league average or slightly above third baseman.
Now Luis Jimenez, there's a player people love! He's got a fun nickname, LUCHO LIBRE! He can actually drive the ball and has shown himself to be a slick defender at the hot corner in his own right. He's also a rookie off to a hot start, something that is universally loved by fans of every creed. He's also a narrative dream. The kid that was underrated as a prospect but endears himself to the fans and team because he "plays with fire." He's gritty. He's a grinder. He's a hustler. He's the grittiest grindiest hustling hustler that ever hustled. And did I mention that he's got a cool nickname? It is just so much fun to call someone "Lucho." LUCHO LIBRE!
Without realizing it, the Angels are reacting a much smaller scale and less divisive old school vs. new school debate in the vein of the Cabrera (RBIS 4 EVA!) vs. Trout (WAR what is it good for?). Despite being a rookie, Lucho is a throwback to the old school with his swing at everything, walks are boring, go all out all the time style of play whereas Callaspo is something of a sabermetric darling because he is perceived as being underrated for his on-base ability and shiny UZR and DRS scores. And this is not just a conflict occurring in the minds of the fans and media, Mike Scioscia and Jerry Dipoto both figure to have plenty to say about it before all is said and done.
For his part, Scioscia has already gone on record as being very impressed with Lucho's style of play and defense, stating that one way or another Jimenez will have a role with the team when Callaspo returns. What exactly that role will be he did not say, but he certainly left the door open for it to be a prominent one. The invocation of defense is one Scioscia loves to resort to as a justification for playing someone who isn't batting, lest we all forget that Jeff Mathis era. Of course he only deploys it when convenient, lest we forget the Wells over Bourjos dilemma. Callaspo is probably the better defender, but if Scioscia can keep talking up Lucho's glove so that he at least believes in his mind that they are close, then that is all he needs to favor Jimenez's offensive upside and fiery, gritty attitude.
Meanwhile, Jerry Dipoto has been mum on the topic, which is no surprise since he doesn't speak about such matters all that often. Even if he did, we've all learned by now that JeDi speaks entirely in cliches and half-truths. But one thing he was very candid about upon getting hired was his philosophy that a team must "control the count" which is a PC way of saying he likes guys that get on base. Lucho may be able to put the bat on the ball, but Lucho does not walk. In fact, he drew just 19 free passes at Triple-A in 2011 after walking only 27 times in Double-A the season before. It is pretty telling that Dipoto declined to make Jimenez a September call-up in 2012 despite a strong campaign at Salt Lake for Lucho. Jerry just wasn't interested in him because he is not his kind of player. It was only through the necessity of attrition that Lucho got the call up this year.
What this could reveal to us all is where the power divide between Scioscia and Dipoto exists. If Scioscia develops an affinity for Jimenez, is that something that Dipoto will let stand especially when you consider that Jerry just gave Beto a two-year, $8.975 million contract to serve as the placeholder at third until Kaleb Cowart is ready. Clearly Dipoto has a preference here both personally and philosophically, so he may not be content to sit idly by and watch Lucho steal playing time from Callaspo. In a lot of organizations, the GM has the power to dictate or at least strongly suggest who should be getting playing time, but is that the case between Dipoto and the great and mighty Sosh?
And how will fans react the first time Callaspo slumps after he returns from the DL. There is little guarantee that Jimenez will perform better, but he is new, shiny and young and thus inherently preferable to the masses. Public opinion should never ever sway a manager or franchise, but it sure could be something that affects Callaspo's performance on the field if he gets the sense that his own fans are actively rooting against him so that he can get out of Lucho's way.
I'd like to think that this all ends happily with Scioscia finding a timeshare arrangement between the players, which would be much easier if Callaspo actually had stable platoon splits, thus allowing Callaspo to remain the primary third baseman but also giving Jimenez ample playing time to show whether or not he is actually capable of holding his own in the majors. And in a perfect world this will appease the fans, but in this world of polarized opinions we all live in, that seems highly doubtful. Yep, the philosophy clash is coming, folks.
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