Chris Iannetta’s “Get Out of Jail Free” card arrived two weeks ago when the St. Raphael Academy alumnus was acquired by the Los Angeles Angels to be their everyday catcher.
Relocating from the Rocky Mountains that adorn Colorado to sun-splashed Southern California has already reaped one major benefit for the 28-year-old. Keep in mind that Iannetta has yet to suit up for his new manager, but that didn’t stop Mike Scioscia from lavishing praise upon his new catcher during last week’s winter meetings.
“I think Chris Iannetta is going to be a great fit for us,” relayed Scioscia to the media in Dallas. “He's going to bring a lot of what [good glove, no hit] Jeff [Mathis] brought behind the plate with the ability to bring offense and durability. We’ll plan on catching him 100-plus games, and that’s going to be important to us.”
Of course the Angels had a catcher who met the criteria Scioscia laid out as recent as the 2010 season in Mike Napoli, who was flipped for disappointing outfielder Vernon Wells last off-season. Napoli went on to slug 30 home runs for the Texas Rangers and shine defensively in the World Series while Wells had the lowest on-base percentage, .248, among all qualified major league hitters while pocketing $24 million.
Scioscia and the Angels opted to take their mulligan and go get Iannetta. For this local product, a change of scenery will no doubt work wonders, especially after his time in Colorado was marred by two managers in Clint Hurdle and Jim Tracy who would quickly sour on this drafted-and-developed product whenever Iannetta slipped.
Iannetta has experienced a confusing career. He was supposed to be the man in 2007, but was supplanted by Yorvit Torrealba. In 2008, Iannetta grabbed the job back, only to lose it again the following two seasons. Things seemingly came to a boiling point in April 2010 when Tracy uttered “I see uncertainty in his body language” upon Iannetta’s demotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs.
For someone who not too long ago was viewed as Colorado’s long-term answer behind the plate, Iannetta was not afforded much in the way of patience. He was never truly allowed to work his way back into the good graces of either Hurdle or Tracy, two baseball men who opted to ride the hot hand of Torrealba and Miguel Olivo even after Iannetta had completed his minor-league penance.
Baseball purists will argue that Iannetta, a career .194 hitter in the season’s opening month, left Hurdle and Tracy little choice but to award the job to his alleged understudy. Managers are in the business of winning ballgames, meaning it’s incumbent upon these tacticians of diamond play to field the best team that gives them the best to win on a game-to-game basis.
You can’t fault Iannetta if he started looking over shoulder whenever his slump deepened. To play with little or no job security is a tightrope that became commonplace for this quiet yet intense individual to navigate. Things came full circle at the tail end of the 2011 season, when Iannetta watched from the bench as Wilin Rosario, the latest stab in Colorado’s bid to find stability at catcher, received a chance to state his case.
“I’m sure the Rockies have a plan, they always do,” Iannetta said.
Reached Tuesday, Iannetta spoke in diplomatic terms about his time in Colorado, the franchise that selected him in the fourth round of the 2004 draft. It’s now time to look ahead at the new opportunity he’s been presented rather than get bogged down on what could have been.
“I really didn’t have an issue with (Hurdle or Tracy). They were just making the best decisions they could make for the team,” he said. “I may have been the No. 1 on paper, but (Colorado) had the idea of bringing in a veteran guy and let him battle for the job.
“I had a good experience but there definitely were some ups and downs,” added Iannetta, “but I wouldn’t trade my time there.”
Iannetta went on to say that he’s “closing one chapter and opening another.” To work side-by-side and under the supervision of a former big-league catcher in Scioscia should hopefully quell the ongoing saga of this particular player going through a painstaking process of earning the complete support and trust of his MLB manager.
“He called me the day after the [Nov. 30] trade. He seems like a good guy in the short conversation we had,” Iannetta said about his dealings thus far with Scioscia. “I now have a new opportunity and it’s up to me to make the best of it.”
The acquisition of Iannetta can easily get lost in the shuffle after the Angels stole the show at the winter meetings by signing big-ticket items Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.
“Going in I knew the Angels were a tough team to play just because of how they are managed and what their philosophy is. They’re going to beat you in every facet of the game,” Iannetta said. “You take the team that beat them out for the division in the Texas Rangers and take their best pitcher (Wilson) and put him on the Angels along with one of the best hitters in the game (in Pujols), it’s definitely exciting.
“It’s a real special group and on paper it looks great, but there’s a reason why we play so many games,” continued Iannetta. “A lot of things can happen. You have to stay healthy from wire-to-wire and everyone has to have good years.”
That includes Iannetta.
“I’ve never had a new start before so I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing,” he said. “It seems that I got traded to a good situation.”