PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Veteran reliever Fernando Cabrera, a non-roster invitee obtained on a Minor League contract in the offseason, is among those competing for a bullpen spot with the Angels and needs every opportunity to show he deserves to start the season in the big leagues.
Instead, he'll depart for the World Baseball Classic on Sunday, which may not impact his chances all that much, but certainly can't help.
The 31-year-old right-hander feels he owes it to his native Puerto Rico, an island where baseball's importance has dropped considerably over the last few years.
"We've lost a big part of our baseball fan base in Puerto Rico," Cabrera said in Spanish. "One of the few events that people really get excited about in Puerto Rico and get behind is the World Baseball Classic. They like it. And representing your country is something that always makes you feel good."
Cabrera notched a 5.24 ERA while compiling 132 appearances in the big leagues from 2004-10. Last year, he pitched for the Mets' Triple-A affiliate, posting a 4.10 ERA and 22 saves in 68 innings. And in '06 and '09, he represented Puerto Rico in the Classic, throwing 5 2/3 shutout innings in a combined eight appearances as his country made it no further than the second round.
This year, he'll join a squad that includes Major Leaguers such as Mike Aviles, Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, Angel Pagan and Alex Rios -- but also one that has to play in a pool with powerhouses Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
Since being included in the First-Year Player Draft in 1990, teams have found few benefits in heavily scouting the area because they can't sign players at a bargain rate, and Puerto Rico has thusly seen its baseball talent plummet.
Academies recently opened by Beltran and Major League Baseball have helped -- the Astros' first overall pick, shortstop Carlos Correa, came from MLB's Academy -- but there's still a long way to go.
In 2012, 17 Puerto Rican-born players appeared in the Majors. From the Dominican Republic, there were 128. And from Venezuela, there were 88.
For Cabrera, the telling sign comes from the Puerto Rican winter league, where he pitches every offseason.
Fans have simply lost interest.
"It has to improve, but no matter how good the baseball is, the fans just don't go to the games," Cabrera said. "I believe there's still good talent in Puerto Rico, and it's getting better. Hopefully the country can just get behind them."
Dipoto responds to Trout's agent on renewal
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- The Angels gave superstar outfielder Mike Trout a $510,000 salary for next season, representing a $20,000 jump from the Major League minimum, and his agent is not happy.
Trout's representative, Craig Landis, made it clear in an email that Trout's contract is "not the result of a negotiated compromise," adding that the salary "falls well short of a 'fair' contract and I have voiced this to the Angels throughout the process."
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are free to assign whatever salaries they want to players in their pre-arbitration seasons -- between zero and three years of service time -- provided that it's no less than the 2013 minimum of $490,000.
To determine those salaries, the Angels use an objective system that gives a lot of weight to service time, not performance. Trout's situation is rare -- as a 21-year-old coming off being the unanimous choice for American League Rookie of the Year and the runner-up for MVP -- but the Angels still went by the book.
"Craig and Mike have a right to their opinion and we don't begrudge them their feelings," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "We love Mike. Mike's a big part of what we're doing here, obviously, now and hopefully for many years to come."
Of the 22 zero-to-three players who obtained contracts from the Angels Saturday, Trout was the only one who was "renewed," while the other 21 "agreed" to their salaries. The highest salary for those 22 was $540,000 for Mark Trumbo, who has just over two years of service time.
Within the Angels' system, $510,000 was the most a player with Trout's service time -- 1.070 years -- could make.
"We're trying to manage a group of 25 players, not one," Dipoto said, adding: "We have been as aggressive with Mike as we can be."
The Angels' decision to not make an exception for Trout is mainly due to the domino effect it can have on the rest of their other pre-arbitration players, now and in the future. They don't believe this -- or moving him from center field, for that matter -- will hinder their ability to sign him to a long-term contract.
"I don't think so," Dipoto said. "Mike's a great kid, he's wired the right way. We have every faith in his desire to be a great player. He's going to go out there and he's going to bust his tail."
Teams take different approaches with regards to how they compensate players before they're arbitration eligible, and some weigh performance and awards more heavily into the figure. In fact, the last 10 Rookie of the Year Award winners have received an average raise of more than 21 percent over the minimum.
Under the Angels' system, Trout's raise was four percent over the minimum.
"We're seeing a minimum salary that has gotten bigger and bigger, and we are seeing an average salary at the Major League level that has gotten bigger and bigger, and we're charged with managing that across the board," said Dipoto, whose payroll will be about $160 million in 2013. "With the zero-to-three and arbitration years and free agent years, at some point you have to manage the talent on the field and the economics of the game. That's what we're trying to do every day."
Landis had previously voiced his displeasure to the front office about Trout no longer being the everyday center fielder, now that Peter Bourjos will move into that role, but Trout himself has not expressed any resentment about the move, publicly or to Angels executives.
Trout wasn't scheduled to play against the Brewers at Maryvale Baseball Park on Saturday, and Landis said he would not comment further on the matter.
"As when he learned he would not be the team's primary center fielder for the upcoming season," Landis wrote, "Mike will put the disappointment behind him and focus on helping the Angels reach their goal of winning the 2013 World Series."
Frieri's pitching repertoire evolving
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Ernesto Frieri's desire to be more than a one-pitch pitcher officially began on Saturday, when he threw a scoreless inning of relief at Maryvale Baseball Park.
This spring, Frieri is looking to broaden his repertoire after relying almost entirely on a live fastball -- and struggling with an unreliable slider -- while serving as the Angels' closer in 2012. He's starting to integrate a cutter and, to a lesser extent, working to hone his changeup.
The 27-year-old right-hander hardly threw either pitch against the Brewers on Saturday.
"In my first outing, I want to work on my fastball, first and foremost, throw strikes, get my mechanics in order and that's it," Frieri said pregame -- but Angels manager Mike Scioscia likes what he's seen from his other pitches so far.
"[The cutter] looks like a pretty legitimate slider when he throws it," Scioscia said after Frieri gave up only one hit in the Angels' eventual 4-3 loss. "He gets a little bit of depth to it, and [pitching coach Mike Butcher] really thinks his changeup is coming along. So I think his ability to change speeds is something that's going to help him."
• Erick Aybar played his last game with the Angels before departing for the World Baseball Classic. The Dominican team will play exhibition games in Tampa, Fla., before playing Pool games in Puerto Rico starting Thursday. Aybar, who went 1-for-3 as a leadoff hitter on Saturday, was told he'll basically split time at shortstop with Jose Reyes.
• Vernon Wells went 1-for-2 with a walk and a long solo home run to left-center field in Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Brewers, making him 3-for-8 with three RBIs this spring. "He's more than the one-dimensional player that we've seen," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's not just a guy who can hit the ball out of the park. He'll give us a big lift if he can swing the bat the way he can."
• Sean Burnett didn't get off a bullpen mound on Saturday, instead solely doing rehab work and pitchers' fielding practice, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia expects that to happen by Monday. Burnett has been limited to throwing off flat ground since dealing with a stiff lower back on March 18.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.