The Angels Trump the Competition on Hamilton

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There’s a fine line between decisive and desperate. The Angels used to adhere to a set of principles from which they would not deviate. That changed after Bill Stoneman left as GM. The shift began in earnest when former GM Tony Reagins, all in the same off-season, fired respected scouting director Eddie Bane and after losing out on all their off-season targets—most notably Carl Crawford—made the ridiculous deal for Vernon Wells.

It’s all but impossible to truly pinpoint the cracking of a foundation and when the entire structure is turning dilapidated and in danger of coming down, but the Angels are not the same as they were and the Josh Hamilton signing for 5-years and $125 million is another signal that they’re following the crowd of dysfunction. Rather than doing things their own way with development and understated signings and trades for players who fit into what they’re trying to build, they’ve turned the team into a destination for players who want to get paid.

And that’s not good.

These are the types of signings that Donald Trump would make. Arte Moreno was never like this; he was never the owner who interfered or publicly let his displeasure be known. In the past year, that’s changed. The infection of expectations and demands for return on his money got the whisper campaign rolling during the 2012 season. There’s no longer a cohesive plan, nor is there chemistry. It’s tossing money at the problem, mixing explosive ingredients, shoving people of divergent opinion into a room and telling them to work it out. Somehow.

If this is what the Angels were going to do, they might as well have hired Omar Minaya as the GM over Jerry Dipoto. This is what Minaya was good at—signing big name free agents and charming people. Given where Dipoto cut his baseball front office teeth with clubs that either had a plan to spend wisely and develop (the Red Sox), or worked for clubs that didn’t have a lot of money to spend and were forced to function under constraints (the Rockies and Diamondbacks), I can’t imagine that this is what he had in mind when he took over the Angels. Perhaps he’s holding sway in drafting and development and the fruits of his skills will be seen in 3-5 years as the big league club is rife with stars and young players slowly arrive and contribute, but in 2012-2013 it’s checkbook general managing and pretty much anyone can do it.

Why is Mike Scioscia still the manager of this team? It speaks to the stripping of his power that the Angels have infused his clubhouse with people he can’t force to fall in line, who don’t want to fall in line. Prior to 2012, very rarely was a peep heard about the goings on inside the Angels clubhouse and when it did happen, it was quickly squashed. Sciosica’s clubhouse was unique in that there wasn’t public backbiting via “anonymous” sources; coaches weren’t fired; there weren’t factions and battles between the manager, the GM, and the owner.

Now?

Scioscia likes having a deep starting rotation with innings gobblers who aren’t concerned about their ERAs or won/lost records. Is this—Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Garrett Richards, Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton—a rotation similar to the Angels of years past? He also liked having a deep and diverse bullpen with a proven closer. Is Ryan Madson a proven closer or is he a cheap alternative who fits in line with Dipoto’s theory of not paying big money for a name reliever when a fill-in-the-blank arm could rack up the saves?

As for the lineup and defense, Scioscia likes having a versatile batting order that can steal bases, play small ball, and hit the occasional homer—they never had the MVP-level basher with the accompanying diva tendencies on any of his clubs. The one mega-star the Angels had in recent years was Vladimir Guerrero and hearing his voice is similar to finding a Leprechaun—there are rumors of it without proof.

In short, is this a team that Scioscia would like to manage? Is he the man to sit back and let things be waiting for the home runs to come? With the evident fissures that led to the firing of Scioscia’s longtime hitting coach Mickey Hatcher as an object of sacrifice in May after Albert Pujols got off to an atrocious start, does Dipoto want Scioscia and does Scioscia want to run a team constructed like this?

Who, apart from Mike Trout, can run and is it worth it for anyone to risk stealing bases when the middle of the lineup consists of Pujols, Hamilton, Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales and the rest of the would-be wrecking crew? And forget about two more of Scioscia’s fetishes: bunting and squeezing.

It’s not wrong to say that the Angels’ old-school National League-style play that Scioscia learned under Tommy Lasorda isn’t the strategy to follow today, especially in the AL West, but since that has been established with their trying 2012 season, why didn’t Moreno, Dipoto and Scioscia agree that it would be best if they were to part ways and find a new manager?

Not one organization has everyone on the same page, but the Angels were the best at keeping their purpose above personal differences and, if there were personal differences, they didn’t include the theoretical and harm the team dynamic. That’s no longer the case.

When the owner was hands off and is now hands on; when the GM would prefer to draft, develop and make wise signings that fit into his budget and preferred on-field strategy; and the manager wants to play like it’s 1968, don’t you see where the clashes of philosophy will occur? It’s not a criticism or an admission of failure to realize that certain people can’t work together, but that’s where the Angels are with Dipoto and Scioscia and, rather than make a change, they’re going forward and tossing more money at the problem, simultaneously putting an even bigger, more expensive child under Scioscia’s care in Hamilton.

They’re a haphazard, “let’s do this because it looks good” club diametrically opposed to what their GM, manager, and owner supposedly believe. It’s clear they didn’t learn a year ago that spending sprees, shiny acquisitions, and maneuvers that draw accolades and gasps don’t necessarily mean they’ll work.

Hamilton is a great talent, but putting him in Southern California is a mistake; giving him $125 million is a mistake; and altering the club in so drastic a fashion on the field while not making required changes to the field staff is a mistake.

We’re witnessing the decline and crash of the Angels and they set the charges for the pending implosion all by themselves with the errors they continue to make. Hamilton is the latest one.

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There’s No Rift In Anaheim

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Speculation about a rift between Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia and the new GM Jerry Dipoto rose greatly when—to the displeasure of Scioscia—hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was fired earlier this week. The two are clearly not on the same page as to how a club should be run. The chain-of-command that had been present with the Angels for Scioscia’s entire tenure is broken. The slow start combined with these structural changes could lead to a parting of the ways following the season.

It’s understandable from both perspectives.

Athletes in general will try to exert their will over their titular “boss”. In today’s game, there are no managers with the cachet to do and say whatever they want; to discipline their players; to run the club as if they’re in complete command. The days of Earl Weaver ruling his Orioles with an iron fist are long gone. Back then, Weaver was going nowhere. Everyone in the Orioles clubhouse knew it and reacted accordingly. Scioscia himself spent his entire playing career with the Dodgers and Tom Lasorda who was similarly entrenched.

It’s the way it’s been with the Angels for his managerial tenure.

But with a new GM and new club construction come changes everywhere—not just in payroll and playing style. Angels’ owner Arte Moreno had businesslike intentions when he signed Albert Pujols. After signing Pujols, the Angels agreed to a lucrative television contract with Fox Sports worth $3 billion for 20 years. He’s turned the Angels into a cash machine as George Steinbrenner did with the Yankees. But in the process, Moreno unwittingly made his cohesive club into a 1980s version of the Yankees with the requisite expectations of immediate gratification and demands to “do something” if those expectations aren’t met.

Hiring Dipoto as the GM was well-received following the resignation of Tony Reagins. Reagins’s tenure is pockmarked by the disastrous trade of Mike Napoli for Vernon Wells and his public firing of respected scouting director Eddie Bane, but Reagins also did many good things as Angels’ GM by signing Torii Hunter and trading for Mark Teixeira.

DiPoto is more of a stat-based, coldly analytical GM than Reagins and his predecessor Bill Stoneman were, but he does it with scouting savvy and the ability to express himself to the media and get his point across with the various factions that permeate an organization in today’s game.

But he wasn’t an “Angel”. He didn’t come up through the ranks with the Angels. He hasn’t been working with Scioscia, nor is he a part of the Angels’ culture. A new GM brings in a new set of principles and it’s clear that Dipoto won’t adhere to the oft-heard lament, “This is how we’ve always done it.” Time will tell whether that’s right or wrong, but from Scioscia’s point-of-view, his power base is gone and with it is a large amount of the sway he held in the clubhouse as a result of being seen not just as the manager, but as a boss.

For a manager like Scioscia to have his hand-picked hitting coach fired out from under him is emasculating, but the firing also altered his perception. The same players who kept inner turmoil in house and had each other’s backs are seeing the new dynamic of me-me-me overtaking the club. And that’s not good.

In order for there to be a rift, there had to have been a connection. With Dipoto and Scioscia, they’re working together; doubtless they respect one another; but they might not be suited to a long-term partnership.

That’s what both men have to decide upon in the next four—and the Angels hope—five months. (A fifth month would mean they made the playoffs.)

Judging by the first month-and-a-half, it’s going to be four. Then the Angels’ foundation will rumble and it won’t be because of an earthquake.

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Semantical Gymnastics, Logical Idiocy

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This is from MLB Trade Rumors regarding the Angels:

The Angels fired scouting director Eddie Bane last fall, a decision that ESPN’s Keith Law criticized in an e-mail to Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com.  Law thought Bane’s firing “smacked of internal politics, and furthered Tony Reagins’ reputation in the game as a difficult person to work for and someone who only values opinions that match his own.”

I have no clue about Reagins’s reputation in the industry, nor do I understand how a club can go from being ranked 22nd (as the linked ESPNLosAngeles piece says) and jump to 6th in one year. Did the rest of baseball decline? Did the Angels have that strong a draft? And the Angels surrendered some serious young talent to get Dan Haren.

I find it laughable how opinions change based on a smidgen of elapsed time and after one decision that may have been made for a multitude of reasons other than Law’s proclamation that Reagins wants yes-men.

Reagins didn’t abide Bane disagreeing with him? That’s it?

Bane was with the Angels from 2004-2010; Reagins has been the GM of the club since October of 2007—he decided after three years that he didn’t want Bane around anymore? They didn’t butt heads prior to the unsubstantiated Law assertion that it was all due to Reagins’s intransigence?

All you need to do is look in the manager’s office—in the vein of Law’s leaps of illogic and innuendo—to disprove the “yes-man” theory.

Is Mike Scioscia going to allow the GM to push him around? Will he stand by and let the GM exert his will and hesitate to disagree for fear of suffering the fate of Bane? Armed with a track record of annual success and—most importantly—a contract through 2018, Scioscia’s going nowhere.

Much of what made Scioscia a standout defensive catcher was his willingness to get dirty and block the plate—it was his forte and he had the massive collisions to prove it. (The most memorable was the 1985  crash with Cardinals slugger Jack Clark that left both men senseless. Scioscia held onto the ball despite being knocked cold.)

If Scioscia were ever on the market to manage elsewhere, he’d be jobless for about the length of time it takes for a successful bull-riding event in a rodeo—8 seconds; and it’s not because he’s the best strategic manager in baseball—he’s not—but because he has control of the clubhouse and is a respected, stable, calm, strong voice.

And what if Reagins did disagree with Bane and the other scouts who were dismissed. So what? Why was it okay for then-Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta to fire Jim Tracy, one of the game’s best managers, because he wanted “someone on the same page” and it wouldn’t be a similar scenario for Reagins?

If Law has evidence that Reagins’s decision to fire Bane was a personality clash and nothing else, he should present it rather than making these groundless assertions to bolster his own shaky credentials as a scout/expert/insider.

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