Los Angeles Angels: 2013 Book Excerpt

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The Los Angels Angels have gotten off to a horrific start. Their season, so far, has only been salvaged from an ever worse status by winning two of three against the woeful Astros. They were lucky to win those. What follows is an excerpt of my recently published book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide regarding one of the biggest problems the Angels have: a lack of continuity between manager Mike Scioscia and GM Jerry Dipoto.

I’m not going to say that everything in the book is as eerily accurate as this, but at the very least, it’s not a computer generated spitting out of numbers masking its creator with a façade of false expertise; nor is it randomness based on regurgitated stuff I heard elsewhere and pushed on the reader with an underlying and poorly hidden agenda. To be brutally honest, most of the stuff you see from bloggers, self-proclaimed “experts,” and the mainstream media is trash because they don’t know anything and are desperately trying to hide that fact through degrees, supposed credentials, obnoxious pomposity, and formulas that perhaps five people in the world truly understand.

My book has predictions, projections, fantasy picks and breakout candidates based on logic, reason and assessment. There are also players vital statistics and contract status for every key member of the organization. The full season predicted standings can be found here.

What follows is the assessments section on the Angels GM and manager and the pre-season prediction that was written well before the start of the season.

Jerry Dipoto—General Manager

Contract status: Signed through 2014 with club options for 2015 and 2016

When Dipoto took the job, it’s doubtful that he had it in mind that he would: A) be a checkbook GM; and B) would be usurping the longtime manager and most powerful voice in the organization as to the construction of the roster, Mike Scioscia.

Dipoto paid his dues as a baseball executive working in the front offices for the Red Sox, Rockies and Diamondbacks before serving as the interim GM in 2010 when Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes was fired and then moved back into an assistant role when Kevin Towers was hired as the permanent replacement. It was Dipoto’s trades of Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson at mid-season that played a large role in the Diamondbacks’ 2011 division title. Towers got the credit for the meal, but Dipoto brought in some of the ingredients and set the table.

The Angels were a disappointment in 2012 and it’s hard to know how much blame has to go to the GM. Did he want to sign Albert Pujols to that contract? Did he want to put a team that was so diametrically opposed to what the Angels have been and was ill-suited to the strategies and desires of the manager? Did he want the manager to begin with?

With everything the Angels have done since firing Tony Reagins as GM, there’s been a sense of collecting names that can’t be criticized from the outside, but don’t work as a cohesive unit when put into practice. The Angels never pursued the Pujols-type of player. In years past, they targeted what they wanted and made a quick strike to get them. There was a positive atmosphere and it was widely known that Scioscia was in command, the players were treated well, everything was kept in-house, and they won.

That’s gone. Pujols’s acquisition changed the template and it fits neither Dipoto or Scioscia. They’re still working together not as two men on the same page but as if Moreno told them that they’re two smart baseball men and they need to work it out.

Those things rarely get worked out.

This past winter it continued. Did Dipoto want to sign Josh Hamilton to a 5-year, $125 million contract, take him out of his comfort zone in Texas and put him in California with the requisite pressure and underlying dysfunction that hasn’t been repaired?

There’s a legitimate question as to who’s in charge with the Angels. In the days of Bill Stoneman as GM and Scioscia as manager, they worked hand-in-hand and all were on the same page. Now it appears as if the stat savvy Dipoto, who was brought up as an executive in situations where money was either secondary or tight, has become the type of GM who is a figurehead and spending money because the owner is telling him to spend money. His other acquisitions—Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas, Ryan Madson—are not slam dunks; nor are they the types of pitchers the Angels have historically pursued.

Is Dipoto in charge? Is this the kind of team he envisioned putting together when he got his opportunity to be a GM? It doesn’t look like it.

Mike Scioscia—Manager

Contract status: Signed through 2018

Scioscia, in the waning days of the 2012 season, had a look on his face like he wanted to be fired. It’s not easy for a man who was in such unwavering command to have his authority stripped from him and parceled to a GM he doesn’t know and thinks differently as to the most effective way to manage a game. That power also shifted to the owner who once treated Scioscia with pure trust and is now having a significant say in the construction of the club not based on what the manager wants and thinks he can win with, but what has sparked a showbiz atmosphere and a TV contract trumping winning.

These are not things that interested the pitching/bullpen/speed/defense/inside game-preferring manager.

Scioscia was unhappy when his longtime hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was fired. The blame for that fell to Pujols. As respected a teammate Pujols is said to be and as much as former Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa worships him, I have to wonder how much of LaRussa’s crediting Pujols for his leadership abilities was a placating of the player and the golden rule (whoever has the gold makes the rules). It behooves  the manager of a megastar player to get that player on his side, but that was never a part of Scioscia’s job description. His old-school sensibilities went back to the days before guaranteed long-term contracts and players having the ability to dictate who the coaches are. In Scioscia’s world it’s, “I’m the manager. That’s why.” And Pujols is a player who can resist that style of dictatorship.

The 2012 team was not a Scioscia-style team. They still played good defense, stole bases and bunted, but the tenor was different. The all-for-one dynamic was gone and this is the risk taken when buying mercenaries who don’t fit in to what the manager wants to do.

Scioscia is signed through 2018, but his time with the Angels is coming to a close. It would be better for all parties to split and move on. Dipoto would be free to bring in a manager he prefers (if he’s allowed to), and Scioscia can get another job elsewhere in a situation that more fits his style.

PREDICTION

This season has disaster written all over it. The Angels have abandoned the dignified template they adhered to for so long and chose to take the tack of purchasing mercenaries thinking that the ends—a huge TV contract; the extra Wild Card; buzz—would justify the means. They’ve lost the plot and shunned the reason why the Angels were a consideration for every free agent not because they paid the most or because they won. That was, in part, important, but the Angels organization was respected because the problems were kept in-house and there was uncommon stability in the front office and field staff.

That’s gone.

The second they signed Pujols, that ended. Pujols is not a prototypical troublemaking diva, but if he’s unhappy, he has a way of letting everyone know it. The first salvo against Scioscia to indicate who was really running things now was the hiring of Dipoto. Pujols’s displeasure with Hatcher and the hitting coach’s firing was the second. As the 2012 season moved along, there was speculation that Scioscia would be out as manager because he wanted out and Dipoto wanted him out. It didn’t happen and it was another mistake in a litany of them. The two don’t believe the same things when it comes to strategy and the manager who liked to push the envelope offensively with speed and inside baseball now has no choice but to sit back and wait for the home run. The manager who wanted pitchers who gutted their way through games and gave innings and high pitch counts regardless of what a few bad innings did to their ERAs has been compromised with the injury-prone and pending free agents. The bullpen is not good.

This is not a Scioscia team, but he’s still managing it because they wouldn’t fire him and he didn’t resign.

That problem will be rectified—for him anyway—when he’s fired by May. He’ll take some time off, relax and wait for another job opening. Perhaps he’ll write a book about what went wrong. Pujols will lobby for Tony LaRussa and perhaps his former manager, bored in retirement, will be willing to come back on a short-term deal to save the day. But this team is not good enough for LaRussa to save the day even if he does choose to jump in, take Moreno’s money over the objections of the GM and try to steer the ship in the right direction. LaRussa is the same kind of manager as Sciosica only he’ll have the benefit of the tag, “Pujols Approved” on the inside of his jersey.

Hamilton was a mistake. The pitching is shaky from top-to-bottom. They’re overpaid and don’t appear to like each other very much.

These are not the Angels of a decade ago and this will go down as the latest example of collecting stars and expecting them to join together in harmony just because they’re stars.

It won’t work.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon.com, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

2013 Book Cover 3

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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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West Coast Disaster Film

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The Red Sox have understandably dominated the headlines while a similar disaster film is underway and less prominent on the West Coast. Like the star-studded, “yeah, I’ll do it even with this ridiculous script just to get a paycheck” films of yesteryear like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure of the 1970s, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are writing their own script of shoving as many stars as possible into the mix without considering the director’s style and ability to handle the way such actors should be handled. The studio executives who come up with the money and the producer also have to be on the same page with the director or a change has to be made. In the worst case scenario, what you’ll see is a dead-on satire such as Tropic Thunder with a star-studded cast of enabled divas who don’t mesh together on-screen.

The Angels imported a cavalcade of stars before and during the season and are still hovering around .500 and, at the rate they’re going, will not make the playoffs. This is after signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson; trading for Zack Greinke in-season and stealing Ernest Frieri from the Padres; having Mike Trout arrive as a rookie and explode to the top of the list of contenders for Rookie of the Year and MVP; and hiring a respected baseball executive who understands scouting and stats in Jerry Dipoto.

The results have been less than spectacular and the familiarly insular style of manager Mike Scioscia in keeping the team issues within the confines of the clubhouse has been noticeably absent as complaints about hitting coach Mickey Hatcher resulted in his firing in May. Scioscia’s control of the organization—which had been seen as inherent prior to Dipoto’s hiring—was exposed as diminished or non-existent. That his managing style of speed, defense, bunting, hitting-and-running and old-school Tommy Lasorda National League baseball doesn’t complement with his roster or what his new, young GM advocates is only making the fissures more stark. If they were winning, it would be glossed over; but they’re not. They’re 62-59 and 3 ½ games out of a playoff spot. They can come back, of course, but coming back from a deficit requires a team to be playing reasonably well and showing signs of life, something that this Angels team is not doing.

Horribly inconsistent and frustrated, the one thing the Angels had in years past was a chain-of-command and stability. Scioscia was in charge and everyone knew it; the GMs, Bill Stoneman and Tony Reagins, receded into the background; the owner, Arte Moreno, was there with the money and support. Scioscia kept the media at bay and absorbed any criticism of his club; there were rarely whispers of discontent and sniping between teammates or organization members. But when you bring in a star the level of Pujols, it changes the entire dynamic. When that star struggles to start the season and has as a hitting coach someone who was an okay hitter but not anywhere near Pujols’s class, where’s the blame going to go? While Scioscia didn’t want Hatcher fired, the need to make a change for the sake of it trumped the manager’s desires and the Angels fired him. Whether Hatcher was there or not Pujols eventually would’ve started hitting, so the decision was largely irrelevant. What it did do, however, was to expose the diminished stature of the manager in terms of organizational hierarchy.

What’s going to happen in Anaheim if this team—that has everything on paper to be a World Series contender—falters and misses the playoffs entirely? If they finish at .500 or worse? If the clearly present issues that are bubbling under the surface in terms of strategies and personalities clashes suddenly leak out (and they will) as they have in Boston?

Dipoto would not hire a Scioscia-type as his manager if he’s allowed to make that decision. While Dipoto has scouting bona fides, he’s also worked in front offices with a list of clearly delineated parameters for the front office and field staff. This isn’t to suggest that he’s going to want a figurehead as a manager, but given the roster, the statistically-conscious adherence to power and letting the game evolve with high-percentage calls rather than the constant pressure-pressure-pressure of the old-school National Leaguers, it’s obvious that there’s going to be a culture clash with the new GM and his manager. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a personal issue between the factions, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to work either.

It’s not hard to picture Dipoto wanting to change the manager after this season and for Scioscia to leave given how he’s essentially been stripped of his power with the construction of the club. That’s not to imply that Dipoto will install a faceless and cheap automaton to manage the club and take orders from the front office as is the implied ideal in the creative non-fiction known as Moneyball, but that he’ll hire someone who’s going to be more agreeable to what Dipoto is going to want on the field. Terry Francona, Dave Martinez or Pete Mackanin would be far more fitting for both the roster and the front office in multiple ways.

Scioscia’s contract runs through 2018 with an opt-out after 2015, but if he wants to leave the front office won’t stand in his way. In fact, both sides would presumably prefer it given how little say he has in the way the team’s been built and that he doesn’t manage the way Dipoto would like.

Here’s an idea that’s far more reasonable than any that have come out to solve problems on the aforementioned East Coast: How about Scioscia to the Red Sox?

He has the cachet to deal with the media; he’d put a stop to the leaks that have sabotaged Bobby Valentine; he’s not reviled like Valentine is; and he certainly wouldn’t let the veterans behave in the entitled manner they’ve grown accustomed to.

It’s not a failure to admit a lack of cohesion and make requisite changes. If something’s not working, it’s the height of arrogance to stick to it regardless of reality. The reality in Anaheim is that the manager no longer fits in with what the front office has done and plans to do. That’s when it’s time to part ways for the betterment of all involved and, possibly, for another team that needs exactly what it is that Scioscia does well.

It’s almost necessary at this point.

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Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

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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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2012 American League West Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Texas Rangers 93 69
2. Los Angeles Angels* 90 72 3
3. Seattle Mariners 70 92 23
4. Oakland Athletics 64 98 29

* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers lose starting pitching (Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson), but find innovative ways of replenishing it.

They lost Lee after 2010 and inserted Alexi Ogando into the rotation and he made the All-Star team.

They lost Wilson after 2011 and finally shifted Neftali Feliz into the rotation permanently and signed Joe Nathan to take his place as closer. Then they won the bidding for Yu Darvish.

They can hit, they can field, they can run, they can pitch, they’re willing to make bold trades in-season, and they’re not constrained by contemporary orthodoxies that are circular in nature and taken as fact because “everyone is doing it”.

If everyone is doing it, it’s probably as good a reason as any to do something else.

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels were never the team to spend lavishly on the biggest of the big name free agents, but after losing out on Carl Crawford last year and taking on the toxic contract of Vernon Wells, GM Tony Reagins was fired and replaced by Jerry DiPoto. DiPoto was handed what amounted to a blank check to make the team better, they signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and traded for Chris Iannetta.

The bullpen is still a question mark, but they trot out four ace-quality starters and have more bats than they know what to do with.

The balance of power has shifted West and the days of the Yankees and Red Sox being anointed playoff spots as a rite of spring are over.

Seattle Mariners

Jack Zduriencik supporters are leaping from his ship like it’s the Hindenburg.

Not every negative thing that’s happened with the Mariners is his fault—I find it hard to believe he wanted to bring Ken Griffey Jr. back for a second season in 2010 and if he has a brain in his head, he’d love to be rid of Ichiro Suzuki—but he got the credit, he gets the blame.

Chone Figgins has been a disaster. They’re trying again to give him a starting job at third base and are batting him leadoff.

That won’t last.

The trade Zduriencik made in getting Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi is going to be terrific.

The Mariners are still offensively challenged, are relying on a patched together bullpen with upside, have good starting pitching and defense.

The division is a nightmare and support of this regime is crumbling. They’d better overachieve or Zduriencik is going to be in serious trouble by the waning days of the season.

Oakland Athletics

Is the intense study of sabermetrics undertaken by Brandon McCarthy going to repair his constant injuries? He’s the darling of the stat guys because he implemented numbers to improve his results—and it worked—but it’s all a bit over-the-top thinking he’s turned a corner, never to return to what he was.

Their number two starter is Bartolo Colon; their bullpen is gutted; the offense is woeful; the defense is questionable.

But ignore the facts. Billy Beane is a genius because a book and a movie said so.

It’s Hollywood and creative non-fiction!! You can believe it if you want…if you’re an indoctrinated, agenda-driven moron.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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The Angels’ DH Glut

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When the Angels signed Albert Pujols, it created the “problem” of too many bats for too few spots in the lineup.

Because they had a first baseman that hit for power in Mark Trumbo; another first baseman that hit for power still trying to come back from injury in Kendrys Morales; and veteran Bobby Abreu as the DH, it’s considered too many players to keep and keep happy.

The player most frequently discussed in trade suggestions has been Abreu.

GM Jerry DiPoto was probably speaking out of pragmatism rather than playing his cards close to the vest when he said they weren’t looking to trade Abreu.

Abreu is coming off a subpar season considering the consistent offensive numbers he’s posted in his career. In 2011, he batted .253 with 8 homers and a .717 OPS.

Abreu will be 38 in March, but he’s only being paid $9 million in 2012 and even if he repeats the production from last season, is a .353 OBP with 30 doubles and 21 stolen bases that bad? If he’s hitting in front of Pujols, he’ll score plenty of runs getting on base and advancing without giving up an out. The biggest difference between Abreu’s 2010 season and 2011 was the decline in home runs; other than that, the numbers were almost identical.

For the Angels, there isn’t an ironclad solution for the glut of bats.

Trumbo has tremendous power and hits tape measure home runs, but he strikes out a lot, doesn’t walk at all and is returning from a foot injury. Trumbo is preparing for a shift to third base, but manager Mike Scioscia likes defense and Trumbo has never played third as a professional—Scioscia won’t play Trumbo at third if he can’t handle the position defensively.

In spite of the Angels playing up how great Morales looks, he had an injury that, in years past, would only have happened to someone playing for the Mets when he broke his ankle jumping on home plate after hitting a game-winning grand slam in May of 2010.

That’s almost two years and multiple false starts ago. He can’t be counted on until he proves he can play again and stay healthy.

The biggest variable as to what the Angels do with Abreu might be Vernon Wells.

Wells was so horrible last season at the plate (.218/.248/.412 slash line with 25 homers) that they wouldn’t be crazy to accept that the $63 million remaining on his contract is gone and release him if he’s not hitting by May. The GM who traded for Wells, Tony Reagins, was fired and the Wells trade was a major factor in his dismissal.

Releasing Wells would be costly, but he’s untradeable, they have two young outfielders in Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout to play center and left and the bats to account for the one thing Wells has done: hit the ball out of the park.

But they only have the bats if they keep Abreu until they see what they have with the other players.

And that’s what they should do.

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From the People Who Brought You Michael Ynoa…

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Michael Ynoa is a right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic who signed with the Athletics for a then-A’s record signing bonus of $4.25 million signing bonus in June of 2008.

He’s now 20-years-old and has thrown 9 professional innings in almost four years.

Ynoa had Tommy John surgery and is expected to pitch this season in the minors.

When he signed, his name was spelled Inoa; now it’s Ynoa. Whether there’s a Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez Heredia story and we’ll discover that he’s actually 43 in the future is unknown.

But back then, Billy Beane wasn’t criticized for the signing; he wasn’t criticized after Ynoa got hurt; and people have forgotten about the risk he took by making an investment in such a question mark while having little money to spend.

The only difference between then and now is that Beane’s status as untouchable and protected from the righteous indignation that other GMs are subject to has become more pronounced and gotten exponentially worse.

I’m not getting into saying the signing of Yoenis Cespedes is a good deal or a bad deal; that Billy Beane is betraying the tenets of Moneyball upon which his built his status as the Teflon GM; or questioning if the newest member of the Oakland Athletics, Cespedes, is going to be worth the 4-year, $36 million contract he’s reported to have agreed to.

That’s not what this is about.

It’s about Beane’s judgment being cast as unassailable because of a book, a movie and perception that he can do no wrong in spite of having done almost nothing but wrong since his last playoff team in 2006.

How is it possible to credit a man who is clearly just flinging things at the wall with no definable strategy? A man who’s hoping to get a new ballpark for his team and then have money to spend to attract players to come to his ballclub?

Does it make sense to trade the young pitchers Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey who weren’t making a ton of money and were part of the one strength the Athletics had—on the mound—for packages of young players and then turn around and use the money that the team was supposed to be saving on Cespedes? To keep Coco Crisp? To trade for Seth Smith? To sign Jonny Gomes and Bartolo Colon?

Anything can be justified by anyone if they’re sufficiently motivated, but how do you take seriously those who refuse to criticize someone for reasons that have nothing to do with the job he’s done, but because it conveniences them to shield someone like Beane from criticism because there’s a clear investment in the concept of him being what his fictional account says he is?

Ask yourself this: if these deals were made by Omar Minaya, Dayton Moore, Bill Bavasi, Tony Reagins, Ed Wade or even Ruben Amaro Jr.—any GM who’s invited ridicule for the money spent and trades made in recent years without a plan that is palatable to the outsider “experts” that judge baseball from the safety of their armchairs and newsrooms—what would be said?

Would this be called another brilliant maneuver or would it add another layer to the reasons they should be replaced?

Cespedes might make it. He might not. Judging from the clips I’ve seen of him, he’s an intriguing talent.

But there have been many intriguing talents who’ve been pursued due to the free agent status of Japanese, Cuban, Venezuelan and other countries for players not trapped in the MLB draft. Many of these players failed miserably.

The Yankees, Red Sox and even the Marlins could afford to sign Cespedes and have him be a bust. The Yankees and Red Sox because they have the money; the Marlins because of the Cuban population in Miami would come to the games—for awhile—because they signed a young, Cuban player with multiple talents.

Can the A’s afford it if he’s a bust?

If he is, will we see more excuses as to why it’s not Beane’s fault and he’s still “smarter than the average bear”?

And if so, will you still believe it?

How long are young going to allow yourself to be treated as a fool?

How long?

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Hot Stove Winners, 2011-2012

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Most of the big names are off the board and the ones remaining on the market—Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson—aren’t going to change the landscape much, if at all.

Let’s look at the hot stove winners for this winter.

New York Yankees

This isn’t a matter of the Yankees opening their checkbook and buying stuff as it usually is when they’re considered the “big winners” of the off-season. This winter was dedicated to keeping CC Sabathia and bolstering their starting rotation—which they did.

The Yankees essentially held serve and got more assured production with the additions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda than the scrambling they did and luck they enjoyed last year when Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon surpassed any logical expectations.

They’ve also been helped by the Red Sox evident disarray; the Blue Jays failing to acquire any veteran lineup or starting pitching help; the financial constraints that continually bound the Rays; and the Orioles being the Orioles.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers helped their starting rotation in two ways. One, they signed Joe Nathan to take over as closer and are shifting Neftali Feliz into being a starter. Two, they won the bidding for Yu Darvish.

Some will point to the loss of C.J. Wilson and the above moves as canceling each other out. The case can even be made that because the Angels signed Wilson, the Rangers wind up as net losers because of Wilson’s departure for a division rival.

The money they spent on Darvish in comparison to what it would’ve cost to keep Wilson or sign Jackson or Kuroda is a viable argument of having overpayed, but Wilson is 31 and Darvish 25. With Darvish, they get a more talented pitcher and the ancillary benefit of worldwide marketing possibilities because of his Iranian/Japanese heritage, looks and personality.

I think Darvish is going to be a superstar.

Los Angeles Angels

Long term consequences aside for having to pay Albert Pujols $59 million past his 40th birthday, they signed the best hitter of this generation and immediately launched themselves to the top of the talent scale. Simultaneously, they supplemented their strength in the starting rotation by signing Wilson.

They also acquired a catcher with pop in Chris Iannetta and hired a more competent GM when they replaced Tony Reagins with Jerry DiPoto.

Miami Marlins

They wanted a proven, name manager to draw buzz heading into their new ballpark and traded for Ozzie Guillen.

They needed starting pitching and signed Mark Buehrle and acquired Carlos Zambrano.

They needed a closer and signed Heath Bell.

And they wanted to bring in an offensive force to strengthen both shortstop and third base offensively and defensively and signed Jose Reyes, shifting Hanley Ramirez to third base.

The big questions are whether or not petulant owner Jeffrey Loria, meddling team president David Samson, Guillen, Zambrano and an unhappy Ramirez light the fuse of this powder keg and if the fans decide to show up to watch after the initial novelties.

On paper in February, they look good.

Cincinnati Reds

Giving up a chunk of their minor league system to get Mat Latos is risky, but he fills the need at the top of their starting rotation.

Ryan Madson’s market crashed and the Reds got him for one year; they traded for a solid lefty reliever in Sean Marshall and signed Ryan Ludwick, who will benefit from being a background player and hitting in a friendlier home park.

Colorado Rockies

Michael Cuddyer will have a big offensive year in right field and can play first base if/when Todd Helton gets hurt.

Replacing the shaky Huston Street with the cheaper and better Rafael Betancourt is a step up. Getting Tyler Chatwood for Iannetta and signing Ramon Hernandez to replace Iannetta is a dual gain. They signed the underrated Casey Blake to play third and traded a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen to get Marco Scutaro, immediately solving their problem at second base.

San Diego Padres

Yonder Alonso is a power bat and Rookie of the Year candidate at first base. Yasmani Grandal is a top catching prospect and Edinson Volquez is good if he’s healthy and will benefit from pitching in the cavernous Petco Park and having a deep bullpen supporting him.

They gave up Latos to get the above package, but it’s an even trade for both sides for short and long term needs.

Street is just as good as the departed free agent Bell and maintains the bullpen hierarchy with Luke Gregerson as the set-up man and Street closing.

Carlos Quentin will be looking to have a big year as he heads for free agency and the Padres acquired him for two minor league pitchers who’d fallen out of favor with the organization.

Josh Byrnes is a category above Jed Hoyer as GM.

The hot stove losers and clubs that made lateral maneuvers will be discussed in upcoming posts.

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They Hired Jerry DiPoto To Do This?

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A team that spends their money in this way in free agency—C.J. Wilson ($77.5 million over 5-years); Albert Pujols ($250 million over 10-years); and LaTroy Hawkins (1-year, $3 million)—and to trade a top prospect starter Tyler Chatwood for Chris Iannetta and find a taker for Jeff Mathis, probably didn’t need to hire a new GM to do it.

That’s nothing against new Angels GM Jerry DiPoto who made a series of terrific trades while the interim GM of the Diamondbacks to help build the foundation for this year’s surprising NL West champion; nor the players he acquired—he got quality for the most part and/or filled the Angels’ needs—but don’t make it seem like the act of a genius when he had an owner in Arte Moreno who authorized the payouts.

As for the deals themselves, Pujols for 10 years is more palatable when there’s the DH option as he ages, but $250 million is a lot of money for one player no matter how it’s sliced; he’s a historic player and will produce in the foreseeable future for the Angels; one thing that will be very interesting is how he ages. Will the progression and decline be natural or will he maintain his excellence for the length of the contract leading to…questions?

Pujols is this era’s Joe DiMaggio in both performance and stature; even DiMaggio tumbled rapidly and was finished by 36.

My first reaction to the Wilson contract was: “That’s it?”

From wanting $120 million, he took $77.5 million?

Obviously the visions of riches Wilson had dancing under that thick lustrous hair weren’t available from the Rangers, Marlins or anyone else.

The Angels signed a pitcher for less than the extension they agreed to with Jered Weaver and bolstered an already excellent top three starters with Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.

Wilson isn’t young (31), but he has clean mechanics and hasn’t been a starter long enough for wear and tear to be a concern. He’s a good pitcher and will be good for the Angels.

This is a formidable team, but don’t place any appellations of “genius” or provide undue credit to DiPoto because he just did what former GM Tony Reagins and another whom was interviewed for the position, Omar Minaya, could’ve done amid all the criticism they received as GMs—he spent a load of money.

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