For years, I argued with fellow fans about how the Angels need to stick to their plan. I lobbied for not selling out for a bunch of big names, and keeping their philosophy held together, especially their bullpen. Fans were screaming "big bats" when I was preaching pitching and defense.
What was the number one thing that kept the Angels in the playoffs? K-Rod. Number two? Scot Shields. Number three? Ok, Vladdy. Need to throw some offense in there. It seems like these things have kind of drifted from the Angels' navigation system, and they're off-compass.
What I don't understand is how all of the sudden the Angels can't make the playoffs, and now there's apparent dysfunction going on. A lot of questions have been running around, and there is one that I keep defaulting back to...
How, after eleven years of owning the Angels, is Arte Moreno suddenly a questionable owner? How, after fourteen years at the helm, is Mike Scioscia suddenly a bad manager?
They're not. They're one of the best in the business in each role.
If there is a Team Scioscia versus Team DiPoto thing really happening in the front office, then there needs to be some serious re-evaluation of the formula.
If you're Team Dipoto, you have a legitimate gripe regarding Josh Hamilton, Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson, and Ryan Madson. I won't, however, get into the Zack Greinke trade, because that was a necessary trade, and a tough one to close for any GM.
If you're Team Scioscia, there is a mile-long track record in his favor.
But there may not even be a battle going on there. The disappointing Angels are a hot topic in 2013, and the media has used every possible angle to exploit that.
But again, why now?
How are the Angels suddenly near the bottom of the standings, and approaching four years out of the playoffs?
One way to pin-point this is to look at the last season the Angels made the playoffs: 2009. That was a season where they should not have made the playoffs. Despite a banged up starting rotation, and a pitching staff that was 8th in the American League in ERA, that team slugged their way to a 97-65 season, and their fifth division title in six years. The warning signs were there, however. But, like 2013, most of those red flags were surrounding the pitching staff, mainly the bullpen.
Francisco Rodriguez left after the 2008 season. Scot Shields began developing knee issues in '09. Jose Arredondo fell apart after a successful rookie campaign in '08. John Lackey left for Boston. Tony Reagins was just finishing his first season as general manager. Reagins then lost out on some big free agent names in both that offseason, as well as the 2010/2011 offseason. And in doing so, Reagins seemed to be aloof to the needs of the bullpen. Fernando Rodney was his big pick-up for 2010. His only good relief acquisition was Scott Downs.
The reason I'm pointing this out is because it's a much similar pattern to Jerry Dipoto. With the exception of Arte allowing Dipoto to go all in on Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, and thus finally landing those huge names, Dipoto, like Reagins, made head-scratching moves involving the pitching staff. That made me wonder if the front office was really serious about winning.
I can understand Arte Moreno's frustrations, and why he would be resolved to gunning for the Pujols', the Hamiltons, and the Greinkes of Major League Baseball. He got burned on the Miguel Cabrera trade; Mark Teixeira was never going to sign with the Angels; the Yankees apparently outbid themselves to beat the Angels to signing CC Sabathia; and Carl Crawford was never planning on signing with a team on the West Coast. This debacle of missing out on the stars since signing Vladimir Guerrero and Bartolo Colon goes back a few years.
In the meantime, however, the Angels completed a run of six playoff appearances in seven years, including three ALCS appearances and one World Series Championship. Why was this still happening? Because Mike Scioscia was still being given the well-balanced roster that is needed for him to do his job. And he did so with the best of them.
What I've noticed, is that once the Bill Stoneman era ended, that's when the roster's balance began to deteriorate. This mostly involved the bullpen. The Angels still have not yet assembled a really good bullpen since 2008.
I'll go even further back than that. The Angels actually had a long run of good-to-great bullpens from about 1995 (the arrival of Mike James and Troy Percival setting up Lee Smith) through 2008. One can argue that the consistency of the Angels' bullpen over that fourteen year period was really the key ingredient that prompted Bill Stoneman to hold the Angels' young core together. He could've done a fire sale, which many GM's would have done, especially today.
It seems like the bullpen has been ignored, and traded for selling out for big names. I argued against this for years -- although I still stand by the Pujols signing.
As I mentioned before, K-Rod and Shields were the key ingredients. A back end of a bullpen that dominant is gold. The third ingredient was Vladdy. He was the offensive center-piece. Bartolo Colon became the Angels' pitching center-piece in the same offseason as Vladdy.
Those signings in the 2003/2004 offseason allowed the Angels to build around those two in whatever way they felt necessary. The tent poles were in place, and with the payroll rising, the sky was the limit with building their young players around that core.
Albert Pujols served the same purpose. Mike Trout will do the same, but that wasn't certain quite yet when that signing happened. One big difference between the current Angels' club and 2004, is that they developed their own ace in Jered Weaver. So they didn't have to pay a ton of money for another Bartolo Colon. This further illustrates the lack of need re-sign Greinke. So, again, the tent poles were in place.
The question can then be raised...
Was it really that necessary to sign CJ Wilson? With that, was the Josh Hamilton signing pointless? The veteran core was already in place. The Angels then needed to just get Mike Trout on the field, and continue developing youngsters around him and Pujols.
What I'm basically doing here, is taking the formula that Arte Moreno and Bill Stoneman used going into the 2004 season, and applying it to 2012 and 2013.
What I'm really getting at here too, is that formula was given to Mike Scioscia. He did as good as any manager could to apply that formula to 5 division titles in 6 years. But that is no longer being given to Scioscia. Instead, he's presented with big stars with weak back ends of his starting rotations, and weak back end of his bullpens.
What I keep coming back to every time I go around and around about the state of the Angels' front office and farm system, is that the blue print laid down by Arte Moreno, Bill Stoneman, and Mike Scioscia is what worked. As soon as Tony Reagins and Jerry Dipoto took over, those blue prints seemed to have been torn up. And now, poor decisions have led to a poor record, and Mike Scioscia being scapegoated.
The Angels were a better team then, because Mike Sciocia was at the helm, and being given the necessary pieces he needs to manage well. That is not happening anymore, and it's almost entirely with his pitching staff.
So if you were to ask me if Mike Scioscia should go, or if Jerry Dipoto should go... I would reluctantly say Dipoto.
Some have argued the players aren't responding to Scioscia. Well, have you ever looked at the logic behind that statement, and asked yourself if he's even being given the right players? Because I don't think he is. And, again, it's mainly his bullpen.
However, my honest objective opinion is that neither Dipoto or Scioscia should be fired. The big names are already in place. So Dipoto can focus almost entirely on the pitching staff, especially the bullpen. The Pujols' and Hamiltons' of the free agent market will be scarce any way. So why not take advantage of the opportunity, and reapply the formula that was successful for so many years?
Because until the Angels return to that formula, this will continue. And Arte Moreno will have no one to blame but himself. That's where the improvement must start.