Monday, May 6, 2013

Amid Angels Lost Dominance, Napoli Continues to Rub It In

        By Ross Newhan

        Amid the misery that stalks the Angels on the field, amid the heat and unrest--internally and externally--rattling the organization, there is the continuing hate mail from Boston.

        Well, okay, it's not really hate mail that Mike Napoli has been dispatching as he now contributes to the resurrection of the Red Sox after helping Texas reach the playoffs in both of his years there.

         Call it long distance reminders of possibly the worst trade in Angel history--and whether the blame should be put on then general manager Tony Reagins or Manager Mike Scioscia (who didn't trust the catcher's defensive skills)--the numbers are haunting.

        Napoli is currently third in the American League with 31 runs batted in and has six home runs in the first six weeks.

        In the two plus seasons and 252 games since he and Juan Rivera were traded to the Toronto Blue Jays (who immediately flipped Napoli to Texas), he has hit 58 home runs and driven in 162 runs.

        About two weeks after the Angels failed to fill their biggest need in the offseason of 2010/11 by refusing to go to six years in negotiations with third baseman Adrian Beltre, who then got the sixth year from Texas in what represented one of several division turning points, the previously dominant Angels yielding to the Rangers, Napoli was exchanged for Vernon Wells and the $84 million left on his contract.

        Now, as the 11-20 Angels look up at the 20-11 Rangers, the Beltre/Napoli/Wells saga is just one part of a complicated story of mis-management, mis-spent money and missed opportunities, derailing that dominance.

        Injuries have played a part, certainly through the opening weeks of the current season with the revolving door bullpen, and in some ways the Angels are still trying to find a rotatiion replacement for the late Nick Adenhart.

       The story is too long to detail in entirety here, but even the successful tenure of Bill Stoneman as general manager was marred toward the end by the $50 million wasted on Gary Matthews following his only big year, and after Stoneman came Reagins and Jerry Dipoto, and there were the failed bids to sign free agents Beltre, Mark Texeira and Carl Crawford while the multi-millionaire Wells sat more than he played. Then owner Artie Moreno seemed to get more involved with his TV billions and there were the $329 million signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson followed last winter by the $125 million laid on Josh Hamilton in what seemed to be an 11th hour attempt to compensate for permitting Zack Greinke to sign a $147 million deal with the Dodgers even though Dipoto had given up the organization's top prospect, Jean Segura, in acquiring Greinke at the trade deadline in 2012.

      Now Segura, one of several top prospects lost through trade or compensation for free agent signings, is a rookie of the year candidate with the Milwaukee Brewers and Hamilton, who struggled through periods of 2012 despite his 43 home runs, is battling the Mendoza line while leading American League right fielders in errors and strike outs, and Pujols, with eight more years to go, is limping through April and May with that bad heel and tender knee, and with the highest payroll in club history the Angels went cheap in filling the Greinke and other rotation holes with Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas.

     There is a long way to go in 2013, and with three games against woeful Houston next, a chance to start the recovery, but this is not a good team at present. The Angels lead the league or are close to the lead in too many negative categories, the famed Scioscia aggressiveness piling up outs on the bases, the defense piling up errors behind pitchers who HAVE to get the outs when they earn them, and an offense, strong on paper, failing to hit in the clutch, and where is Mickey Hatcher when you need him?

    No one is without blame for the slow trickle of lost dominance over the last six years or so, but the heat now, of course, is hottest on the manager.

   Scioscia is signed through 2018, but know this: His relationship with the front office has not been the same since Stoneman retired in October of 2007, and even if the Angels rebound, it would not be a surprise if Moreno/Dipoto made a change, familiarity after 14 years building a degree of contempt, or it would not be a surprise if Scioscia made the change, and wouldn't a return to Dodger Stadium be interesting, certainly an easier drive from Westlake?


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