Monday, July 29, 2013

The Angels: Problems of Personnel and Personalities

            By Ross Newhan

            In the shadow of the rampaging Dodgers, the other Los Angeles baseball team is dead in the American League West and miles from wild card contention.

            Amid obvious personnel issues and less apparent but also detrimental personality problems (see below), the Angels (with Albert Pujols probably out for the remainder of the season) would have to win 42 of their last 59 games to attain 90 victories, a likely minimum to make the playoffs.

             In what would be the fourth straight year devoid of October in Anaheim, 19 of the other 29 teams have a better record than the Angels, who trail Oakland by 13 games in the division despite a payroll more than twice that of the A's.

            Underachievement? Undoubtedly.

            However, it can also be argued that the Angels were set up to fail via the way owner Arte Moreno authorized the spending of his TV billions during the off-season.

            In fact, it is difficult to figure out what the club's overriding philosphy has been during a period in which Moreno has played a conflicting game of moneyball  (not to be confused with the A's brand) and the farm system has detiorated into one of baseball's worst, top prospects being used like so many poker chips in trades or draft compensation for free agent signings.

             It's a long, intertwining list of potential possibilities (no need to go over the failure to meet Matt Harvey's price when selected by the Angels out of high school in the third round of the 2007 June draft), young players who have fulfilled their promise elsewhere while the Angels have made head scratching decisions such as wasting millions on Gary Matthews Jr. and Vernon Wells while failing to sign game changers of the Adrian Beltre, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Mark Teixera (who probably wasn't going to be bought out of his desire to play in the east) caliber.

           That, of course, leads to the new TV contract and the 10 year, $240 million signing of Pujols, now 33,  and the five year, $125 million signing of Josh Hamilton, now 32, and, any way you want to analyze it, it's impossible to see anything but a long, slow slog through the life of those contracts.

           As a scout for an opposing American League team put it: "Pujols still has some thunder in his bat but you have to wonder if his foot injury is the start of an overall breakdown, and it's difficult to know what to make of Hamilton (.220, 15 homers, 43 RBI). He's continued the regression we saw in the second half of last year, generally hits only mistakes, is lost against left handers and hasn't played well at all in the outfield."

          Hamilton was signed in what appeared to be an over-reaction to the Dodgers signing of Zack Greinke after the Angels failed to retain the pitcher they had obtained from Milwaukee in mid-season of 2012, a trade in which they gave up their top prospect, infielder Jean Segura, who has become a  proven commodity at shortstop with the Brewers and one of the National League's top hitters

          With Greinke gone, the Angels needed to rebuild their rotation behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, but the Hamilton money sent General Manager Jerry Dipoto into a secondary market for the likes of Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson, Ryan Madson, Jason Vargas and Sean Burnett, a group depleted by injuries and ineffectiveness. In a year that has seen the Angels break down in virtually every category of play, the limping Pujols, the laboring Hamilton and the inability of the middle to back end of the rotation to sustain momentum have symbolized that collapse.

          In addition, three people with inside knowledge and who I talked with individually, each cited an unsettling clubhouse atmosphere in which younger, star caliber players (Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, among them) have pursued a stronger voice and visibility only to be deterred by a veteran group that includes Pujols and Hamilton.

          Said one of the three people, all of whom requested anonymity because of their close relationship with the organization:

          "I think it would be overkill to call it a chasm, and I can't say it has consistently impacted performance, but I do think there is a generational gap, a question of style and the way things are done, that has been consistently difficult to manage."

         Seldom, of course, do the relationships or daily atmosphere in a baseball clubhouse reflect a perfect blend, but in a year when nothing else has been perfect in Anaheim, "the fact that players have at times left the clubhouse amid varying degrees of disagreement only to then attempt to perform at their best doesn't translate to a comfortable environment," the person quoted above said.

        Where the Angels head from here and what impact this disappointing (and dispiriting) season will have on Moreno as he weighs 1) the future of Manager Mike Scioscia (signed through 2017) and 2) the relationship between Scioscia and Dipoto, isn't clear, but this is:

        Three days away from the non-waiver trade deadline the Angels aren't expected to be a major player. They are burdened with too many big contracts to be a significant seller and--with the next payroll tax level in mind--they are too far out of the race to be a significant buyer.

     The disabling of Pujols at this juncture and the trading of Scott Downs was an admisstion, in fact,  that they have taken a realistic look at the standings.    


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