The Angels at the Winter Meetings
My junior year English teacher, Mr. Gordon, had one strict policy- whenever a paper was returned we were required to have a “cooling off” period before we approached him about it. Regardless of whether our feedback was positive or negative he wanted us to think about what he had written, the work we had put into the original paper, and try to understand the grade we had received before we discussed it with him.
As the Angels introduce CJ Wilson and Albert Pujols, and I am two days removed from the Hot Stove that is the Winter Meetings, I think my cooling off period is over.
Firstly, the real deficits that the Angels faced entering the offseason were at third, catcher, and in the bullpen.
Dipoto’s first move- to rid the team of starting catcher Jeff Mathis- said less about the organization’s thoughts on Mathis and new catcher Chris Iannetta, and more about the transition throughout the club. It seems that Moreno, in firing Reagins and promoting Dipoto to General Manager, moved the baseball operations decisions from on the field to in the front office. To expand, Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia no longer holds the reigns on player decisions. For some reason or another, in the 2010 offseason the Angels thought it was a good idea to trade arguably the most productive offensive player on the team, Mike Napoli, for Vernon Wells. Needless to say this deal ended up working out great for Napoli’s ultimate suitors- the Texas Rangers, as they made their second World Series- and not so well for the Angels as Wells continually struggled at the plate.
The Napoli-Wells deal was questioned by a number of sources- how could someone so productive be traded for someone so… past their prime. The answer is likely because Scioscia wanted to play Mathis at catcher instead of Napoli. Others could argue it was because the team had hoped that brining up 2006 first-round draft pick Hank Conger would be fruitful and carrying three catchers (with Bobby Wilson also in the wings) would have been obnoxious. But, as a former catcher, Scioscia has been known to carry three catchers at a time. While Napoli was clearly better offensively, Mathis worked well with Weaver. And, to be fair, the Angels’ starting pitching in 2010, primarily in Haren and Weaver was effective. Mathis was not the right choice, and with Scioscia in the middle of a long contract, it may have been the end of Reagins.
Righting the Mathis wrong was the first step Dipoto took in winning over Halo fans this off-season. Ianetta will undoubtedly improve the team’s OBP, and will hopefully help bring a cluster of near 20 game winners into their prime.
Dipoto did, to some extent, address the bullpen issues the Angels faced last season as he signed LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins has been with more than a handful of clubs since his 1995 Major League debut. His WHIP and ERA are not particularly impressive, but a veteran pitcher in the bullpen is something the Angels needed to acquire this off-season as All Star closer Jordan Walden enters his second full year in the Majors.
While Angel fans were already happy with Dipoto’s decision to get rid of Mathis, I doubt any of them could have anticipated what was next. As the Winter Meetings approached the eleventh hour, Dipoto managed to sign the two biggest free agents on the market.
The Albert Pujols deal, while impressive, unfortunately does not address the larger infield needs the Angels have. The Angels were in need, desperate need, to get a third baseman. The quasi-platoon situation at third through which Macier Izturis emerged as the team’s starter simply won’t cut it in the ultra competitive American League (which is not to imply that the American League West is highly competitive, because it isn’t). With Mark Trumbo, who finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, the Angels didn’t really need a second player to man first. They certainly did not need a 31 year old first basemen (albeit one of the most naturally gifted batters of all time) to sign a 10 year deal with them.
While Pujols will undoubtedly bring in fans (though the Angels have consistently met the three million mark over the past several seasons) over the course of the next five years, that still leaves five years on his contract. Five years during which fickle and fair-weather Southern California fans will likely forget their brief excitement on December 8, 2011, or Opening Day 2012. Even if Pujols brings the team a championship in 2012, many fans will forget this like they have forgotten Glaus, Spiezio, Kennedy, Eckstein and the like, by 2022 when Pujols will undoubtedly be relegated to a DH position, and will no longer hold the same allure over them. Yet, the teams’ payroll will still be wrapped up in someone who was great 10 years ago.
What Pujols doesn’t realize is that the great reception he received in Anaheim at his press conference today is not typical of Angels’ fans. Pujols has left one of the most storied franchises in baseball history, and come to a 1961 expansion team who has won half the total rings Pujols has in its entire existence. Hopefully the buzz around Pujols will encourage fans to pay more attention at games, to engage in statistical research, to care about the past, present, and future of the team, but it seems that in their excitement they have shown how present minded they are.
Dipoto’s final trick at the end of the Meetings was to sign CJ Wilson. The Angels got Wilson at a hometown discount rate (or perhaps a Pujols discount rate). The Wilson signing is the best of all the work done by the Angels at this year’s meetings for a number of reasons. Firstly, in signing Wilson, the Angels guaranteed that their division rival Rangers lost a 16 game winner. The Rangers will now be forced to find another ace to keep their games close. Additionally, in creating a rotation with a strong front three in Weaver, Haren and Wilson the Angels have become one of the most dominate pitching staffs in the Majors (along with the Phillies and Giants). Moreover, they have ensured that the bullpen will have additional rest as these starters tend to go deep in games (Haren himself was forced to pitch in relief last season in an early April game against the Blue Jays).
While the Angels’ new TV deal is rumored to be worth approximately three billion dollars, the question still must be asked: How will these deals impact the Fan Cost Index (FCI)?
The Angels in recent years have taken to bringing up players through their farm system, not to signing Free Agents. The payroll the Angels have added will probably move the team out of the cellar in FCI rankings. And no, the Pujols jerseys will not help cover the difference as MLB’s revenue sharing procedures manipulate how much teams profit from merchandise expenditures.
If nothing else, Dipoto has shown that the Angels are transitioning into a role of movers and shakers. That they will no longer sit on the sidelines and allow top notch free agents to go elsewhere. Hopefully, fans recognize this sharp juxtaposition and appreciate the managements apparent commitment to winning, as well as Pujols in his prime.