So now it’s somewhat official: Somebody on the Angels is going to get fired after this season. “Where’s your money?” a friend asked me the other day. Shoot. I really don’t know.
What I think I do know is that a lot of the assumptions people have about where your money should be are wrong. So these are five myths about the Angels’ impending shakeup.
Myth 1. Somebody is going to be fired because the Angels’ long-term future has been so badly messed up.
If somebody gets fired it’ll be for one/two/three of three reasons: The Angels have been a big-market team that missed the playoffs four years in a row; the Angels invested everything they had in these past two years to try to make the playoffs and managed only to get worse; and next year’s team, if this year’s team is a good indication, might suck. The fact that the Angels’ long-term outlook is darkened by a barren farm system and backloaded contracts is, indeed, a significant concern. But if the Angels were on pace to win 98 games this year, the Angels would not be firing their manager or their GM. They would be planning to take future problems on in the future. So, here’s the equation:
Bad 2013 + Horrible Outlook = Firings
Good 2013 + Horrible Outlook = No Firings
Cancel the Horrible Outlook out of each equation and you’re left with the truth: This isn’t about the 10th year of the Albert Pujols deal, and it isn’t about the fact that the Angels have given away first-round draft picks like mid-2000s Brian Sabean at a baby shower. It’s about right now.
Myth 2. Somebody is going to get fired because the Angels signed Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton to ludicrous contracts.
Oh, certainly you can argue they’re both irresponsible contracts. Albert Pujols, for instance, is still owed more ($212 million) than Clayton Kershaw is reportedly even asking for. He has had his OBP and home run totals drop in five consecutive years; do you know how many players have done that in major league history? Good, put the answer in the comments. And Hamilton is owed $106 million for the next four years, including $32 million in each of the final two. How about this game:
- Player A (it’s Josh Hamilton, in 2013): .233/.289/.421
- Player B (it’s Vernon Wells, in 2012): .230/.279/.403
But here’s the thing: Pujols’ salary wasn’t irresponsible for 2013, and neither was Hamilton’s. They’re making $33 million. PECOTA projected them to produce 10.6 WARP, and for Albert Pujols to be the best player in baseball. PECOTA thought they were the best position player duo in baseball, other than Pujols and Trout. You might have been opposed to that deal for Hamilton. No, you certainly were opposed to that deal with Hamilton. Everybody hated that deal. But you hated it because the back end was awful and the front wasn’t going to be good enough to justify the back end. You didn’t think that Josh Hamilton was going to be replacement level immediately. You didn’t think that replacing Wells with Hamilton was going to be the Angels’ problem in 2013.
Put it this way: If Hamilton had signed for two years and $25 million, we all would have loved it, and he would still be killing the Angels right now. If Pujols had signed for nine years and $125 million, we would have been flabbergasted at the bargain, and he would still be killing the Angels right now. Somebody is going to get fired because Pujols and Hamilton have been horrible, but not because Pujols and Hamilton were signed for too much money. The problem with those deals was all in the distant future. And the distant future is not (see no. 1) the reason anybody is going to lose his job.
Myth 3. But if the Angels hadn’t signed Josh Hamilton, they could have signed Zack Greinke. They needed pitching more than an outfielder.
Sure. That’s what you say now, because Josh Hamilton is awful and Greinke has been good. But it didn’t have to turn out that way. Hamilton could have been the guy who played well; Greinke could have been the one who sucked. There are way too many possibilities to assume, after the fact, that only one made sense.
But yes, the Angels did need pitching. And, back when it all started and Kendrys Morales was still on the squad, they did need pitching more than they needed another outfielder. That’s a legitimate point, and one that, reports suggest, Dipoto tried to make. But it’s also not the move that doomed the Angels to a top-five draft pick next June. Even if the Angels had signed Greinke instead of trading for Jason Vargas, they still would have needed two starting pitchers to round out the rotation. Which means they still would have been chasing guys like Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton to give them 400 innings, and it still would have been brutal. Furthermore, even if they had kept Kendrys Morales and everything else had remained the same, they still would have lost Peter Bourjos to injuries for most of the year, and Albert Pujols to injuries for the second half, and they still would have ended up giving J.B. Shuck 102 games and counting. Which is to say that, unless the Angels wanted to depend on some minor-league free agent that the friggin' Astros had no use for, it turned out the Angels really needed an outfielder!
The fact that the minor-league free agent that the friggin' Astros had no use for turned out to be significantly better than Josh Hamilton is why it’s so unfair to judge GMs based on outcomes.
Myth 4. Arte Moreno ordered the Pujols and Hamilton signings, so Jerry Dipoto is not to blame.
If Jerry Dipoto was opposed to the Pujols and Hamilton signings, it was for the same reasons you were: All that money for all those years. But we’ve been over this: the problem this year isn’t the money and the years, but the performance; the problem in distant years is the money and the years; and the reason somebody is going to get fired is this year, not distant years. I don’t have any reason to think that Dipoto was sad that Albert Pujols was going to be on his team in the short term, and I don’t have any reason to think that he thought Josh Hamilton was going to be absolutely terrible immediately. So he’s as much to blame as anybody, which is to say, not really to blame because nobody saw this coming.
Myth 5. But obviously Mike Scioscia should be fired because this team is badly underperforming.
Measuring manager contributions is tough. But the Angels are underperforming by about 20 wins or so this year. Unless you think managers are worth something close to 20 wins, then this isn’t all, or mostly, on him. Maybe some of it is, but good luck finding which some. And once you concede that most of the 20 wins aren’t his fault, and that the Angels are perfectly capable of underperforming by, say, 17 wins by chance and awfulness alone, then a) you must allow that for all we know they’re also capable of underperforming by 22 wins, and Scioscia has actually been worth wins this year and b) it stops mattering all that much, because somebody was going to get fired if this team won 79 games, too, and they dropped that far with or without whatever Scioscia was or was not worth.
It’s easy, from where we’re all sitting, to fire famous people. It’s just hard, based on what we actually know, to come up with good reasons why.
Thank you for reading
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One could make an argument that the Angels moves were pretty sensible - Hanson a young starter also coming off a down year, then Blanton - well, maybe expectations should have been low here, but he outperformed both Haren and Santana on a WAR basis in 2012. Then they also added Vargas, where all 3 adds came in $10 mil less than the 2 in hand.
Keeping those 2 would have cost the Angels about $18 mil more in payroll then the 2 replacements in 2013. Remember they traded Wells - well after this - out of concern for pushing the lux tax threshold or at least for budget reasons. The signing of Hamilton (which may have been ownership driven) may have dictated these moves.
Don't know, but Dave Stapleton's OBP dropped seven years in a row, which is pretty impressive.
Max Alvis (1970)
Leon Durham (1989)
Hughie Jennings (1903)*
Gee Walker (1943)
*Jennings dropped a 9th year in a row if you count his four atbats in 1907, after not appearing in any games in '04-'06.
HR drop 8 years in a row:
Edgardo Alfonzo (2006)
Carlos Baerga (2002)+
Tito Francona (1966)
Wes Westrum (1957)
+Baerga did not play in 2000 & 2001.
The (potentially rapid) declines of both Pujols and Hamilton were foreseeable. In fact, as I recall, several writers on this very site raised that very possibility when those two were on the free agent market.
The problem is not bad luck or timing, not back loaded contracts and not failure to produce in 2013, the problem was in the thought process that poured $365 million into two players who were guaranteed to decline, the only question being how fast. Add in Pujols' injury history and Hamilton's atypical career curve and the results shouldn't be that surprising.
Yes, Pujols and Hamilton could have had great seasons and made those deals look pretty good, at least this year. But who gambles $365 million and the fortunes of your franchise for the next five years on anything but a dead-solid lock? Instead of bitching how you were screwed over by chance, it would do well to recall the finite possibility of throwing snake eyes before betting every dollar you have, and then some, on a roll of the dice. This is the ugly downside of failing to heed the doctrine of diversification.
I understand we are working the benefit of hindsight and even dead-solid locks are anything but. Honestly though, that doesn't matter. Results are what count, not excuses. These signings failed spectacularly, the damage to the franchise is potentially breathtaking in scope and the persons responsible for this train wreck shouldn't be waiting for a deserved axe to fall. They ought to be tendering their resignations.
What if it's the owner?
A president or GM who had to work under those conditions should definitely be thinking about resigning before their reputations are completely destroyed, at least if they ever want another job in baseball. To do otherwise risks being tarred by the reckless decisions of another. Or being seen as a doormat who signed off on the worst free agent signings of the last 30 years.
Ray Fosse (1975)
Fred Schulte (1937)
Garrett Atkins (2010)
Tito Francona (1963)
Harmon Killebrew (1973)
Ron LeFlore (1981)
Minnie Minoso (1962)
Jose Pagan (1973)
Jim Presley (1989)
Aurelio Rodriguez (1974)
Roy Sievers (1964)
Sammy Sosa (2005)
Frank Thomas (1966)
Going into 2013 the following players were at four consecutive years:
Albert Pujols (2013 ended with injuries)
Hideki Matsui (retired)
Ryan Raburn (homers went up in 2013)
Jason Bartlett (zero 2012 homers, couldn't go lower)
Brian Roberts (zero 2012 homers, couldn't go lower)
Was the data bad? Given that Moreno has slashed their scouting department, maybe it was. Quoting:
Since his first full year as owner of the Angels in 2004, Moreno has fired close to 40 members of the front office, baseball operations department and scouting and medical staffs.
Even if you put Pujols and Hamilton on Moreno, DiPoto oversaw a lot of the other problems. Maybe it's not his fault, maybe nobody could have succeeded, but I think it's fair to say someone else should get a chance.
They could have also kept Torii Hunter....
As much fun as Sam Miller clearly had taking the contrarian viewpoint, his logic falls apart in "Myth #1". As the writer acknowledges at the beginning (and then seems to forget in the rest of the piece), the potential firings are not solely because of a bad 2013. It's because Dipoto right now lives at the intersection of Lousy Present and Worse Future that this is happening. Or to borrow a rhetorical device:
Bad 2013 + Horrible Outlook = Firings
Bad 2013 + Great Outlook = No Firings
If there was substantive hope that the team was going to rebound in 2014 or 2015 and not waste Trout's remaining years of very cheap team control, then it's likely that we wouldn't be having a conversation about firing Dipoto.
Just indicating that Dipoto is ALSO getting fired because 2013 was bad does not mean that the long-term argument for his firing constitutes a "myth". At the very worst it's an incomplete explanation, albeit one set up straw-man style by Sam Miller himself.
Also, while judging GMs based on outcomes can occasionally lead to faulty conclusions, there's no risk of that here, because Dipoto's process was also lousy. The Hamilton and Pujols deals were structured so that even in the best case scenario, the Angels would merely break even in terms of value. It is true that they failed more catastrophically than predicted. That does not make them remotely wise decisions, or supply a reason for Dipoto to keep his job.
As for Scioscia, firing the manager is rearranging deck chairs, but his not being responsible for all 20 wins of the Angels' underperformance is hardly a strong argument for keeping him on.
It's not hard to come up with a reason to fire the GM: he and his staff mortgaged a whole lot of future to win this year, and they didn't even succeed at that. What often happens when you screw up that badly at your job is that you lose it.
4th in runs scored (3rd in AL)
16th in runs allowed
That would lead an amateur like me to think they needed to address pitching more than hitting. Would I prefer Hamilton to Hunter or Wells? On paper, of course. However, keeping Wells cost nothing more since he was under contract and was a sunk cost. Hunter was certainly available for a couple more seasons and the goodwill in keeping him would have helped keep the faithful happy. However, Hunter was not looking for a short term deal from the Angels and seemed to want more than the market would bear. I thought an outfield of Wells, Trout and Bourjos would have been credible given their other hitters in house. It would have allowed them to focus on pitching improvement and maybe keeping Santana or Haren. It seems like Moreno is intent on keeping up with the Dodgers and that's hard to do based on their resources. It is time for the Angels to focus on building from within once again. I did read that Moreno has cut staff a lot and tends to pinch pennies on the little things while throwing good money after bad with free agents. Maybe he will let his baseball people run the shop and keep his eye on bringing in the revenue. Of course, winning more will bring up revenues too.
Bad 2013 + Expectation of Winning in 2013 = Firings
Bad 2013 + Kinda All-In in 2013 And Boy Did We Spend A Lot To Win Now Plus We're Sorta Triple-All-In If That's Even A Thing For The Next Four Years Because We Wanted So Bad To Win This Year = OMG Heads Will Roll
Remember when the dumbest thing in LA was Scioscia's sociopathic preference of Jeff Mathis over Mike Napoli triggering a trade of Napoli and Juan Rivera for Vernon Wells and all the Vernon Wells money? Much simpler times in the history of Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim transactional futility.
Bad 2013 + Good Outlook = No Firings
Good 2013 + Good Outlook = No Firings
Putting these four equations together, the firings only occur when the bad 2013 and the horrible outlook intersect. Therefore, the firings are the result of both poor current results and a poor future outlook.