June 30, 2011

The good, the bad and the costly

I’m not sure how to handle the Angels’ recent success of late (although I could find a way should it continue). After going an impressive 8-4 on the road; they come home to sweep the Washington Nationals and go 11-4 over their last 15 games. Boo-ya, right? On one hand, a win is a win and I’m jazzed that they’re playing so well. On the other hand, of the five teams they just won series’ from only the Mets are above .500 at the moment. Hmm.

So I guess you could say that I’m delighted that they’re winning, but I’m not going to get too excited because they really haven’t beaten any teams of significance. Again, I’m excited that they’re taking care of business; I’m just not going to get overly pumped up (just yet).

I guess you could say; that’s what the 2011 season has done to me thus far.

Every time I get a little excited, I find myself disappointed a short time later. Maybe there’s something to the way Scioscia goes about his business with that “one-game-at-a-time” attitude. Then again, I’m a fan I’m allowed to let my emotions run the gamut.

So… here we are just past the half way point of the season and the Angels are 1.5 games behind Texas with the trading deadline is getting closer. What are the Angels to do? Will they acquire a “big bat?” Will they add more pitching? What? What in the world will they do, if anything?

The good news is that the Angels are in the hunt and we can actually bring up the trading deadline for all the right reasons (buyers as opposed to sellers).

Okay, so this is the point where you’re probably expecting me to tell you what I think they should do, right?

Well, I’m not going to do that. Nah, it just seems like an exercise I’m just not prepared for and do you really want to hear the rambling of a mad man?

Instead, I’m going to focus a little bit on what the Angels have done over the past several years. I must warn you; this isn’t necessarily going to be pretty. I know, I know – why bring this up now when the team is playing well, right?

Well, I’ve been meaning to do this since Scott Kazmir was released and haven’t had the time to get to it; so now is as good a time as any.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to explore some of the downright horrendous moves this team has made. I hate to do it now, but again – I wanted to do this at some point. Perhaps you know all of this; however, I’m betting there’s a chance you haven’t seen it all laid out just the way I’m about to.

Let’s start with 2002. Yes, it was a magical year; a year that will forever represent one of if not the greatest time ever to be an Angels fan. It also happens to be the year the Angels signed Aaron Sele to a 3-year, $24 million contract. In those three seasons, Sele posted ERA’s of 4.89, 5.77 and 5.05. His signing represents one of the many bad decisions by the Angels front office since that time.

The last decade (through 2009) has been tremendous; however, as we continue down this road – you might wonder how this team ever managed to do as well as it has and also wonder what they might have done or will do if they had made better decisions. I mean we’re talking about a great many decisions that has involved spending a ton of good money on bad players.

Let’s get to it…

The 2003 team didn’t change much from the prior year personnel wise, as they seemed to have a hang-over from their wildly successful 2002 season. It was also the year that Arte Moreno took over as the owner of the Angels. As great as Moreno has been for the Angels; one can’t help but wonder how much greater the team would have been had they made better decisions under his watch.

In 2004 the Angels struck gold with the Vladimir Guerrero signing; however, it’s important to note that Bartolo Colon was also signed prior to that season and while Colon did win a CY Young – he only had two productive years out of four. In his last two years he managed to start just 29 games and had a 5.11 ERA in 2006 and a 6.34 ERA in 2007. In my opinion, the Angels didn’t get anywhere near the return on their investment of 4-years and $51 million (which was a lot of money for a pitcher at the time).

In 2005 the crap that hit the fan came in the form of Steve Finley. Finley made $6 million and for that investment, the Angels received a .222 batting average. Finley was then traded to the San Francisco Giants for Edgardo Alfonzo (prior to the 2006 season), who made $8 million in 2006 and was released on May 21 after playing in just 18 games. I should note that Finley made $7 million while playing for the Giants that same year. A total of $14 million was wasted over those two years.

In 2005 the Angels also acquired J.C. Romero from the Minnesota Twins (for the 2006 season) for Alexi Casilla, who is currently the starting shortstop for the Twins. Romero earned $2.25 million in 2006 while posting a 6.70 ERA. Casilla has basically been on the Twins major league roster for the past five years. Romero became a free agent prior to the 2007 season. Who got the better of that deal? You really don’t answer that…

2006 brought us Jeff Weaver at the cost of an $8,325,000 contract. Weaver was traded to the Cardinals on July 5 of that year after compiling a horrible 6.29 ERA in 16 starts. Weaver would go on to help the Cardinals win a World Series and the Angels went on paying his salary.

2007 was especially bad. It was the year that one Gary Matthews, Jr. signed a 5-year, and nearly $50 million contract that still haunts the Angels today. Matthews ended up being traded to the Mets after three miserable seasons with the Angels (with the Angels picking up most of his salary), where he floundered and ended up out of baseball. Matthews played his last game on June 2, 2010 while costing the Angels $22.3 million the last two years (including this one).

2007 also brought us Shea Hillenbrand. Remember that one? Did you just grimace? If you did, it’s because you probably remember that he signed for $6 million and ended up being released on July 9 after hitting .254 with 3 homeruns. More good money after bad.

Wait 2007 gets even better. That year also brought us Justin Speier and a 3-year, $12.75 million contract. Speier had one good year (his first) out of three. His final two years? Well it included a 5.03 ERA in 2008 and a 5.18 ERA in 2009 and ultimately his release on August 11, 2009.

I’m not done with 2007 yet. That year marked the season the extension of Kelvim Escobar kicked in. Escobar’s extension was for 3-years and $28.5 million. Shields also signed an extension for 3-years and $14.6 million.

Escobar had a fantastic 2007; however, he only managed to pitch in one game in the following two years while earning $19.5 million during those final two years. Shields’ extension didn’t kick in until 2008, where he had a stellar season; however, he proved to be utterly useless during the final two years of his contract with a 6.62 and 5.28 ERA in those years. Ugh.

I’m not making this stuff up folks. The numbers are fairly staggering, aren’t they?

In 2008 the Angels traded Orlando Cabrera (and his $10 million contract) to the Chicago White Sox for Jon Garland and his $12 million contract. Garland did win 14 games that year; however, he boasted a hefty 4.90 ERA that season as well. The move did pave the way for Erick Aybar to take over at shortstop; however, it is yet another example of the high cost of mediocre talent in Garland.

2009 brought us somewhat of a mixed bag in Brian Fuentes. Fuentes signed a 2-year $17.5 million deal and ended up leading the major league baseball with 48 saves, but he also blew 7 other opportunities and gave up a key homerun in the ALCS to Alex Rodriguez and the rest is as they say… “History.” Even though he led the league in saves, he was arguably the worst reliever to ever do that. In 2010 he was traded to the Minnesota Twins.

2009 also brought us the trade that sent Alex Torres, Matt Sweeney and Sean Rodriguez to the Tampa Bay Rays for Scott Kazmir (whose recent release prompted this whole post) and his mega contract that included salaries of $6 million in 2009, $8 million in 2010 and $12 million this year. His departure, while costly would have been even more costly had he stayed another year. Rather than paying him $13.5 million in 2012, the Angels will have to shell out $2.5 million in a buy-out. He will end up costing the Angels $22.5 million for the kind of production one would expect to get out of a mannequin.

The string of bad decisions continued in 2010 when the Angels signed the guy with the crooked hat. Yes, I’m talking about Fernando Rodney and his two-year, $11 million deal. Has he been worth it? I think we both know the answer to that, although I would entertain an argument either way.

Add to all of this the string of low cost, low risk signings like Andres Galarraga, Raul Mondesi, and Shane Halter (none of which panned out) and you have reason for skepticism (for what they might do next) regarding their entire decision process.

I didn’t do any calculations regarding the net loss of all the moves mentioned above, but I’m sure we can all agree that the number is substantial. I have to ask myself, what could the Angels have done with the money they spent on Kazmir and Matthews?

Think about it. Just don’t focus on it too much because your head might explode.

All of that being said, I know that the Angels have also made some very good moves via trade and free agency and that no front office is perfect. I just think that all of the decision mentioned above had to have had a negative impact on the product currently on the field and in the Angels' ability (or lack of) to continue to be major players in the free agency market. It also has hindered their ability to make any and all moves necessary to get them back to having a 2002-like season.

Did the combination of events make them gun shy on Carl Crawford? Will it hinder their ability to make a move at the deadline this year? Could the Angels have made a different move or two over the years that would have put them back in the World Series?

These are legitimate questions, don’t you think?

Look, I think Moreno is a great owner and I think Mike Scioscia is the best manager in the game. Do the math. What’s the problem? Is it Tony Reagins or even Bill Stoneman (from prior years)? I’m not going to point any fingers, but it’s a question that begs an answer in my opinion.

I know that some of the problems the Angels have had are related to injuries and are totally unpredictable, but some of them – such as the Gary Matthews, Jr. signing raised eyebrows around the country at the time.

I just think it’s foolish to ignore the history here. I have to question the analysis process that goes into some of the moves the front office has made. The Angels have the luxury of an owner with fairly deep pockets, but let’s face it – there has to be a limit to the kind of wasted money this team can lose. It might be time to pay the piper. It had to come to this eventually.

So… what’s next?

Well, for now – there are games to be played. More specifically, the Dodgers are coming to town and I’m looking forward to seeing the freeway series yet again. This never get’s old for me. The other stuff… well, it definitely does.

So let’s get after it. Anyone notice how well Vernon Wells is playing? Is he going to be a good investment after all? I sure hope so.

Go Angels!

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