In the past few years, two watershed events occurred in Los Angeles baseball, forever changing the course of two successful franchises, previously competing yearly for division titles, and league championships.
Headlines for a year and a half now have detailed the facts, fictions, and fantasies of the event forever changing in ways not yet fully known, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hamstringing expenditures, the McCourt divorce has been the high-profile roadblock to Dodger spending, and Dodger success. Less noteworthy, but more relevant to the objective of on-the-field success, was the earlier event that forever changed the fortunes of the Los Angeles Angels, the retirement of General Manager Bill Stoneman.
For a year, the McCourt divorce handcuffed GM Ned Colletti, and the results were oh-so evident on the field during the 2010 season. But, low and behold, this winter the purse strings have miraculously opened, and the Dodgers have dramatically improved their roster. The addition of Jon Garland and the re-signing of Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla have transformed a questionable rotation into a solid, deep group of starters, and the signing of Matt Guerrier has added depth and solid set-up help to a bullpen that can dominate in the late innings. The signing of Juan Uribe to play second base gives the team the first solid, 3, 4, 5, 6 infield it has had in years. Re-acquiring Dioner Navarro solidifies a now deep and veteran catching corp, that should exceed the diminished play of the 2009-2010 Russell Martin (who I expect to have a big comeback in NY). The left field platoon of Jay Gibbons and Marcus Thames will provide a major improvement over last year.
The one deficit the Dodgers must try to overcome in their quest to return to NL West prominence, is, of course, the presence of Don Mattingly in the manager’s seat. The hope here is that the start to the season will be so horrendous that Donny will swiftly be shown the exit, and that the guy who should have gotten the job, new 3B coach Tim Wallach, will then replace him. Should that occur, then the effect of the McCourt divorce will, at least for 2011, be minimal, and the Dodgers can enjoy a successful comeback from the disastrous 2010 season.
Now the Angels are another story.
The single most important even in Angel history was the hiring of Bill Stoneman as GM in 1999. His greatest move, of course, was the hiring of Mike Scioscia as manager, but for eight years, he made move after move, some under the radar, that built and maintained a solid contender, the 2002 World Champion, and a team that thereafter won the Western Division title on almost a yearly basis. Then following the 2007 season, he abruptly retired. The team and the system was so good, that his successor, Tony Reagins, could do little to harm Scioscia’s Angels for the next couple of years, though any honest appraisal would reveal that the team was just not as deep and as solid and as special as the 2002-2007 teams.
In stark contrast to the low-key mastermind Stoneman, Reagins felt the need to make a splash, and his trademark became top-of-the-news trades and signings. Some early moves admittedly were not bad, most notably, the signing of Torri Hunter. Others, not so much, such as mortgaging the future with the rental of Mark Teixeira, knowing the impossibility of signing him for the following season. Following the 2009 season, the team was devastated by the free-agent losses of John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins. As time went on, his moves became more and more desperate, such as trading for Scott Kazmir, and then trading for Dan Haren at the price of four young pitchers, including solid, proven starter Joe Saunders, over whom Haren is only a modest improvement, if an improvement at all. Major league rosters are laden with ex-Angel pitching prospects, never allowed to mature in Anaheim, but showing ability, talent, and bright futures elsewhere. That list includes Sean O’Sullivan, Darren O’Day, and Dustin Moseley, not to mention ex-Angel veterans Darren Oliver and Francisco Rodriguez.
And then came the 2010-2011 off-season. Full of promises to sign Adrian Beltre, Rafael Soriano, Carl Crawford, and maybe even Cliff Lee, Reagins was totally shut out. As time marched on towards spring training, he felt compelled to make a move, and a move he did make. Making probably the worst trade by a southern California team since the Dodgers gave away Mike Piazza, he traded Juan Rivera and Angel stalwart Mike Napoli for the over-priced, over-rated, and over-the-hill Vernon Wells. Wells’ numbers last season were not too bad – 31 HRs and 88 RBIs, with a .273 average. However, that is one home run every 19 at-bats and an RBI every 6.7. Compare that to Napoli’s home run every 17 at bats and RBI every 6.5 at bats. Compare all this further with the fact that before last season’s “comeback”, Wells had had three consecutive bad years, averaging only 17 home runs and 75 RBIs a year. Add in the fact that there are no assurances the Kendy Morales will be totally healthy at the start of the season and able to play first base every day. If he cannot, without Napoli, the Angels have NO back-up first baseman. Without Rivera, they do not even have a back-up designated hitter. And the Angels owe Wells $86 Million.
Despite one of the great managers in baseball, a starting staff with true quality at the top, and a tremendous defense, the Angels are headed for a bad season, with no light at the end of the tunnel.