So, I was planning on a bigger piece to kind of encompass everything until 2020 but, with recent suspension of all baseball related activities, I thought this would give something else to discuss...so here's part 1:
I always find it fascinating to look back into decisions made by the Angels franchise that essentially define its nature, both within the fan base and from the outsider's perspective. With the franchise closing in on 60 years, we are now starting to get dividing lines in regards to specific eras of its history that take us from the expansionist beginning, the surprise success of '62, the Fregosi-led teams of the mid-to-late 60's and the fight for team identity and relevance, the trade before the '72 season that brought them Nolan Ryan, "Tanana and Ryan and two days of cryin'", the death of Lyman Bostock, "Yes We Can!" in 1979,, Buzzie Bavasi thinking Ryan was just a .500 pitcher, the veteran-led playoff team of '82, the disastrous game 5 of the 1986 ALCS...
Lots to review and breakdown but I was more curious as to the turning points, both positive and negative, that have occurred since Arte Moreno's purchase of the franchise in 2003. With the Angels coming off a World Championship in 2002, and the sale of the franchise note announced until May 15, 2003, Arte didn't really get a chance to make his mark until the off-season.
2004 Spending Spree:
Fresh off a disappointing 2003 season, Arte opened up the check book and immediately turned the franchise fortunes around by signing Kelvim Escobar, Jose Guillen, Bartolo Colon, and, to the surprise of literally everyone, generational talent Vladimir Guerrero. This was a significant change from the Jackie Autry and Disney ownerships of the past decade that envisioned the Angels as more of a small-to-mid market franchise and spent accordingly. By contrast, Arte brought in legitimate talent in their prime (Escobar at 28, Guillen at 28, and Guerrero at 29) and got himself a top of the rotation starter in Colon. This season set the tone for the Angels going forward as it announced their intention of being perennial contender for the AL West.
Troy Glaus' Departure:
After two injury-plagued seasons in 2003 and 2004, Troy Glaus was not pursued by the Angels as a free agent option at 3B. Dallas McPherson tore through AA Arkansas and AAA Salt Lake to the tune of .317 .387 1.057 OPS and was viewed as the heir apparent and, ironically, a supposed answer to the inconsistency at 3B due to Glaus' DL visits. However, chronic back issues derailed McPherson's career to the point of back surgery and he never reached his potential. As a result, the Angels attempted to fill in the gap with Chone Figgins, Maicer Izturis, Robb Quinlan, Edgardo Alfonzo, Shane Halter and Shea Hillenbrand before finally settling on Chone as the permanent starter for the 2009, a year before his departure in free agency. After that, it was still a mixed bag of fill-ins and disappointments with Alberto Callaspo, Brandon Wood, Kevin Frandsen, Luis Jimenez, David Freese, Yunel Escobar, Luis Valbuena, Taylor Ward and Zach Cozart. Alternatively, Glaus went on to play 6 more seasons (almost all of 2009 was lost to injury) with Arizona, Toronto, St Louis, and Atlanta while putting up a 15.4 WAR between 2005 - 2008.
Bill Stoneman Continues to Build Team through Free Agency:
More representative of an era than a specific date or offseason, Bill Stoneman defined his time as Angels GM as an executive who sought Free Agents to fill in the talent gaps as opposed to trading away his prospect currency. At the time, there was a lot of evidence to support this approach as the 2002 team, and subsequent playoff teams of the mid-to-late 2000's, were built on a combination of farm talent and free agent signings. 2004 was Molina, Erstad, Anderson, Salmon, Glaus, Lackey, Washburn, Percival, Shields and KRod mixed with the previously mentioned haul in free agency. 2005 saw more of the same as they brought in Steve Finley, Paul Byrd, Orlando Cabrera, and Esteban Yan, 2006 had Hector Carrasco and J.C. Romero, and 2007 saw Gary Matthews Jr, Darren Oliver, Justin Speier before Stoneman stepped down in 10/2007.
By leaning heavily on Free Agency, Stoneman was able to supplement the existing roster but ultimately at the expense of the upcoming drafts. So, in 2004, the Angels were able to score big when Jered Weaver fell to them at the 10th due to sign-ability concerns they lost their 2nd and 3rd round pick due to signing Colon and Escobar. Additionally, in 2005, they lost their 1st round pick due to signing OCab (got a late 1st round supplemental pick for losing Percival, chose Trevor Bell) , lost 2006 2nd round pick for Carrasco signing, lost 2007 1st and 2nd round picks due to Matthews and Speier signings (got a late supplemental 1st rounder due to losing Kennedy, chose Jon Bachanov), and lost 2008 1st round pick due to Hunter. So, between 2005 - 2008, they only picked three times in the late 1st round. This was a gamble because it was absolutely depending on the next wave of talent coming after 2004 to become at least major league regulars and, honestly, it was a mixed bag. For every success (Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Kendrys Morales, Howie Kendrick, Jered Weaver, Erick Aybar, Mike Napoli) there was a missed opportunities (McPherson, Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Chris Bootcheck, Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez, Kevin Jepsen, Trevor Bell) and, by the time 2010 rolled around, the farm was in a sorry state.
The Mark Teixeira Trade and the 2009 draft
In 2007, after the Angels had just finished another season which ended in an AL West crown, their third in the past four seasons, and another playoff loss to the eventual World Champion Red Sox, newly promoted GM Tony Reagins attempted to address their rather average offense by signing Torii Hunter to pair with Vlad Guerrero in the middle of the order. By mid-season, though, despite being 26 games over .500, the starting pitching and bullpen was once again doing the heavy lifting that season. Casey Kotchman was one of those offensive players that was struggling to find his form with a rather tepid .287 .327 .774 OPS. While not terrible, it was certainly under what is traditionally expected of a 1B and well under the .296 .372 .840 OPS he posted the season before. At the trade deadline, Reagins made his move and brought in 1B slugger Mark Teixeira, a legit switch-hitting middle-of-the-order presence to bat in front of Vlad and Torii. Now, if this felt like an odd occurrence in regards to recent Angels’ history, it’s only because, under Stoneman, a mid-season acquisition usually resembled Alex Ochoa. Despite the shot in the arm, he gave to the offense (.358 .449 1.081 OPS 181 OPS+ 3.7 WAR), Teixeira was definite risk to be lost to free agency once the season was over and, after the season, the Angels might again be looking for a new 1B.
Well, the “worst case scenario” came to pass: Teixeira signed with Yankees, giving Arte a case of the “sads”, but, luckily for him, the Angels front office signed a stud Cuban player named Kendry(s) Morales a few seasons prior and all he did was put up .306 .355 .924 OPS 139 OPS+ 4.3 WAR to help lead them to the 2009 AL West. On top of that, Scouting Director Eddie Bane leveraged the draft picks (1st rounder and a supplemental 1st rounder) from losing Teixeira to draft Mike Trout…yes, THE Mike Trout and Tyler Skaggs. Additionally, Bane proceeded to draft Randall Grichuk, Garrett Richards, and Patrick Corbin as well for a ridiculous 1st/2nd round haul. Despite is previous neglect, the Angels’ farm system got a much needed shot in the arm.
The Death of Nick Adenhart:
The morning of April 9th, 2009 was surreal. A post on this message board announced what had happened but the words didn't make sense...it just didn't seem possible and there was no way to really conceptualize it. I remember refreshing the website over and over again as the news changed from uncertainty to disbelief to stunning realization. Even over a decade later, just typing the words brings a familiar ache as well as memories of Jered Weaver’s tributes during and after that season, including naming his son after him. Obviously, a baseball game seems trivial in comparison to life and death but baseball was not going to stop to let the Angels mourn. After one suspended game, the Angels were back on the field to deal with tragedy both individually and collectively. They could have folded under the weight of those events but they persevered, using what they could to inspire them to an AL West title, past their playoff nemesis, the Red Sox, only to come up just short against the Yankees in the ALCS. Whether or not Adenhart would have been a factor in that series is a question but what we do know is, despite a late season acquisition of Scott Kazmir, the Angels didn’t have the arms to compete against the playoff tested Yankees. Going forward, it also meant the Angels were down one starting pitcher they were counting on to make a contribution for 2010 and beyond and eventually led to both signing Joel Pinera and trading for Dan Haren.
Just 2010…All of it
Where to begin…so the Angels lost the 2009 ALCS to the Yankees and went into the offseason knowing that Vlad Guerrero, John Lackey and Chone Figgins, keys to their recent playoff runs, were likely gone and they were really counting on guys like Kendrys Morales, Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera, Mike Napoli and Torii Hunter to continue to provide the extra base power, starters like Scott Kazmir and Joe Saunders to stabilize the rotation behind Weaver and Santana, and for players like Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Kevin Jepsen, and Brandon Wood to continue to develop. That, for the most part, didn’t happen. Bobby Abreu was feeling all 36 years of age putting up a .255 .352 .787 OPS 1.9 WAR, Juan Rivera saw his production drop to .252 .312 .721 OPS -0.2 WAR, but at least Torii Hunter was solid, despite his penchant for getting thrown out trying to steal. Lots of struggling…but the gut-punch was Kendrys Morales’ broken ankle jumping on home plate after a game winning grand slam. Seriously, what the f…?! Hard to remember a time when you went from absolute joy to utter misery within a few minutes. What that meant was, besides the huge bat out of the line-up and Napoli eventually had to move to 1B. As for the younger players, Kendrick finally made it through a whole season where he wasn’t injured or demoted but put up .279 .313 .721 OPS 99 OPS+, Aybar’s offensive numbers fell off a cliff to .253 .306 .636 OPS 77 OPS+, and Brandon Wood, highly touted prospect and supposed future franchise 3B, put up a historically brutal .146 .174 .382 OPS 6 OPS+.
As for the pitching, Joel Pinero was signed to bring some depth to the rotation and on the DL by mid-July and didn’t come back until mid-September, when the Angels were already out of it. Additionally, Scott Kazmir, who was being counted on to pick up some of the slack after Lackey departed for Boston, was awful. It was just one mediocre start after another culminating in memorable July start against Oakland which saw him put up a line of:
5.0 IP 11 H 13 ER 3 BB 2 SO 3 HR
This prompted a “DL visit” and a search for answers on the Angels’ part. The Angels answer?
On 07/25/2010, the Angels sent Joe Saunders, Patrick Corbin, Rafael Rodriguez and a PTBNL (Tyler Skaggs) for Dan Haren…Woof. While Dan Haren was a definite high-end starter, that was a lot of starting pitching currency to give up even with the move being made with 2011 in mind. Despite the best efforts of everyone involved, the team never got back on track and the team’s struggles set the tone for the 2010 offseason.
Part 2...coming soon