In the first of a three-part series that delves into the Los Angeles Angels organization moving forward, we focus on the Angels front office. The Angels front office remains in turmoil as ownership continues the search for a general manager. Simply put, the Angels missed the postseason again. And, as every article about them has noted, it’s another wasted year of Mike Trout’s prime. What they should be doing instead is asking where to place the blame. Manager Joe Maddon? Ex-general manager Billy Eppler? Or, does it go all the way to the top with owner Arte Moreno?
Okay, it’s an easy answer: It goes to the top. This is Arte Moreno’s fault.
Let’s go all the way back to Moreno’s acquisition of the team in 2003, and track just how the Angels ended up here.
Arte Moreno’s Angels
Arte Moreno bought the Anaheim Angels in April 0f 2003, for $180 million. Fans immediately speculated about what type of owner Moreno would turn out to be. The Angels had just won the World Series and the last thing the long-suffering fan base wanted was someone who might try to fix what clearly wasn’t broken. The first season went by and Moreno was content to sit back and observe. It would be the last time he would do that.
It’s significant to note that Moreno made his money in marketing. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he prefers a big name, or “marketable” acquisitions. On its own, that’s wonderful. Every fan hopes their team spends money on good players. Unfortunately, every roster decision directly affects the next one.
Early on things ran smoothly, yet the team’s foundation was shifting rapidly from what led to their championship. A lack of focus on player growth and development, a constantly changing scouting department, and the need for the next “big name” left the Angels in a constant state of flux that remains today.
To be fair, this isn’t 100% Arte Moreno’s fault. But he’s certainly the main culprit. Let’s say 90%.
The Bill Stoneman Era (1999-2007)
After a World Series hangover in 2003 (77-85), Moreno began to insert his influence on the roster. GM Bill Stoneman was pushed to make a splash in free agency and he complied. Kelvim Escobar, Bartolo Colon, and the incomparable Vladimir Guerrero were signed. And, it worked. Sure, they lost postseason star, Scott Spiezio (is .327/.424/.600; 10 runs and 19 RBI in 16 games not good enough?) but the baseball world applauded the moves. And just like that, the Angels were back on top of the division in 2004. Angels fans were all-in on Moreno.
The downside of spending big on free agents was they lost one or two players a year from the homegrown core that led them to the World Series.
After 2004, it was World Series MVP Troy Glaus, David Eckstein, and Troy Percival that were let go. The next year it was Bengie Molina and Jarrod Washburn.
The 2005 season was solid before this.
After missing the playoffs in 2006, it was time to sign somebody, anybody; Welcome to Anaheim, Gary Matthews Jr. What did $26.2 million get us from Gary, during the three years he was on the team? A 0.0 bWAR and a -0.5 fWAR. So, just short of $9 million a year to help the other team win.
Bill Stoneman stepped down after the 2007 season. His departure began Moreno’s string of hiring general managers with zero experience. This is important because their inexperience made it difficult to push back when Moreno decided he wanted a player. Stoneman had the past success to say no to Moreno.
The Tony Reagins Era (2008-2011)
Tony Reagins took over as general manager in October of 2007. By the end of November, the Los Angeles Angels front office had made two big moves. First, he traded Orlando Cabrera (and his 4.1 bWAR) for Jon Garland. Next, he signed Torii Hunter. Garland was paid $12 million to produce a 4.96 ERA in 2008, the worst season of his career. Hunter was a good signing. Plus, Reagins traded Casey Kotchman to the Atlanta Braves for All-Star Mark Teixeira. Teixeira mashed down the stretch, leading the Angels to an MLB best 100-62 record. They lost to the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs.
Teixeira did not resign; in his wake, the origins of the infamous Moreno/Scott Boras feud. But, his departure did give the Angels a compensation pick in the following MLB Draft. With it, they drafted a kid out of Vineland, New Jersey (to be fair, most Angels staffers claimed Trout was higher on their board than Randal Grichuk).
The Angels signed Bobby Abreu in the offseason then once again made the postseason in 2009. A late-season trade brought them star lefty, Scott Kazmir, who pitched wonderfully down the stretch. Yet, Kazmir imploded in two playoff starts and was never really the same. After losing 4-2 to the New York Yankees in the ALCS, major changes came down from the top.
The Playoff Run is Over
As worrying as Moreno’s meddling was early on, the Los Angeles Angels still made the playoffs most years. After being knocked out in 2009, the playoff train came to a crashing halt. John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Vladimir Guerrero, and Chone Figgins all left after 2009. Moreno’s “win-now” at all costs philosophy bubbled up midway through 2010 when Reagins sent Joe Saunders, Patrick Corbin, and Tyler Skaggs to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Dan Haren. To his credit, Haren was excellent down the stretch and the following season. The Angels still came up short as they finished under .500. This segued into the most disastrous offseason in team history.
The Vernon Wells debacle. They traded for him and the albatross of his contract at the behest of owner Arte Moreno.
People often mention that hindsight is 20/20, yet in this case, foresight was as well. The move was universally panned. For proof, here’s an LA Times article where Moreno defended the move by claiming it is “no mistake.” The headline itself points to the initial (and correct) consensus that the Angels got swindled. Reagins fumed over the owner mandated acquisition which led to him quitting after the 2011 season. Even after Wells performed terribly, Moreno couldn’t admit defeat by partially eating his contract to trade him. An epic disaster.
The Jerry Dipoto Era (2012-2015)
On October 28, 2011, Jerry Dipoto was hired to lead the Los Angeles Angels front office. Spoiler: Dipoto resigned on July 1, 2015, due to ongoing tension with manager Mike Scioscia. The Angels had won 98 games in 2014, the season before Dipoto stepped down, making the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, yet the conflict was enough for Dipoto to leave midseason. Well, the conflict and Dipoto’s inability to keep Moreno away from high-priced free agents. The Angels decline became much steeper because of two Moreno signings.
Ten years. $252 million. Albert Pujols was signed immediately following the worst season of his career. Great business move? Probably. But, an absolutely terrible baseball decision. The St. Louis Cardinals offered five years; Florida Marlins offered six. The Angels front office decided to up it to ten. Well, not the Los Angeles Angels front office: Arte Moreno.
Dipoto did sign C.J. Wilson, who underperformed given his contract. Luckily, Dipoto only offered him a four-year deal. The 2012 season also saw the Angels trade for Zack Greinke in the hopes of making the playoffs. Still, they didn’t succeed; they finished four games out of the Wild Card. Even worse, they gave up Jean Segura for 13 starts by Greinke, who left for the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency.
While they were unable to sign Greinke, Moreno’s obsession over “winning the offseason” became apparent. The team once again went for the big splash instead of sound baseball decisions. They signed troubled slugger, Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million deal. It didn’t go well. Let’s try this again: it REALLY didn’t go well. Ever the calculated one, Dipoto would take every chance he got to distance himself from the signing. You can’t blame him. As time went by it became clear that Moreno wouldn’t be persuaded to pass on Hamilton. In the end, Hamilton only played two seasons with the club, a grand total of 240 games. Yet, he was paid in excess of $108 million.
Not to say Jerry Dipoto was perfect. He made his fair share of mistakes. Yet, it’s hard to place the blame on him when the two biggest acquisitions were made against his advice. Thus, when you look at cheap signings like Raul Ibanez (ouch) or Joe Blanton (double ouch), you must do so knowing that Dipoto didn’t have money left in the budget to do much else. He acquired David Freese, Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, and Ernesto Frieri. Even Jason Vargas was a solid acquisition since Kendrys Morales hadn’t bounced back from jumping on home plate a few years earlier. Sure, Tommy Hanson was so bad that he retired, but no one gets every trade right. And, he traded Jeff Mathis.
The Billy Eppler Era (2016-2020)
The 2015 team was about as up-and-down as you could be after a 33-33 start; a 21-7 spree that ended around the time Dipoto left the team was followed by going 12-26. A late 7-game winning streak pushed them to 83-74, and they finished at 85-77, one game behind the Houston Astros for the Wild Card. Billy Eppler signed on as general manager in October of 2015. The newly configured Los Angeles Angels front office did not inherit a good situation.
- He was saddled with one of the worst farm systems in baseball.
- Albert Pujols still had six years and $165 million left on his contract. Sure, he hit 40 home runs in 2015. But, he also had a .307 OBP which was not only the worst of his career but also nearly 100 points lower than his career OBP at that point (.403).
- Josh Hamilton. Yes, he was gone…but his contract wasn’t. The Angels paid him $26.4 million in 2016 and 2017. Arte Moreno, take a bow.
There were other issues to be sure. Yet, those three things shaped Eppler’s ability to change the roster to his liking.
Ups and Downs
Eppler immediately traded for Andrelton Simmons, which was a smashing success. Even if Simmons’ final few weeks produced drama. He retooled the scouting department. As a result, the farm system is greatly improved. He was instrumental in the acquisition of Shohei Ohtani. Also, Eppler acquired Justin Upton, which was well thought of at the time. Truthfully, the trade was great but re-signing Upton doesn’t look so good today. He was also involved in signing Mike Trout to what is effectively a lifetime deal. Of course, that could just as easily have been 100% Arte Moreno. Eppler’s shrewd moves were numerous, including the acquisitions of Tommy La Stella and Brian Goodwin, for basically nothing.
For everything he did that helped the club, Eppler was unable to produce a decent pitching staff. He signed Tim Lincecum, who proceeded to bomb; Bud Norris wasn’t much better. Yusmeiro Petit pitched incredibly well but the team couldn’t, or didn’t, retain him. Or wait, was it that they stopped pitching him so they didn’t have to pay his bonus? Felix Pena has been dependable if not good. Then, the post-2018 spending happened. Eppler signed Trevor Cahill, Matt Harvey, and Cody Allen.
Look Away, Angels Fans
Matt Harvey – 1 yr/$11 million. 12 starts, 3-5 with a 7.09 ERA over 59.2 IP, 1.542 WHIP, 5.9 K/9, 1.34 K/BB.
Trevor Cahill – 1 yr/$9 million. As a starter: 11 starts, 2-5, 6.92 ERA, 53.1 IP, 1.369 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 2.39 K/BB; In relief: 26 appearances, 2-4, 4.96 ERA, 49 IP, 1.571 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 1.81 K/BB
Cody Allen – 1 yr/$8.5 million. 25 games. 6.26 ERA, 23 IP, 1.913 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 1.45 K/BB
So, $28.5 million got the Angels: 7-16, 185 innings, 6.37 ERA, and peripherals that make it look like they got off easy. Then, following the 2019 season, the front office once again struck out on signing a big name pitcher. Notably, Gerrit Cole. Instead, the team signed Anthony Rendon to a mega-deal. Immediately, news came out that Arte Moreno had preferred Rendon all along. Then, Moreno openly admitted to killing a trade with the Dodgers that would have brought the team, Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling.
Eppler pivoted by trading for Dylan Bundy, who pitched incredibly well in 2020. He also signed Julio Teheran. Simply put, Teheran was dreadful. No, he was beyond dreadful because he was the worst starting pitcher in all of baseball. While his record hardly screams “amazing GM,” Eppler made positive strides while he was the head of the Los Angeles Angels front office.
Team Record Under Eppler
2016: 74-88, 4th in the AL West
2017: 80-82, 2nd
2018: 80-82, 4th
2019: 72-90, 4th
2020: 26-34, 4th
In the end, the foundational improvements weren’t enough as the team missed the playoffs five straight seasons. Billy Eppler was fired on September 27th. The decision was inevitable as it fit perfectly with Moreno’s modus operandi- handicap the general manager with large contracts and when he isn’t successful just get rid of him. The Angels front office under Eppler missed enough on free-agent pitchers to make Moreno’s decision quite easy. Of course, it’s difficult to sign big-name starters when the owner is scheming to sign a third baseman instead.
This isn’t why you kept reading, is it? Because there isn’t good news on this front. Arte Moreno is still the owner of the Los Angeles Angels. They currently do not have a general manager. Sure, free agency has already started and teams are in the process of finishing up their plans for the offseason but the Angels are saying they look to have a general manager around Thanksgiving. Why so late? Because of Arte Moreno. Maybe, team president John Carpino, too.
Remember, this is the same organization that let a PLAYER pay the salaries of their staff in the Dominican Republic. For reference, their owner is worth $3.3 billion. Furthermore, it is an organization that fired their scouting department right before the MLB Draft. This is an organization that failed to pay the $400 a week stipend to their minor league players. Every last one of these falls at the feet of owner Arte Moreno.
So things will not be getting better any time soon. And, the hope that someone as successful as Dave Dombrowski will cause Moreno to step back just took a hit: Dombrowski isn’t up for the job anymore.`
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