"Think about how much fun it's going to be," Moreno says.
"Dodger fans and Angel fans get to argue about whose team is better, who's stronger, who's weaker.... Do you know how much fun it's going to be? The Dodgers, Merry Christmas, I personally can hardly wait to play them."
Now as the season stumbles to a close, the Dodgers are locked in postseason battle with the Braves as the NL West division title holders. Meanwhile the Angels are third-place also-rans on an overpriced cruise ship full of damaged goods and aging popstars.
But hey, that's now, and that was then.
In fact, that was Arturo Moreno at Downtown Disney in December 2012, basking in the afterglow of the Josh Hamilton acquisition he personally orchestrated and consummated at a four-hour Dallas woofest over vittles. Speaking of that lunch with Josh, he sounded all the world like a fanboy, or like George W Bush ruminating about Vladimir Putin's inner soul after some brief eye contact:
"We looked him in the eyes. ... We're in love with the player, we like the person, and we want an opportunity to go out there and try to win."
I'll admit that I have no idea who "we" is in this sentence, if it's not rhetorically royal, or perhaps some fictive composite spit-and-glued together for plausible deniability. It's plenty clear that this was Moreno's gamble.
Moreno admitted that Hamilton is a risk. He also admitted that, as an owner who thinks like a fan, he felt he had no choice.
"We have every statistical analysis but the reality is, at the end of the day, people want hope," Moreno said. "I look at this positively and I said, 'I hope.' "
It's kind of amazing when an inveterate Tea Party Republican does a cartwheel and busts out some collegiate Obama poster schtick. That alone's enough to say that the old man was in a cold panic at Christmas – but that one conditional statement should also put the lie to any assertion that the Hamilton acquisition had anything to do with Jerry Dipoto:
"We have every statistical analysis but the reality is…"
Sounds like someone was presented with a precautionary dossier, doesn't it?
But this was and is about designing a marketing plan, not a baseball team. And oh-so-awful planning it was, based on the greybrained notion that one is going to construct the platinum franchise of the next decade around the spectacles of Britney Spears and Madonna instead of Lorde and Lana Del Rey (or even molly-addled Miley Cyrus for that matter). People build the future out of young blood, not old bones, but that's one clever trick those online ads have failed to teach Arte Moreno. It's not the only thing he's failed to learn.
And Hamilton isn't the only blunder he's made.
It only took three mistakes to make this franchise what it is today. Three choices made badly, three opportunities lost, three offseasons wasted. While traditional sports media reduce the upcoming Anaheim offseason to the fate of two men, Jerry Dipoto and Mike Scioscia, this belies the fact that the slow unceasing trauma of Angels disintegration can be sourced almost exclusively to the actions of a third man, the feckless micromanaging billboard magnate who has sought to fashion himself an owner in the hands-on-ham mold of Peter Angelos or George Steinbrenner, while reducing his GM and scouting department to coffee-carrying office managers.
We can discuss Moreno's lack of contingency planning – his recurrent ability to lock himself into a zero option universe with silliness like belting Mike Scioscia into a ten year contract. We can speak of his lack of innovation and vision – like the failure to recognize the opportunity to refresh his field management when Terry Francona was available and on the market last fall. And we can anticipate the long-term damage to fan morale as he mishandles Mike Trout's compensation issues and sets up a future without this face of the franchise and likely Hall of Famer, all for the sake of some short-term luxury tax mitigation.
But all of this is original sin. It should be clear enough that this is the consequence of the man's native limits – his emotional fragility, his temperamental intelligence, his lack of farsightedness. The mortal errors he has made are more consequential, and can be readily quantified in wins and losses. And it all comes down to the selection of one single player over another in each of the past three offseasons – selections he orchestrated or dictated himself.
|YEAR||WAR OF CHOICE||Contract $||MISSED OPPORTUNITY||Contract $|
|2011||Vernon Wells||$81M||Adrian Beltre||$80M|
|2012||Albert Pujols||$250M||Yu Darvish||$108M|
|2013||Josh Hamilton||$125M||Anibal Sanchez||$88M|
|YEAR||WAR OF CHOICE||bWAR (to date)||MISSED OPPORTUNITY||bWAR (to date)|
|2011-13||Vernon Wells||0.1||Adrian Beltre||18.3|
|2012-13||Albert Pujols||6.5||Yu Darvish||9.7|
|2013||Josh Hamilton||1.5||Anibal Sanchez||6.3|
|YEAR||bWAR (Arte's Angels)||CONTRACT COST||bWAR (The Passed-Over)||CONTRACT COST|
To summarize: Arte Moreno committed $180M more in contractual spend than the net market cost of the three best alternatives.
The net loss in bWAR over three years was 26 wins: roughly, 6 in 2011, 5 in 2012, and 15 in 2013. In each case, a sufficient number to have placed the Angels in the postseason – either as division titleholders or wildcard selections. (Had I used fWAR, the difference would have been 25 games – an almost identical result.)
One can quibble about my selections of the most obvious market substitute in each of the past offseasons, but the choices are not merely retrospective – there were many passionate fan arguments for each of these three players, and they were among my own top preferences in each cycle. While some may feel that Mark Buehrle or Zack Greinke may have been the best available SPs of 2012 and 2013 respectively, Darvish and Sanchez were the most obvious candidates that did not demand draft pick compensation. Each topped many available free agent rankings at the time.
In late 2010, after the homeplate collapse of Kendrys Morales' ankle and the spectacular flameout of Brandon Wood led to a sad pipe-patch at the hot corner with Kevin Frandsen and newly-reacquired Alberto Callaspo, the ultimate need was clear. The Angels needed power and a long-term solution at 3B. Arte, smarting from perceived slights from the Boras Corporation in the Teixeira dealings, and misjudging Beltre's options, cock-walked the affair, and gave Beltre an ultimatum and a tight deadline, even as Texas was offering him $16M more and an additional contractual year. The outcome was too obvious – while all accounts had Beltre preferring Anaheim in early days, the differential in cash and respect was too great to bridge.
A month after the Beltre ink was dry, the die was cast, and Wells was an Angel in exchange for Heisenberg-like barrels of cash and two of the best power bats in the Halos stable. This season we learned that while the cold genius of the Wells deal may have sprung from Scioscia's gut, it was Moreno who gave his cursed intern-made-manager 24 hours to execute the swap on pain of immediate termination. The Wells deal made Mike Scioscia smile, but it was Moreno's deep cleaning that had us all feeling like Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man once the sedation wore off.
By the time year 2011 was done, the hole the Angels had dug themselves through ill-advised trades and acquisitions was becoming clear. Even despite a solid rotation core of Weaver, Santana and Haren, a series of locust trades had sapped the farm of nearly all its young arms (particularly of the left-handed variety). Newly appointed GM Jerry Dipoto made the wise decision to acquire CJ Wilson (in fact he was tying up contract deals with Wilson the very night Moreno was putting the hard sell on his surprising chosen one in Albert Pujols), but he also made few provisions for the future, even managing to deal promising-but-young Tyler Chatwood for catching depth in the bargain. While there was much talk of the Angels' "fantastic four" "super-rotation" after the Wilson signing, there was no real depth behind them, and injuries would expose that quickly enough.
It was clear to some then, but now all the more so, that the winter of 2011-12 was the time to double-down on pitching, not billboards for a legacy bat. Darvish was by offseason's end arguably the most exciting arrival of the season, and could have been every bit the marketing coup Moreno had hoped for with "El Hombre" – activating Japanese media interest and its fan diaspora as well. Darvish was new, cool, talented and a little weird. By spring of 2012, it was fairly possible that the Texas Rangers may have won the annual contest dearest to owner Moreno's heart for a second year in a row: the offseason. Yu Darvish would help take them to the postseason for a third consecutive year as well.
This past year? Probably not even worth rehashing. The acquisition of Josh Hamilton couldn't even earn the approbation of the diehards of this site's editorial staff, even the oft-forgiving and optimistic among us, and not least its proprietor and head pulpit-pounder. The burden of error and mediocrity dissipated all our collective passions over the course of this season, and the flotsam and jetsam that often composed the front page was a testament to the wake of Moreno's fevers and contagion. We are his burnt-over district.
"We have every statistical analysis but the reality is, at the end of the day, people want hope."
Eh, maybe on the overlook of Moreno's Golgotha, but we aren't willing to wear the hairshirts forever to forgive your trinity of transgressions, Arturo. In this fact-based, fan-based community, many of us actually prefer the statistical analysis and the reality to the half-baked hope. As you're threading your camel through the needle of irregular austerity, our fan paradise is a simple business plan: Win the future, not the day.
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. The Angels maintain a skeletal front-office staff in many areas, and one of the leanest game-day staffs in all of baseball. If someone is let go, there often is no replacement hired. Moreno is said to gouge hours from his low-paid employees.
Year after year, your Pharaoh-like purges have shook every last provision from the house, and then you bust in at Christmas with big grins and hot toddies, hoping to slap backs and make it all better. This year, please expect less. Heads are hot, and fans are cold. As you consider yet another purge, consider too your role in this passion play. Then step aside, open your immeasurable pockets, and atone.