Look Back In Anger: The Tragedy of Retrospective Team Building

Who's gonna come around / When you break? - Victor Decolongon

"You know who I am," he said / The speaker was an Angel / He coughed and shook his crumpled wings / Closed his eyes and moved his lips / "It's time we should be going"

And after waiting so long for movement, we drive off from the latest front office blunder and start taking account.

This morning, I came across this short article over at Peter Gammons' site (figure I'd give the old man a cap-tip after a rough week) – and thought I'd recommend it here. One, to give you all a gander at a mesmerizingly stupid quote by Jerry Dipoto, and two, to present a perfect summation of the Angels' governing philosophy on roster construction now.

Here are the key grafs:

The Cardinals seem to make rational, passionless decisions about what a player will be going forward and the Angels make decisions about who players were before. You don’t have to look beyond the last two offseasons to see this pattern in action.

Loyalty is a good quality to have, but it should only impact your roster construction at the margins.

The Cardinals acquire players based on who they are going to be and it seems the Angels acquire players based on who they were. The two ideas overlap, but forecasting into the future is an area in which the Cardinals are way beyond the Angels. They know what indicators to trust and which to ignore.

The entire thing can likely be understood by Angels GM Jerry Dipoto’s comments about Freese. Dipoto said, “[Freese] really knows how to drive in important runs. That’s something that really fits into our lineup.” But the reality is that Freese has driven in important runs in the past, and there is very little evidence that such a thing is a predictive skill. We’ve all seen Freese come through in the clutch, but only one of the teams involved in this deal is banking on it happening again.

Uh-huh. There y'go.

It's a simple difference between retrospective and prospective strategies. The former rewards individuals for legacy accomplishments. The latter models teams for potential future outcomes. It's the difference between buying "value" stocks at peak price in companies with declining margins, and cheap stock in cash-rich young tech companies and emerging markets that are at partial capacity. It's the difference between old, slow, and reputable vs young, agile and promising. Four consecutive years of failure should put the nail through the board to sound out which is the better way.

The Angels keep repeating the same mistakes. It's astonishing that a franchise can learn so little in the pursuit of its philosophical consistency, but this club wears an impressive flak jacket that keeps the dumb in and the smart out. What's really bonkers in all this is that what might have been meant by all the talk of rapprochement between Dipoto and Scioscia might simply have been that Dipoto is finally coming 'round to Scioscia's way of thinking: that hitting with RISP is a repeatable skill, that individual big moments (like the Gary Matthews Jr catch) show durable character that generalizes to future performance, and that old loyalties trump any potential future returns on investment.

The Angels, despite being a relatively young MLB organization with a comparatively thin resume of accomplishment, have become a principally retrospective one. They invest in the Ken Burns filter of other clubs' highlight reels, and neglect the youthful talent that is the lifeblood of fan pride. This insistence on high-end imports and late-stage blue chip stock over young, cheap talent and home-grown start-ups is unsustainable. Moreover, there's a serious cost in bleeding dry fan joy. The fan joy of watching Mike Napoli blast one to Nunavut, and the fan joy of watching Fleet Pete fish a longball from over the fence with his magic glove. If you take all our favorites away in promise of an analgesic future of mechanized victory, you better have the blitzkrieg planned and timed, and deliver that victory on the nose, just like an f'ing Steinbrenner would. Otherwise, the depletion is ours alone.

In the end, there's always the chance that all this poorly-conceived, overcapitalized and retrospective team-building might fall together in a random way and produce one year of postseason success. But it will be in a way that no one really feels much good about, because it was bought and paid for in a conventional and overdetermined way – like the 2009 NY Yankees championship. No fan joy – just a shrug, some back-slaps and half-smiles for finally getting an office plant and a plaque for a decade of grunting shit labor. Brief success via buyout of hype-priced dreams from other teams' trophy rooms.

Mixed metaphors are all we got at this point, kids – a Hickory Farms gift basket of stale boys-of-summer sausages on the way to grampuh's. I'm looking into the rearview mirror, but the lines on this road ain't getting clearer, and the dream police are inside of my head – in Angel red polo jerseys no less. Jerry, you can't go on, thinking nothin's wrong. Pass the buttercup on the left-hand-side and let that shit fall out the window. Think of the kids, Jerry.

No, man, really.

I've been in this passenger seat for like years now, and it's all oldies, all the time. And it fills like bad timing, but the team is still mine.

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