Owner Arte Moreno and GM Jerry Dipoto must be saying the same thing to themselves, "If it wasn’t for bad luck, then I’d have none." Being a huge baseball fan as well as a hockey fan, I found myself defending Moreno and Dipoto to hockey fans who aimless place blame solely on pitching. I came to a conclusion of just some seriously bad luck.
About two years ago was when Dipoto joined the front office to mend he-who-shall-not-be-named’s direction of the franchise. I recall on one winter season how the front office whiffed on OF Carl Crawford and 3B Adrian Beltre to only trade for Vernon Wells as an oh-my-goodness-we-need-to-do-something! reaction. (Think of Friends’ Chandler Bing’s voice in saying that.) Only to have one of the traded players in the Wells trade, Napoli, to be traded from the Blue Jays to divisional rival Rangers. There are several expletives about the whole scenario.
Two winters ago, the Angels slapped us fans with the best pitching and hitting free agents in all of baseball with signing Wilson and Pujols. Those moves induced a mega television deal for Arte. And for us fans, a huge promise of World Series fantasies. On the cover of Sports Illustrated’ Baseball Preview was Albert Pujols with a headline of "Power Shift – A new road to the world series". They predicted it would be the Angels over the Giants.
With so much hope and hype, the season started abysmally yet again. The bullpen was blowing saves, again. Late April 2012, Mike Trout made his introduction into the season; that was made possible by releasing the ever-aging Bobby Abreu. Shortly thereafter, top prospects Amarista and Roach were sent to San Diego for relief pitcher Ernesto Frieri. Then the Angels caught fire. Frieri had a 0.00 ERA going into the All-Star break. We also had four representatives to partake in the All-Star festivities in hitting machines Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo as well as pitchers Weaver and FA acquisition of CJ Wilson.
Yet, we were still playing catch up. So the front office traded for ace pitcher Zack Greinke. Yes, we traded away some good prospects, but even Segura was buried by the talent we have at the MLB level with Aybar and Kendrick. And we still came up short. Even Mike Trout’s super once in a life time rookie outing could not bring him the AL MVP award.
This past winter the Angels signed slugger Josh Hamilton. Someone actually wanted to trade for Vernon Wells and pay the Angels to do it! They also cut loose starting pitchers Haren and Santana, thus, saving boat loads of money in the process. Then Dipoto acquired five pitchers, three starting and two relief pitchers. The three starting pitchers (Vargas, Hanson, and Blanton) would push Williams and Richards to the bullpen or send Richards to AAA. Relief pitcher Burnett looked like a good signing to work with Downs in the latter innings. And to make sure Frieri had some competition, closer Ryan "Mad Dog" Madson was signed in hopes to have him pitching by All-Star break in 2013. With having a plethora of relief pitchers, that means Maronde does not have to be rushed to the MLB’s.
2013 season started like it was 2012. Actually, the slow beginnings have been consistent. 2011 the Angels start out 21-24; 2010 they were 14-18; 2009 was 24-24. The Angels could not hit for a long while. But a rash of injuries plagued the pitching department. Weaver, Vargas, and Hanson were gone for one reason or another. That meant Williams and Richards were promoted into starting. That so called bullpen depth was depleted. Add to that Burnett being oft injured. And finally, Madson still has not recovered. The Angels have recently lost three consecutive games by walk off homeruns by the opposition, the Texas Rangers. As for All-Stars, only Mike Trout represented the team.
I knew the gamble was to rely on hitting than pitching for the 2013 season. But the pitching staff got dealt a terrible blow. CJ Wilson has started 22 games. The next two highest are Blanton with 20 and Williams with 15. That means Weaver, Vargas, and Hanson have less starts than Williams as of August 1, 2013. Weaver is 5 – 5 , Vargas is 6 – 4, and Hanson’s 4 – 2 are records that even I did not expect to witness, and yet Vargas and Hanson have been good acquisitions. With Williams and Richards starting a total of 20 games, that depletes a bullpen that already is missing both Burnett and Madson. That is four bullpen quantities not available, actually three because Madson was slated for All-Star break debut. There is virtually no respite for Frieri. (I read an article where a trend was noticed on Frieri such that if he pitches on back to back days he’s simple not as effective as having rest in between appearances.)
The team has been sellers for the past week as LH relief pitcher Downs and 3B Callaspo were jettisoned. But this team does not have to be blown up. And I believe that’s what Dipoto and Arte are thinking. The team just needs a little tinkering and not have this much bad luck. For the past two years, the Angels have been doing the right moves on paper. It just is not coming together for some reason. And the only consistent factor happens to be coaching.
Being an Anaheim Ducks hockey fan, I know about coaches who have a pattern for slow starts and only kept their jobs because they won a championship years ago. That was the only reason why the Ducks’ organization held onto that coach for so long despite the pattern. I’m thinking it’s a similar pattern here for the Angels, but this year may be different. The team got hit with numerous injuries they could not overcome on the pitching staff. Also, who would have ever expected to see an outfield of Schuck, Trout, and Cowgill… and Pujols not at first this season? I can’t make this up, thus the cliché of "truth is stranger than fiction".
I want to put blame somewhere. Yet at a macro level, all the winter moves made sense. Acquiring three of the best free agents in two winters is beyond making sense. Acquiring Greinke for the playoff push made great sense. Arte and Dipoto are trying and giving the Angel fans hope for the past two seasons and it’s inexplicably not working out as planned. I guess I will chalk it up to a series of unfortunate events and stand by both Arte and Dipoto. Just keep on tinkering and hopefully next season they find the right combination.