Amidst all of the current chaos and animosity between MLB teams, owners, players and agents came a fascinating series of quotes from Los Angeles Angels Owner Arte Moreno, which were documented by Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times.
While the comments regarding the Angels TV situation were interesting, what was more interesting were Moreno’s thoughts on the Angels not entering rebuilds in past years.
This is a very interesting perspective and a thought that is less common in a day and age where full-blown rebuilds are becoming more common. The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros both recently underwent full rebuilds this decade in an attempt to shed payroll, obtain high draft picks and international money and start from rock bottom to try to reach the top. Many teams don’t even appear to be trying to win, backed up by the fact that 14 teams failed to reach the .500 mark last season.
According to Moreno, rebuilding never appeared to be a viable option for the club. After making the playoffs seven times in the first decade of this century, the club has made it back just once this decade, coming in 2014 where they were ultimately swept by the Kansas City Royals in the ALDS. Talks of rebuilding, or even retooling, have been rampant at times this decade but Moreno never succumbed to tearing it all down.
This is a fascinating debate to have that had numerous different factors affecting the way Moreno operated. Taking a look at both sides can offer some interesting perspective on the approach Moreno took.
Siding with Moreno, let’s address some counterpoints to rebuilding. The first obvious argument against rebuilding is Mike Trout has put up a historic run for the club since he became a full-time regular in 2012. Trout’s resume is well-known and putting him out on the field was a good enough reason forego a rebuild and try to build around baseball’s best talent.
Secondly, the Angels made a handful of big signings stretching from 2011-2014 (Jered Weaver, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout) that essentially prohibited the club from entertaining the thought of rebuilding. It’s fair to place that blame on the club for making those signings in the first place but after the signings were made, it’s far more difficult to blame them for not rebuilding. Rebuilding while allocating a huge chunk of payroll to underperforming players makes this option far more difficult.
The last and final counterargument to not rebuilding was explicitly stated by Moreno. He simply believed he owed it to the fans to try to put the most competitive club, with certain financial restrictions, on the field. This act is certainly commendable and speaks volumes about Moreno’s desire to please the fans and not put the organization in the dumps but is the best approach to take to achieving long-term sustainability?
In a vacuum, it may be difficult for some to agree with this logic, even if you address the Trout factor. It’s hard to consistently field a winner unless you find the right combination of drafting well, spending smart and possessing a blueprint akin to the Los Angeles Dodgers or St. Louis Cardinals. From roughly 2010-2015, the Angels neither drafted well nor did they spend smart and they certainly didn’t have the right blueprint for success.
Arguing for rebuilding essentially meant one thing: you were ok with trading Mike Trout or rebuilding while watching the best player in baseball lead his team to 70-75 games in a given year. Either route was not ideal and the only other real option was for the club to spend their way out of problems, something that hurt them in the past.
Asking the club to spend more money seemed like a fair question to ask given the club’s propensity for consistently keeping up with the big spenders. Since 2004, the club has finished with a top 10 payroll every year outside of 2017, when they had the 11th highest payroll. This is not discrediting the Angels intentions of spending money but rather asking why they didn’t take that next step to spend even more.
As addressed before, the club certainly tried to spend money to remain competitive but it severely backfired, thanks to players like Pujols and Hamilton drastically underperforming expectations. Moreno also made it well-known in the past that he had a limit on how much he’d spend, trying to stay below the luxury tax that teams like the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox consistently reached.
Even this past offseason, Moreno stated that he “stretched the payroll” a bit to sign Cody Allen as the final key free agent. Moreno has shown both the propensity to spend but also created a limit on how much he would spend. This was likely in part to Angels General Manager Billy Eppler only handing out one-year-deals this offseason, which created far less risk for any deals blowing up.
That leads us to the only real questionable move Moreno has made, which is his influence on the brutal Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton singings, which is hard to evaluate given he wasn’t the only person involved in the process.
Along with that, hiring people who were more interested in short-term success with no real long-term plan backfired on the organization. Former general managers Tony Reagins and Jerry Dipoto crippled the Angels future, thanks in part to their inability to build through the draft and their poor free agent signings and trades. With Eppler in place now, we’ve seen a slow build towards the sustainable winner the club desires.
Arte Moreno has had a bit of a rocky ride in his Angels tenure but it’s hard to fault him for the way he has operated for the most part. He’s been willing to spend money, tried to bring in big names (Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero), has kept ticket prices low and helped bring three million fans to Angel Stadium for 18 straight seasons.
To get further input on this, I asked several of my Halos Heaven colleagues to give their thoughts on Moreno’s comments, which you can find below.
Jessica DeLine: “On one level, I agree with it and appreciate not tanking. However, we’d already be competitive if we suffered through a few rebuilding years. Sometimes you have to have a little pain to make things better and I think most fans would agree with that.”
Rahul Setty: “My tldr; is that he felt he needed to keep the business cash flow positive since it is an investment and he marketed it to the public as “Hey, we’re trying to retool and still be competitive, keep watching and following us in SoCal” and it’s working out (albeit slower than desirable) because he hired the right person and took his hands off the wheel, so to speak. He’s not wrong but winning comes secondary to profitability. Arte’s incredibly smart, and he knows that rebuilds are tougher here because of the spurious nature of fan interest.”
Jeff Joiner: “Good intentions of fielding an interesting, watchable product that have led to a longer rebuild than necessary. But, from a marketing perspective it is a lot easier to lose casual fans than win them back so I understand.”
H. T. Ennis: “He’s pretty much kept to his wish. Some people may think he’s misleading fans by not totally tearing it down by not signing players, but I do think nuanced fans understand this goal.”
Rick Souddress: “None of the options he had after signing Pujols were ideal. Rebuilding on the fly is hard and a total rebuild would not cut Pujols’ pay due to his NTC, the big reason we are in this situation and discussing this to begin with. All things considered, we have been able to watch teams that are competitive most of the season despite near-impossible hurdles. I’m not an Arte hater.”