When billboard magnate Arte Moreno bought the then-Anaheim Angels back in 2002, he instantly became the best owner in baseball, the kind of guy any fan would want owning his favorite team. The guy loves baseball and has done as much as he could to make the Angels better both as a team and for the fans’ enjoyment. Whether it’s lowering beer prices to the cheapest in the majors, cheaper tickets, or going out and immediately signing Vladimir Guerrero to improve a defending world champion, Moreno has good intentions in mind. I say this because despite those good intentions and deep, deep pockets, Moreno has been instrumental in getting the Angels to where they are right now – underachieving and overpaid.
Sure, there’s Mike Trout, the best overall player in baseball. The guy is amazing, able to do anything and everything including make every non-Angels fan jealous of those boys from SoCal and make a crepe. Jered Weaver (WHY DOES HE SPELL HIS NAME LIKE THAT!) is another product of their farm system, a brilliant pitcher that despite seemingly not being overpowering, baffles batters routinely. These in-house products are cornerstones of the franchise. In a vacuum you’d look at these guys along with Howie (Howard?) Kendrick or Mark Trumbo (though he doesn’t walk much and strikes out too much) and think they’re building the team in the right way and ascending.
Unfortunately, Arte loves too much. Like a more congenial and less dead George Steinbrenner he doesn’t have patience for the team to slowly build anymore, he wants to compete NOW! First the Albert Pujols signing after the 2011 season – $240 million over 10 years for a guy who was heading into his 32nd year of life and just had his “worst” season to date. Worst in that he only hit .299/.366/.541 (148 OPS+) but in his time with the Halos he’s logged a 130 OPS+, a steep drop from the 171 he posted his time in St. Louis. This year, before being shut down with a foot injury he was hitting like Dustin Pedroia, which wouldn’t be bad if he weren’t a DH at this point. Unfortunately he’s become near-forgotten, at least as far as 3-time MVP’s and $200 million men can be.
Or look at Josh Hamilton, the enigmatic slugger with the Hollywood story and Central Casting name. Streaky as they come, Moreno gave the guy $125 million after not being able to find the money to pay Torii Hunter, who took his talents to Detroit and is having a revelation of a season. Hambone meanwhile isn’t just having a down season, by all rights he’s having the worst of his career, a 95 OPS+ is second worst only to the injury-plagued 2009 season, and looking like he might not even hit 25 homers just a year after popping 43. Whether that’s a park effect (The A is murder on hitters, the converse of the Ballpark at Arlington) or his beautiful blue eyes betraying him (never hurt the Mick) or pressure or voodoo, Josh is having a dreadful season.
Even when he wanted to improve the pitching Arte shot himself in the foot. The signing of C.J. Wilson was fine enough, the guy is competent, but at 15.5 mil a year you hope for more than .7 WAR like he produced last season. He’s tickling 3 this year and should be good for something like 3-3.5, but based on typical attrition rates he’s not going to be much help at the end of the contract. You can be positive, but generally signing a 32-year-old who never quite aced it up and expect him to be lockdown for five years is bad business. Combine him with the failed attempt to keep Zack Grienke after trading away Jean Segura and depleting the last vestiges of a once fine farm system. If it had all worked out, that’s a fine rotation, but instead it’s Weaver, Wilson, then Blanton as your 1-2-3 punch. That goes from very good to hot garbage pretty quickly.
I write all this not as a referendum on the ownership of Moreno, but on the underlying issue with having a team with too much money and not enough sense. Like Lenny and his rabbits, Arte wanted to win so badly, he wants the best for the fans and for the team, sometimes he forces the issue. If the team had been allowed to grow organically, perhaps there wouldn’t need to be some $400 million tied up in three players, and rather than a collection of talents they’d have a team. As Indians fans we bemoan the fact the team doesn’t have the resources of some of the coastal organizations and how it impacts winning, but sometimes it’s not all sunshine and titles when you can just throw money at a problem. It’s why many of us would be VERY poor owners and general managers – we’re reactionary and rarely take the long-term into consideration. Arte got impatient and while sometimes going out and plugging holes immediately with big-name free agents can work, it’s not always that easy. Maybe he saw a hole in the Dodgers grip on baseball fandom in Southern California, in which case his boldness should be commended, at least in theory. It sucks that it didn’t work out because if that team was all firing on all cylinders they’d score 25 runs a game.
All this being said, they’re still a very good team. Trout might miss a game or two with a hamstring issue, but even when he’s being terrible Hamilton can run into one, Trumbo has a loud bat, there’s enough athletes on this team to give a pitcher a sore shoulder from throwing to first, and no matter what else and they play great defense. The only real knock on them besides Joe Blanton and other scrubs in the rotation is more scrubbish ones in the bullpen. They are BAD, and a major reason the team is where it is. Typically relievers have inflated stats one way or the other, so things like ERA+ look bizarre. But the Angels most used pen arms are at best league average, and that’s Dane De La Rosa with a 106 ERA+. Their closer Ernesto Frieri strikes out 13.4 per nine but has a 1.353 WHIP, not quite closer’s numbers. Kevin Jepsen is getting a guy an inning but holds a 1.515 WHIP and has been worth negative WAR. For what that’s worth. It’s tough to judge guys with so little work with WAR, but it’s a glimpse of something.These are probably their best relievers. So yeah, they’re bad.