The Los Angeles Angels: Come for the terrible long-term deals, stay for the clubhouse fights
Friday was an airing of grievances for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. A pair of reports surfaced today—one from FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi, the other from CBS Sports' Scott Miller—that paint a picture of an organization rife with in-fighting, a meddling owner, and in one case, a near fistfight in the clubhouse involving the team's superstar first baseman, Albert Pujols.
We'll start with Miller's piece, which brought to light an argument between Torii Hunter and Pujols during a players' only meeting last August. The meeting, called by former Angels reliever LaTroy Hawkins, came in the wake of what players believed was out-of-line behavior from starters Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. In particular, Wilson and Hunter got into a heated argument after the Gold Glove outfielder told the Angels' lefty to shut up during a game against Tampa in which Wilson, on the bench, was trying to give advice to Los Angeles' hitters. Though Wilson and Hunter patched things up after the game, Pujols lashed out at Hunter during the players' meeting for starting the fight.
As Miller puts it:
“Albert, you'd better get your facts straight,” a seething Hunter told Pujols.
Pujols said something back, and Hunter jumped him for being a bad teammate and pouting all season whenever he failed to get hits in a game, even in games the Angels won … and now he was going to call others out?
“Shut up, Torii,” Pujols snapped.
It was then that Hunter, from across the clubhouse, lost it and charged Pujols. Hawkins and outfielder Vernon Wells had to restrain him.
The meeting proceeded from there, and when it was over, tempers still heated, Hunter had to be physically held back a second time from going after Pujols, who is described as wanting no part of the fight.
Miller then went on to rip the Angels' front office, particularly owner Arte Moreno, noting that Moreno has fired an astonishing 40 front-office employees in a decade in charge, forced then-general manager Tony Reagins to trade for Vernon Wells and his horrible contract, and steered the team toward the huge nine-figure deals for Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Miller also notes the toxic relationship between general manager Jerry DiPoto and manager Mike Scioscia, including the report that DiPoto fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher earlier in the season without Scioscia's knowledge or consent.
That dovetails nicely with Morosi's reporting, as he tweeted that Moreno was likely to fire one of Scioscia or DiPoto before next season. Morosi cites "philosophical differences" between the manager and GM, and tweets that the "status quo is not tenable" in Anaheim.
On the surface, Scioscia would appear to have more job security; Moreno gave him a 10-year contract extension before the 2009 season, while DiPoto has just one season left on his original contract. And though it's easy to rag on Scioscia for his infatuation with bunts, hit-and-runs and funny faces when those fail, DiPoto's term as the Angels' GM seems to leave him most likely to get the axe.
After taking over as general manager in October 2011, DiPoto immediately made a mark by signing Pujols and Wilson to long-term deals. Pujols' struggles have been well documented—a subpar (by his standards) first year with Los Angeles, followed by an injury-shortened 2013. Wilson, meanwhile, managed just a 100 ERA+ in his first year with the Angels, and though his 2013 has been a much better campaign—a 3.30 ERA and 151 strikeouts in 166 1/3 innings—he's still owed a whopping $54 million for the next three seasons.
Wilson wasn't DiPoto's only bid in rebuilding Los Angeles' rotation. Right before the trading deadline in 2012, DiPoto sent three prospects to Milwaukee for Zack Greinke. At the time, it looked like a solid bid for a team making a second-half postseason surge, and Greinke pitched well in his L.A. stay, with a 3.53 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 89 1/3 innings. But Greinke was also a pending free agent, and in the offseason, the Angels—allegedly at Moreno's insistence—targeted Hamilton instead of re-signing Greinke. Instead, Greinke went to the Dodgers, while Hamilton has managed a mere .704 OPS in the first year of his five-year, $125 million megadeal. What hurts more for the Angels is that one of the prospects sent to the Brewers was Jean Segura, who's turned in a .791 OPS with 37 stolen bases as Milwaukee's shortstop this season. Los Angeles, meanwhile, has had to tolerate Erick Aybar and his .313 OBP at shortstop.
That wasn't the only poor decision by DiPoto. In the 2012 offseason, he flipped Ervin Santana to Kansas City for minor leaguer Brandon Sisk; Santana has a 3.13 ERA for the Royals. In his stead, DiPoto signed free-agent retread Joe Blanton to fill out the rotation; Blanton's responded with a miserable 6.12 ERA and an incomprehensible 29 homers allowed in 129 1/3 innings. In November, DiPoto sent former closer Jordan Walden to the Braves for starter Tommy Hanson, who's managed just 67 2/3 innings this season due to various injuries.
With Pujols entrenched at first base and the need to give at-bats to Hamilton, Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout, DiPoto was forced to move slugging first baseman Kendrys Morales, ultimately shipping him to Seattle for starter Jason Vargas. Though Morales hasn't lit the world on fire with the Mariners, hitting .286/.342/.456 in 514 plate appearances, his presence would've greatly helped Los Angeles weather Pujols' slow start and injury. Instead, the Angels have Vargas, who's been thoroughly league average through 16 starts with an ERA+ of 96. Through Friday, the Angels are 55-71, 18 1/2 games back of Texas in the AL West. The team still owes over a quarter of a billion dollars to Pujols and Hamilton going forward, not to mention a combined $118 million in long-term money to Weaver and Wilson, almost $20 million to Howie Kendrick, $17 million to Aybar, and $7.5 million to Blanton. That all complicates what will be the biggest issue for DiPoto or his replacement: Negotiating a long-term deal for Trout, who will be arbitration eligible in two years. Regardless of whether DiPoto, Scioscia or both end up ousted, it's clear that whoever inherits the mess that is the Angels will have plenty of work to do.