Fallen Angel: GM Dipoto loses power struggle with Scioscia, resigns
The long-running power struggle between Angels manager Mike Scioscia and general manager Jerry Dipoto has ended with the latter's resignation. Dipoto reportedly cleaned out his office on Tuesday as long-simmering tensions within the organization boiled over, and while owner Arte Moreno and team president John Carpino tried to “broker a peace,” it was clear that the relationship had reached the point of no return. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe the GM and manager coexisted for so long within an anachronistic hierarchy that failed to replicate the success of the first decade of Scioscia's tenure, a span that included the franchise's lone world championship in 2002.
On Sunday, a report from Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal detailed tensions among the GM, the manager and coaching staff and the players over the conveyance of scouting and analytic information regarding defensive shifts and pitcher and hitter tendencies. Dissatisfied with the extent to which Scioscia and staff were passing this information along to players, Dipoto had informed them that they would be given the info directly by the front office. In doing so, he received considerable pushback, both from the coaching staff and from Albert Pujols, who stood up for the current work of the staff and complained about the strength of the roster.
Pujols was angered by the leaking of details of the clash, calling it "really embarrassing," while Dipoto viewed Scioscia and his coaches as "practically insubordinate," according to a follow-up from Rosenthal. Via ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, the GM is said to have gone to Moreno with an ultimatum that "backfired," making clear that the 56-year-old Scioscia, who has been on the job since November 1999 and is under contract through 2018, ranks higher in the pecking order than the 47-year-old Dipoto, who has been in place since late October 2010 and is only covered through '16.
That skewed hierarchy stands out in an age where front offices have come to wield increased influence over on-field strategy via analytical input, though it's not as if Scioscia hasn’t increased his use of defensive shifts based on such information. And to be fair, it's Moreno himself who is said to have dictated the big-ticket–free-agent signings of Pujols and Josh Hamilton, which have tied Dipoto’s hands somewhat by taking up significant chunks of payroll even as those two sluggers have generally failed to replicate their previous production—and cost first-round draft picks as well.
Pujols, who is under contract through 2021, is amid a power surge that has propelled him into the AL homer lead, but this could be the first year in which his overall production exceeds any of his years in St. Louis. Hamilton was jettisoned this spring after a substance abuse relapse and what amounted to an organizational tantrum over his non-suspension, with his privacy under the Joint Drug Agreement compromised by unseemly links that likely came from within the Angels' front office, given that the team stood to benefit from not having to pay his salary during his suspension. Ultimately, he was traded back to the Rangers, with the Angels forced to absorb roughly $110 million for two years of his five-year, $125 million deal.
The irony is that this current skirmish comes just as the Angels have won four straight games to climb to 41–37, still four games behind the Astros in the AL West but down from a season-high seven out, and right in the thick of the Wild Card race. What's more, it comes on the heels of rookie Andrew Heaney's first major league win. A former first-round pick and top prospect with the Marlins, Heaney was traded to the Dodgers in the Dee Gordon deal, then sent to the Angels in exchange for Howie Kendrick, a move that likely had to do with cost cutting and hurt an offense that led the AL in scoring last year but has slipped to 12th this year, at 3.87 runs per game.
A former major league pitcher (1993–2000) who previously served in the Diamondbacks' front office, with a brief stretch as interim GM in '10, Dipoto took over from the fired Tony Reagins in late October 2011. Since then, his analytically-oriented style has created friction with Scioscia, but until now, Moreno had shown an unwillingness to choose sides, at least publicly. The most visible sign of discord between GM and manager came in '12, when Dipoto dismissed longtime hitting coach Mickey Hatcher amid a similar rift over the extent to which Scioscia integrated analytical information provided by the front office. The two principals were said to have found some level of harmony last season, when Scioscia increased his use of defensive shifts and batted Mike Trout primarily in the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Trout won the AL MVP award and the team won an AL-high 98 games, reaching the playoffs for the first time since '09, but Los Angeles was swept by the Royals in the Division Series.
Last year, the Angels were able to summon above-average production from their regulars at every position, all of whom had an OPS+ of at least 100—even Hamilton (114) amid his various injuries. This year, it's basically been Trout, Pujols and the Seven Dwarves, with Kole Calhoun the only other regular to provide at least average production; he's at 100, with David Freese at 99. Not all of the downturn is Dipoto's fault, but several regulars have been dreadful, including off-season acquisition Matt Joyce (.190/.280/.317 for a 71 OPS+), holdovers young (24-year-old DH C.J. Cron, .200/.231/.287 for a 48 OPS+) and old (31-year-old shortstop Erick Aybar, .264/.305/.324 for an 81 OPS+), as well as the catching tandem featuring holdover Chris Iannetta and newcomer Carlos Perez, who (along with brief work from the since-departed Drew Butera) have combined to hit .211/.274/.299. Royals castoff Johnny Giavotella, the primary second baseman, has faded after a hot start, batting .245/.297/.332 since May 1 en route to a 93 OPS+ overall, a far cry from the 116 generated by Kendrick, which he has equaled with the Dodgers.
The Angels have been better on the pitching and defense side, ranking fourth in the league in run prevention at 3.87 per game and second in defensive efficiency at .713. Even so, the rotation has been a mess, with Garrett Richards and Hector Santiago the only two starters preventing runs at a better-than-average clip. Last year's rookie breakout Matt Shoemaker has been a bust, C.J. Wilson is an expensive mediocrity and Jered Weaver is on the disabled list with hip inflammation after a string of bad starts. The unit as a whole ranks fifth in the league in ERA (3.87) but 12th in FIP (4.19), surviving in large part thanks to a league-low .272 batting average on balls in play. The bullpen has been better, with a 3.23 ERA and 3.34 FIP (fifth and third, respectively), but even so, it's a far cry from the Angels' heyday, when the high-leverage success of Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez helped the Angels outdo their Pythagorean projections on a near-annual basis.
Indeed, the Halos have been unable to match the success of Scioscia's first decade on the job. When he and general manager Bill Stoneman took the reins in 1999, the team was coming off its 13th straight season outside the playoff picture. After meandering around .500 for the duo’s first two seasons, the Angels won 99 games, the AL Wild Card berth and the World Series in '02, the start of a run in which the team made six postseason appearances in an eight-year span, with five AL West titles. Working with Stoneman, Scioscia put his stamp on those teams, which emphasized defense, a strong bullpen, speed and an aggressive, contact-centric approach at the plate that ran counter to the increasingly prevalent walk-and-wallop style of offense as exemplified by the division rival Athletics. Stoneman stepped aside after the '07 season, and while the Angels have ranked third in the majors with a .552 winning percentage since then, they've made the playoffs just once since their three straight trips from '07 to '09.
Though none of his moves approach Reagins' all-time clunker—the January 2011 Mike Napoli for Vernon Wells trade, a move that occurred after no shortage of friction between Napoli and Scioscia—Dipoto's track record in trades has been mixed, to say the least. The best of his deals may have been the December 2013 trade that sent Mark Trumbo to Arizona and brought back pitchers Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, though that was undercut by the loss of the latter to Tommy John surgery late last season. The Joyce deal—which sent Kevin Jepsen, an effective setup man, to Tampa Bay—has been a bust, one that can sit alongside the Jordan Walden-for-Tommy Hanson and Ervin Santana-for-Brandon Sisk trades as yielding little to no value while cutting into the depth of the pitching staff.
Wait, there's more. Trading Jean Segura plus two other players to the Brewers for two months of Zack Greinke in a failed playoff pursuit in 2012 continues to stand out as one of many moves that have slashed the team's infield depth—a list that includes Alberto Callaspo for the Athletics' Grant Green, Alexi Amarista for the Padres' Ernesto Frieri, and Kendrick for Heaney. Acquiring Freese and the erratic Fernando Salas from the Cardinals for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk may have cleared out space for Trout, but it continues to sting given Freese's mediocrity and Grichuk's emergence in St. Louis as a power threat.
Many of those trades additionally eroded the farm system, which has ranked dead last in Baseball America's preseason organizational rankings in each of the last two years. Heaney and minor-league lefty Sean Newcomb, the team's 2014 first-round pick, were the only Angels prospects to crack the major top-100 lists this spring, and even that total was as many as in the previous two years combined, when third baseman Kaleb Cowart and second basemen Taylor Lindsey (since traded to the Padres in last summer's Huston Street deal) were the only representatives. Since the bumper crop of 2009—Trout, Grichuk, Skaggs and Richards—only two of the Angels' first-round picks have reached the majors, and both ('10 pick Cam Bedrosian and '11 pick Cron) have produced negative value at the major league level thus far in terms of WAR. As noted previously, the free-agent signings of Pujols and Hamilton cost the team its '12 and '13 picks.
At this writing, it’s not clear where the dysfunctional Angels go from here, though with the trade deadline just 30 days away, the likelihood is that the team hires from within due to the difficulty of bringing an outsider up to speed. Via Crasnick, assistant GM Matt Klentak is a possible successor, though whether that would be on an interim basis or a permanent one is unclear; via USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, director of pro scouting Hal Morris could also be a candidate. Before joining Dipoto’s staff, the 35-year-old Klentak worked for the Rockies, the commissioner’s office and then as the director of baseball operations for the Orioles from 2009 to '11. The 50-year-old Morris, who spent 13 years in the majors (1988–2000) as a first baseman, scouted for the Pirates and Red Sox before joining the Angels in '11. No matter who gets the job and whatever his resume, one thing is clear if he is to survive in Anaheim: He’ll have to get along with Scioscia better than his predecessor.