Thursday, I was doing a radio spot out of Orange County, and the host asked me if I thought the Angels would be active this winter, despite those millstone contracts still hanging around the organizational neck.
I hadn’t thought about the Angels much lately, but now it occurred to me that, yes, the Angels probably will be active, perhaps signing one of the top-notch corner outfielders floating around right now. Why? Because when you think about it, the Angels are sliding toward irrelevance in the American League West, and it’s difficult to imagine owner Arte Moreno countenancing that sort of thing for long.
Look around, though. This year, the Rangers and Astros were both in the playoffs. The A’s lost 94 games, but their run differential wasn’t nearly as bad and you never know what Billy Beane’s going to do (in fact, they might be reloading sooner than you think).
Then there are the Seattle Mariners. Who happen to be run these days by Jerry Dipoto, who just happens to have recently been running the Orange County Angels. And while Dipoto always seemed like a smart enough sort in Anaheim, he’s already seemed approximately twice as smart since taking over in Seattle.
Thursday, Dipoto said of his frenetic roster retooling, "We didn’t go into the garden with a spade. We went in with a backhoe."
If nobody gets hurt, five Mariners in the Opening Day lineup next year won’t have been in 2014’s Opening Day lineup. First baseman Logan Morrison’s been traded, and catcher Mike Zunino’s been demoted a slot or two on the depth chart. Meanwhile, Dipoto’s picked up a couple of outfielders, trading for Leonys Martin and signing free agent Nori Aoki.
None of these moves in particular, or even in concert, turn the M’s from a fourth-place team into a first-place team. Not even close. But if I’m a Mariners fan, I’m pretty damn thrilled by what Dipoto said upon the acquisition of Martin:
If I’m an Angels fan, those words would frighten me. While Dipoto’s count of Martin’s Wins Above Replacement is oddly inflated — it’s somewhere between 7 and 9 WAR over the last three seasons, depending on who you believe — everything else there seems almost exactly right. If Martin is healthy, Dipoto seems to have seriously upgraded a lineup spot without giving up a great deal.
Of course, if I’m an Angels fan I might be saying right now, "Hey, we had this guy already. He’s the one who put together that third-place team last season."
True. But I can’t help thinking that if Arte Moreno hadn’t been so willing to listen to the blandishments of agents, Dipoto would have done something smarter with all that money the Angels are still paying Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
Last season, the Angels had a huge hole in left field, which still hasn’t been filled. If that hole does get field, with Alex Gordon or Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes, then you can start to dream a little about this team; dream that the starting pitching will be good enough, and that Mike Trout won’t be the only outstanding player on the entire roster.
But without significant upgrades in left field or second base, it’s hard to see how this franchise, with easily the largest payroll in the American League West, doesn’t continue its slide toward irrelevancy and, perhaps within just a season or two, last place and a painful rebuilding process.