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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Angel Fans Everywhere, Raise a Pint!

There’s already a mini-discussion brewing between the Angels triumvirate of myself, Gilbert, and Ben over at Obscure Sports Quarterly on this topic, in case you want some mixed reaction. It is with great pleasure that I pass along the news that Bill Stoneman will be stepping down from his perch as Angels GM, and into the role as team consultant. In order to be fair here, I will analyze both the good and the bad, as well as the neutral aspects of the Stoneman era. First, to be nice, the good.

The Angels won their first World Series in franchise history in 2002 under Stoneman. They won it with a team that got hot at the right time, and an above average offense featuring big bats like Glaus, Anderson, and Fullmer. Youngsters like K-Rod and John Lackey came up that year to give the Angels the boost in September and October.  It was the following year that Arte Moreno, who I would argue is the best owner in baseball — by a large margin — bought the team. Moreno capitalized on the recent Angels success by investing money into the team, and marketing it well. With the Angels beginning to sell out most games, they had plenty of revenue to spend on free agents (a $100 million payroll), which is something Stoneman did not often do.

So, some of Stoneman’s good moves: He signed Vladimir Guerrero to a dirt-cheap, 5-year $70 million deal, with a club option in ’09, which will essentially make it a 6-year $85 million deal. Vlad’s signing was easily one of the best free agent steals in the past decade, thanks to many other GMs who were scared off by his back problems, and the Dodgers who had no owner at the time when their offer was on the table. He recognized Kelvim Escobar’s talent as a starter, rather than reliever, and signed him to a 3-year $18.75 million deal back in ’03, and a 3-year $28.5 million extension through ’09. Both were bargain deals, and absolute steals compared to free agent rates these days. Stoneman also let fan-favorite David Eckstein go, and brought in Orlando Cabrera for four years at $32 million. It was without question, a huge upgrade, and definite bargain deal. It was also wise of Stoneman to snatch up Jered Weaver in the draft; he’s already made it to the majors, as a No. 3 starter, just as projected. He was unfraid of dealing with Boras, and it paid off.

Bartolo Colon was a fair deal since he at least provided a Cy Young, and is only now making comprable money to what a Ted Lilly-type might get as a free agent — so it’s some salary you can absorb considering he gave one awesome year. Garret Anderson’s signing is hard to criticize for a few reasons. For one, Anderson’s bizarre injuries were completely out of the ordinary. And secondly, you would’ve risked a great deal of fan alienation had you let him walk. That’s a mistake you can afford, since at least you’re getting some DH production out of GA (and you can buy him out after the year).

Finally, with the exception of Ervin Santana whom I wish was dealt at his peak last year, I actually applaud Stoneman for hanging onto the players he did. I can’t imagine the Angels without Kendrick, Kotchman, or Brandon Wood, who will all be cornerstones for the next three to four years. Sometimes the moves you don’t make are the ones that are better for the club because of what was not lost.

OK, and now on with the bad. Stoneman lacked the creativity and imagination to put together a deal. The one he did — trading for Tejada in ’06 — was squashed by Orioles owner Peter Angelos at the last second (and went under-reported). As I said before, he hung onto Ervin Santana instead of dealing him, and now is stuck with a pitcher of little value on the trade market. He let Bengie Molina walk, and turned the catching job over to Jeff Mathis, who stunk so badly he got replaced by Mike Napoli. To this day, I think that was Stoneman’s single largest mistake that was within his control (and I’m guessing he might admit that as well). Bengie’s still great defensively, is underrated offensively, and was a fan-favorite in Anaheim. He was sorely missed, and left a gaping hole the last two years.Â

More bad moves center around Stoneman’s inability to sign an impact free agent to “protect Vlad.” Given the fact that Moreno gave him the payroll to make such a move, Stoneman should’ve bid on either Soriano or Carlos Lee this past winter. Furthermore, with Torii Hunter, Mike Cameron, Andruw Jones, and both Ichiro and Eric Byrnes (who were each extended), set to become free agents this winter, he should’ve saved the $50 million spent on Matthews, and used it to lock up any one of these five superior players. Instead, the Angels are stuck with Matthews, and nowhere to place one of those guys.Â

The overlooked: In hindsight, he should’ve re-signed Paul Byrd who’s still effective, and that would’ve prevented the Jeff Weaver mess (which also kept Jered Weaver in the minors longer, so it served as a double-whammy). The Steve Finley signing in ’05 was garbage, and it resulted in the Gary Matthews Jr. signing (over time). And Washburn probably would’ve been worth re-signing, though that’s not a huge issue. Lastly, Stoneman let Troy Glaus walk and handed the job to Dallas McPhereson. That was fine with me; Glaus was constantly injured, and McPherson was coming off a 40 homer season in the minors.

Overall, I think Stoneman did a good job as the Angels GM. He made some great signings, kept the farm system loaded, and put together a competitve team each year. However, given the means provided to him by his generous owner, Stoneman could have done a better job in turning the Angels into more of a powerhouse.  The bright side is that Stoneman leaves the Angels in excellent shape, with only Gary Matthews Jr.’s contract sticking on the books as a poor signing for the next few years. Other than that, this is really an ideal situation for any GM to step into, and Stoneman has to be given credit for leaving the team in such good shape.  In other words, it’s very plausible to see a Gruden/Tampa/Dungy, Meyer/Zook/Florida situation happen with this team. Thanks, Bill Stoneman, for leaving the team in good shape, and leaving the post yourself, to allow some new blood to step in. I think that’s exactly what the team needs.Â



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