Friday, October 12, 2007

By Sean Scanlon - Angelswin.com Columnist

Going in to the 2007 offseason the biggest question facing the Angel’s is who will man the front office. Bill Stoneman, or someone else. Until Bill’s fate is determined, the course of this franchise and upcoming player transactions are really nothing but mindless speculation.

Under Stoneman the Angels’ philosophy has been to build from within, using young cheap talent from the farm system, augmented by more expensive free agent signings to fill holes. Using a model made popular by Cleveland in the late 90’s and Atlanta for a decade the Angel’s have been able to rebuild from within while remaining competitive and competing annually for the postseason. For the first time in the Angel’s history they’ve stayed with a single philosophy rather than jumping between rebuilding/free spending and have reaped the rewards. But at the same time the Angels have failed to reach the next level since 2002…a year that came out of nowhere.

Debated endlessly on the message boards, newspapers, and talk radio I won’t spend too much time on the pros and cons of Bill, but there are some things worth mentioning.


Cons

During Bill’s tenure he’s appeared unwilling to part with young talent and has been accused of overvaluing prospects. A notorious no nonsense negotiator each trade deadline Angel fans act like children on Christmas morning running down to see what Santa has brought…only to find white socks and underwear (and seriously…clothes are not Christmas presents folks…useless Chinese made lead laden toys are the ticket to your child’s heart!).

An argument can also be made that Bill has been ignorantly stubborn in addressing the most glaring Angel need, power in the lineup. Whether it’s a trade that has fallen through or a free-agent the Angel’s have targeted and been unable to sign, one could say that Bill does not have backup plans if Plan A or B goes awry.

Bill has also swung and missed at a few free-agent signings, including Steve Finley and Shea Hillenbrand, saddling the Angel’s with large payroll commitments to players who eventually end up in the NL West.

The biggest complaint most have regarding Bill is his lack of high profile trades (and this is usually where I would refer to folks wanting to show up on the ESPN trade rumors page…but I’ll refrain…I’m trying to sound impartial).

Pros

If the ultimate success or failure of a team is based on their on field performance (as compared to the transaction/rumor pages) it’s hard to argue with Bill’s performance. A world series title in 2002, AL west titles in 2004, 05, 07, and a franchise first 4 straight winning seasons.

Bill has also taken an organization that was in turmoil post 99, had the worst farm system in all of baseball, and appeared to be a ship headed towards the rocky coastline without a captain, and helped provide stability. His signing of Mike Scioscia turned out to be brilliant, he helped convince Tony Tavares and Disney that a) blowing up the franchise was a bad idea (anyone remember Tony the Tiger’s quote “why can’t you trade all 26 guys?) and b) that to rebuild the Angels needed to start from the bottom up. Holding firm with the existing team in 99 directly led to the world series title in 2002 and the Angel’s now have one of the top farm-systems in all of baseball. A young crop of talent that looks like they can provide a foundation of championship contending teams for years to come.

When you compare the franchise from post 99 to now, it’s hard to question the job Stoneman and company have done.

Moving Forward

Ok, given the keys to a late model Chevrolet Bill has helped the Angels trade up to a brand new Ferrari. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean Bill is the right person to lead the franchise forward. The Angel’s are no longer a small market club, they have much larger aspirations, one of the best owners in the game, and a loaded organization both financially and talent wise.

The biggest question Arte Moreno needs to ask himself is what next. Does he prefer a franchise that is going to compete for the playoffs year in and year out, or does he want to become a win at all costs organization, willing to trade the future and potentially experience some down years for a perceived better chance at a ring. This is not to say there can not be a balance, and that is where most of the criticism towards Bill is directly, and probably rightfully so.

In answering this question I think it’s interesting to look at some of the more successful organizations right now, including the Red Sox and Yankees…no longer are they willing to trade young talent for a quick, expensive, fix. Teams have taken an approach similar to the Angels, build from within (especially with cheap young arms). Look at 3 of 4 of the LCS, the Rockies, DBacks, and Cleveland are all teams that have been built from the ground up with young home grown talent, sprinkled with veteran talent. The days of trading 3 prospects for an aging 1-2 year rental appear to be long gone. To me this is telling in that a number of franchises are coming to the same conclusion, and are successful doing it.

That’s all fine and dandy, but what about the Halos and Bill Stoneman. Can he be the man to take the Angel’s from annual playoff contender to becoming an elite franchise that is winning the world series on a regular basis? And to be honest I’m not sure there is a GM who can guarantee that. Personally, I think he’s done a wonderful job in building up the franchise, these really are the golden years or Angel baseball…but at the same time in hindsight you can point to specifics where if Bill had been more willing to part with young talent the Angels might have another World Series trophy in the glass case.

You also have to look at who would the Angels go out and get to replace Bill. Names like Walt Jockety (no thanks…that franchise is a mess and the trade of Haren/Barton for Mulder set that franchise back significantly), John Schuerholz (which cracks me up no end…folks want Stoneman let go because the Angels are the “new Braves”…so let’s go get the Braves GM), some young up and comer (which I would not be comfortable with at all…you have no idea what you are going to get and the Angel’s are a very stable franchise and don’t need to experiment), or do you promote a guy like Ken Forsch and maintain a modicum of stability and someone who knows the organization.

Ultimately it’s hard to argue the success that Bill and this organization have had over the years. He deserves the chance to continue forward if he so chooses, but the rope is starting to get shorter and Bill needs to make some changes in his playbook, looking to deal young talent occasionally to fill some holes. I think one of the most challenging jobs a GM has is to balance when to move veterans, when to promote farm hands, and determine which farm hands are going to be big leaguers and which are going to be busts. That’s the job Bill has in front of him and has to show he can handle. 2007 was really the first evidence the Angel’s were going to have success with the young farm hands, whether or not they take the next step in 2008 will go along way towards determining the ultimate success or failure of Stoneman’s tenure. Bill should be offered the opportunity to return (and from reports I’ve read Arte has basically said it’s up to Bill to decide). Instead of a 3 yr. commitment, the Angels may offer up a year at a time scenario where the next GM becomes more apparent. If they think that guy is Ken Forsch, then he’s already in place. If they think it’s someone else from outside the organization, than bring him in now to work under Bill and get comfortable with the fabulous framework that has been set up.

Next up…well, I have a few list of things but will probably take a break for a few days. Enjoy the weekend everyone.

Love to hear what you think!

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