Monday, February 18, 2008

By Craig Malone - Contributor

Sexy! Daring! Bold! Risk-Taker! Words you will not see used when describing Bill Stoneman’s reign as general manager of the Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels. Stoneman didn’t need fancy words or daring risks; the former pitcher, who finished his career with the same Angels 25 years earlier, needed to rebuild a franchise from the ground up. He inherited a team rich with turmoil, coming off a 70-92 record good enough for a solid grasp on fourth place.

With the hiring of Stoneman, the Angels were looking to put a horrible decade of baseball behind them, and looking hopefully toward a brighter future. That future started with the hiring of Mike Scioscia, who has now become the all-time winningest manager in Angels history.

Stoneman, working with limited Disney resources, looked to build up a farm system that consistently ranked near the bottom of MLB. His first draft was not as successful as many would have liked, with top pick Joe Torres barely making it out of A-ball. But then along came a guy named Mike Napoli and things were looking a little better. Over the years, with improved scouting, Stoneman was able to draft guys like Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Joe Saunders and Howie Kendrick, a group that forms the young nucleus of the current team. More importantly, Stoneman was able to open up scouting in the Dominican Republic and convinced the accountants at Disney it was worth the money to sign players like Francisco Rodriguez, Ervin Santana and Erick Aybar.

His 2000 team surpassed expectations, thanks mostly to unprecedented power from Troy Glaus, Mo Vaughn, Tim Salmon and Garret Anderson, and an unbelievable season from Darin Erstad. In 2001, however, the Angels slipped back to their losing ways and finished 41 games out of first place.

Heading into the 2002 season, Stoneman’s biggest moves were signing serviceable starter Aaron Sele and swapping Mo Vaughn’s huge contract for Kevin Appier’s. But it was the smaller moves that illustrated Stoneman’s discerning eye for talent: picking up David Eckstein, Ben Weber and Brendan Donnelly off waivers; trading Kimera Bartee for Chone Figgins.

It’s funny in a way that Stoneman’s legacy will undoubtedly be centered around the World Championship in 2002, though it is the accomplishment in which he perhaps had the smallest hand. In reality, Stoneman’s presence was most felt during the run of three division titles in four seasons from 2004-2007 (and, no doubt, for the next two or three seasons to come.) It is the signing of Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar and Jose Guillen in one eye-popping offseason; the staring contest he won against Scott Boras in the Jered Weaver negotiations; and the development of a farm system that is the envy of baseball year in and year out.

Often chided for his refusal (or inability) to pull off trades perceived to be necessary to the club’s success, Stoneman’s record speaks for itself. During his eight-year tenure, the Angels compiled a 703-593 (.542) record and appeared in the postseason four times — the team made just three playoff appearances in the 39 years that preceded him.

Stoneman took the Angels from obscurity and mediocrity to being recognized as one of the elite franchises in all of baseball. He built a model that many subsequent clubs have chosen to follow. And he leaves behind some might big shoes for Tony Reagins to fill.

Sexy or not, Stoneman slowly, methodically, conservatively and above all else successfully served as the architect of the greatest era in Angels history and will always hold a special place in the hearts and minds of Angels fans.
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