Thursday, January 6, 2011

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer

There, I said it. This has been a disappointing offseason so far. As a fan, I cannot recall ever being this frustrated and disappointed in the team as I have been this year. While losing Nolan Ryan may have been the worst offseason decision ever, and losing Wally Joyner hurt more, both of those offseasons pale in comparison to 2011. In both cases those were the bad decisions, but they only concerned an individual player—not an entire offseason. This year, the offseason has shown just how off the mark the entire team has been on so many fronts.

Unlike many fans, I’m not upset about the players we didn’t get. I’m not crying because I did not get the GI Joe with the Kung-Fu grip. It’s not the business that the Angels did that frustrated me. It was the way the Angels did their business that made me upset.

The most glaring weakness that came out from this offseason is that the Angels front office would best be described as utilizing “series” thinking. Using electric circuits as an example, “series” thinking involves approaching one task at a time, focusing entirely on that task, and moving on. It’s the opposite of parallel thinking.

While the Angels were busily focusing on Crawford, other GMs were busy making moves that greatly affected the rest of the offseason for the Angels. While the Angels spent elaborate time on Crawford, the Braves traded for Dan Uggla and the Orioles acquired Mark Reynolds. While both of them may not have been as good as Crawford or Beltre, both would have been vast improvements to the team and come at a cheaper price. Both would have allowed the Angels to go in other directions and given the Angels more leverage in their free agent negotiations.

Rather than letting the free agents dictate their future, the Angels could have done more to direct their offseason by taking a more fluid approach to building the team. For example, they could have traded for Zack Greinke to make Ervin Santana expendable in a trade. With so many teams in need of pitching, the Angels could have found a way to bolster their offense by trading Santana to a pitching poor team. Or, they could have traded for Colby Rasmus, who was rumored to be available, to make more money available to pursue Beltre.

The second most glaring weakness that emerged this winter is that the Angels grossly under estimated the market. While I agree that the contracts handed out to Werth, Crawford, Beltre, etc. were grossly out of line in both dollars and years, the Angels should have better foreseen this explosion in the market and adjusted their plans accordingly. If they were unwilling to spend the amounts necessary to land their targets, they should have made alternative plans and acted on them more promptly.

Instead, focusing solely on Crawford first and then focusing solely on Beltre, the Angels have far fewer options available to them to make any meaningful improvement. With most of the teams set at this point, the Angels will have to overpay either by way of trade or in dollars to make an improvement. That will just further inflate the market or further weaken the team long-term.

More importantly, as the market prices escalated, the Angels should have dedicated the offseason to locking up their emerging talent. If Werth, Crawford and Beltre were able to secure the contracts that they signed in 2011, how much more will Kendry Morales and Jered Weaver cost when they become free agents? Wouldn’t a more productive use of this winter have been to sign their own players long-term? Since free agent prices generally go down, prudence would say yes. Why didn’t the Angels do that?

Third, around the league, many front offices have hinted that the Angels’ are difficult to work with in terms of trades and free agent signings. Seeing that many trades involved GMs with working histories together, wouldn’t it be prudent to bring in some more talent with working relationships with other organizations? More importantly, shouldn’t the Angels be doing more to improve their relations with other GMs? Why then was Tony Reagins one of the last GMs (if not the last GM) to arrive at the Winter Meetings? I understand airplane problems, but for a major meeting, why didn’t he arrive a day or two in advance to prepare and be ready to deal from the get-go?

More importantly, where was the full-court press with the Angels’ top targets this offseason? When other teams sent entire entourages (including the owners and GM for key free agents) across the country to persuade a player to sign with them, how come the Angels didn’t even present their top target, Carl Crawford, with a contract—in person or otherwise?

I actually applaud Arte Moreno for pointing out the exorbitant costs of taking a family to a ballgame. My seat prices have nearly tripled since 2002 while my salary has not. As a father, I want to be able to afford to bring my sons to a game. As I look at the explosion of salaries, I wonder how many games I will be able to take them to when they are old enough to appreciate it.

But, as a fan, I have found the rhetoric this offseason lacking. If Arte Moreno truly believes that maintaining affordability for tickets is important (which it is), why then isn’t he finding other like-minded owners and pushing hard and publicly for changes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement to create true parity and balance in the sport? Why isn’t he pushing for an absolute salary cap, an absolute salary floor, and slot bonuses for draft picks to create stability in ticket prices? His comments about affordability would resonate more with the fans if backed with action to correct the problem. As it stands right now, the only people paying the price for the Angels’ frugality are Angels fans.

More importantly, the argument that Arte Moreno should not pay a free agent close to or more than the cost that he paid for the team also falls flat. Because of inflation, all prices go up. Using his argument, no one should pay more than 60 Dutch guilders for real estate in Manhattan because that was about how much Peter Minuit paid for the entire island! At some point, like it or not, Arte Moreno will have to pay a free agent close to or more than the price he paid for the entire team. But, by then, the team’s value will be several times greater than what he paid to buy the team, just like the value of real estate in Manhattan has gone up quite a bit over the last four centuries.

Finally, I know what it’s like to deal with a person that one personally detests. In a perfect world, that would never happen. But, sometimes, one has to do business with the devil in order to achieve a greater goal. Scott Boras may be the devil, but he represents many players who could benefit the team. The Angels should not cut off their noses to spite their faces. While they may not like dealing with Boras, they need to learn to be able to do so or else risk losing out on many more players and on many more seasons.

This offseason, the Angels have done a poor job of managing the fans’ expectations. They failed to deliver on the statements that they made at the beginning of the winter. By setting the bar high and failing to come close to it, they have allowed the story for the 2011 to be all about their failures off the field rather than their successes on the field.

Southern California is a fickle market. While locals will come out to support a winner, with so many options for entertainment they will be hesitant to support the team until they are sure that the team will win. With the local and national press hammering the team about their inability to make a substantial improvement, the first few months of the season will be difficult to sell to the fickle public. Rather than celebrating the glory of their 50th anniversary season, the Angels organization will constantly be hounded by questions about their legitimacy and their perceived shortcomings.

This offseason should have been about giving the fans a hope and a prayer. Had the Angels addressed their glaring needs from 2010, the fans would have had hope for the team and a prayer to return to the glory of 2002. Instead, so far, the Angels are asking the fans to have hope for a prayer. Hope that everything in 2011 will go perfectly so that they can have a prayer to win the A.L. West. And then maybe, just maybe, they might be able to catch lightning in a bottle and get out of the first round of the playoffs.

In my opinion, that’s asking too much of the fans.

But, perhaps I'm being impatient, fanatical even, as there's still plenty of time left to do something, as this fan is a believer in the Angels front office. So, while I'm frustrated that the Angels have missed out on the prime time players this offseason, I'm still holding out hope that Tony Reagins and Arte Moreno improve the team before the club heads to Kansas City to begin the 2011 season. How about a reunion of Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins? Not only would this improve the club offensively, but it would create more interest from the fan base and increase attendance for two of the most liked players during the Angels successful run the last several years.
Love to hear what you think!

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