Saturday, December 3, 2011

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer

One of the rarest feats to accomplish in all of baseball is the unassisted triple play. A lot has to fall into alignment for a player to make such as play.

For a GM, one of the rarest feats to accomplish is the trifecta — a move or series of moves that simultaneously: 1) improves the club; 2) pleases the fans; 3) doesn’t deplete the farm or budget. With his first two moves on the job, Jerry Dipoto caught a trifecta.

By trading Chatwood for Iannetta, Dipoto addressed the biggest hole on the Angels’ roster. He improved the team’s offense and made Jeff Mathis expendable. However, rather than non-tendering Mathis and getting nothing in return, Dipoto traded Mathis for Brad Mills who essentially replaced Chatwood.

When the trade for Iannetta was first announced, I was a bit surprised at how some fans reacted to the news. Some complained that by trading Chatwood, the Angels created a new hole—pitching depth—in an effort to solve a different hole. This was rather shocking because even with two openings (presently) in the Angels’ rotation, Chatwood was most likely going to open the year at Triple-A. On the organizational depth chart, Chatwood ranked behind Williams and Richards, and, was facing some tough competition from Shoemaker and Reckling (assuming they both remain with the club after the Rule V draft).

But, with Mathis for Mills trade, Dipoto essentially replaced Chatwood. Granted, Chatwood is the better prospect (being younger and still more projectable), but, the Angels have a need for left-handed pitchers, such as Mills, particularly at the upper levels of their organization. Mills could be converted into a reliever or could continue to provide depth in the organization until Hellweg and Pena arrive in Triple-A.

Looking at these two moves in total, there is no way an Angels fan could not be happy. As I wrote in the “What I’d Do as the New GM” article, “Jeff Mathis still has to go . . . Unfortunately Mathis has become the focus of the fans’ anger and frustration with an anemic offense.”

Whether one is a fan of traditional stats or modern stats, Iannetta is a major upgrade for the team. Having a catcher who can get on base should result in about 3-4 more wins for the team next year. That would place the Angels right back into contention for the A.L. West. With more moves to come (hopefully another solid arm for the rotation and a solid bat), the Angels will be more than ready to challenge in 2012.

Considering that Mills and Chatwood would play similar roles for the organization next year, the total cost to the team amounts to the difference in Iannetta’s and Mathis’ salaries. That difference should only be about $2 million. That is a paltry sum to pay for a 3-4 game improvement and hardly a shock to the budget.

When I interviewed John Carpino about hiring Dipoto, he described Dipoto as “an opportunist”. With these two moves, Dipoto clearly showed that type of thinking. With Colorado signing Ramon Hernandez to be their catcher, Dipoto picked up Iannetta—who was essentially unnecessary in Colorado—on the cheap. And, with other clubs in need of a catcher, Dipoto was able to take advantage of the limited market for catchers and traded Mathis to recover his costs in the Iannetta trade. This is the type of out-of-the-box thinking that I like to see as a fan and what will help return the Angels to a championship club.

One final thought: As much as fans disliked Mathis’ poor performance on the field, they should try to separate their frustration at his poor hitting abilities from their comments about him as a person. From all accounts, Mathis was very well liked amongst the players on the team. He did not have any major scandals as a player while with the team, nor has he insulted the fans in departing like other players have done. He did the best he could as a player.

While we all would have preferred more offense from him, we should not use that as an excuse to attack the man personally. Mathis took the time to be interviewed by at the height of his struggles and we should all wish him well with his new club.
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