Monday, July 14, 2014

With the All-Star Break upon us, it’s time to look back and reflect on the season to date and the big questions facing the team. No question is as big for the future of this franchise than whether or not the Angels should extend Jerry Dipoto as the Angels General Manager. His contract is up at the end of this year, and so far there has been no indication whether the team will extend him for the future. 

I believe that at this point, Mr. Moreno and the entire Angels organization have enough information to make the right decision and extend Dipoto for another 3 years as the team’s GM. Furthermore, I believe that there are many benefits to making the decision now rather than later.

Below are my 10 reasons why the Angels should give Dipoto a contract extension now.

1. The Angels are Playing Great Baseball the Way Dipoto Designed the Team

At 57 and 37, the Angels have the second best record in all of baseball. With a little bit of luck earlier on, not only would they be leading the A. L. West, they would be leading all of baseball. This is by design: Strong starting pitching; A lethal offense that can score runs in bunches; A bullpen that closes out the game. If the pitching keeps the opposition to around 5 runs or less, the Angels have a chance to win every game. They are playing free and easy, the chemistry is improved, and it’s translating to results on the field.

In short, the Angels are playing the way Dipoto designed them to play. Under his watch, the team has steadily improved. Although key and major injuries hurt the team over the first two years of his tenure, the Angels have always been designed to play the way they have this year. Now that the team has been relatively healthy, Angels fans are seeing the team play the way Dipoto envisioned. It’s a winning combination, and as such, Dipoto deserves the credit for it. Extending Dipoto should not depend on whether or not the team makes the post-season. It should reflect how he designed the team to play and if it works. And, the way he designed the team to play is a winning combination.

2. Dipoto Is Able to Make the Big Signings

From Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, to Josh Hamilton and Mike Trout, Dipoto has shown the ability to make the big deals. It’s never easy negotiating contracts in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. There are plenty of fine details to flush out. These deals take time and precision. The fact that Dipoto has been able to negotiate and complete so many of them on his watch shows that he is more than capable to continue to lead this organization. Large market teams need GMs who can make large market deals with free agents outside the organization and key home-grown players within the organization. Dipoto and his front office have successfully completed 4 major deals in less than 3 years. That’s a track record for success that should continue.

3. Dipoto is Able to Make the Key Small Deals To Improve the Team

While the big deals usually get most of the headlines, it’s often the small deals and signings that pay extra dividends to a team’s long-term success. It takes all the guys on the 25-man roster to play through an entire season, plus many more who aren’t even on the roster at the start of the season. Over his tenure, Dipoto has made plenty of small moves that have played out well for the Angels. For example, he picked up J.B. Shuck and Collin Cowgill—both of whom played important roles for the team at various points. Dipoto signed Joe Smith, who has gone from pitching the 8th inning to becoming the team’s closer. While none of these moves at the time made major headlines like the Pujols, Wilson, Hamilton and Trout deals, they all have added wins to the team. Yes, there have been some bad signings, but those deals have not been the major reason for the team’s struggles (especially compared to injuries). But, many of the small deals have helped the team, especially this year.

4. Under Dipoto, the Angels Have Been Better-Able to Make Trades with Other Teams

In the past, talking with scouts from rival organizations, I consistently heard that previous Angels GMs were often difficult to work with while negotiating trades. Under Dipoto, that has not been the case. He has been able to make deals, even complex 3-team deals, to improve the Angels. No team can survive just on developing its own players and signing free agents. In order to be successful, teams have to be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses in their own organization, the strengths and weaknesses in other organizations, and find ways to make improvements through trades. Whether it was trading to get Ernesto Frieri to shore up the bullpen in 2012, or trading Frieri for Grilli to improve the bullpen in 2014, Dipoto has been able to make trades happen. He’s made the tough call to trade a popular player in Mark Trumbo to solidify the rotation and bring in Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. That is an improvement that should continue forward.  

5. Dipoto Has Improved the Angels Organization at Every Level

One of the joys that I have in covering the Angels is seeing how the entire organization, from the Minors to the Majors, works to achieve a common goal—a championship in Anaheim. In order to get there, all parts of the organization have to work together. The Minor Leagues need to have players that can come up on short notice to replace injured Major Leaguers. The Minor Leagues need to develop key players that can layer the salary structure on the parent club so that it can continue to sign and keep the star players. The Minor Leagues need to develop players who will work within the Angels system and play baseball the Angels way. They need to grow from raw high school and college players into professional athletes. 

Under Dipoto and Scott Servais the Angels have overhauled and revamped their Minor League system. They have implemented new and improved training, nutritional, and workout regimens. They have emphasized different skill sets. They have accelerated the growth of players by having them skip levels to challenge them with tougher competition. While not every player has succeeded with the challenges, more players such as Kole Calhoun and Mike Morin have found success and blossomed into Major Leaguers faster under the new system. For a farm system that has been nationally ranked at or near the bottom, under Dipoto, it has produced far more than its rankings would suggest. Now that the system for success is in place, it’s time to let it go and continue to develop.

6. Dipoto has Revamped the Angels International Presence

Prior to Dipoto taking the helm, the Angels had to mostly abandon their international presence. While the cause of the problem is not important, the fact that Dipoto made it a priority to rectify the problem is significant. No team can thrive without an international presence. The immense opportunity for talent is too great. The relatively low cost to acquire premiere international talent, compared to acquiring comparable talent through the draft or free agency, makes the international pool quite advantageous. The lack of a substantial international presence hurt the Angels during the past few years. Now that it is back up and running, it will start producing. The hallmark of any good manager is recognizing key problems and rectifying them. The fact that Dipoto identified this organizational inefficiency and fixed it says that he has the full skill set and overview of the organization to continue as the GM.

7. Dipoto Works Well with the Media

One of the most important roles of a GM is being the voice for management. The job requires knowing how to handle tough questions in ways that convey information while remaining diplomatic. A GM needs to be accessible to media to provide quotes and answer questions without creating more tensions and problems (who hasn’t forgetten Bavasi’s quote about Nolan Ryan?). In the multi-media and social-media age, this is even more critical. Sometimes that means taking some heat for the team’s performance. With all the constant requests for quotes and statements, the potential for a misstep or miscue is great. Yet, in the entire time that he has been the GM, I cannot recall a major flap caused by something he said. He is very smooth and polished. He protects his players while answering the questions. As such, he is an incredible asset to the organization.

8. Dipoto is Great with the Fans

Whether its attending the Spring Training Fanfests or responding to fan letters, Dipoto has been very accessible to fans. He attends dinners for the Minor League season ticket holders. He talks baseball with anyone and everyone. He is passionate, enthusiastic, and witty. Every year after his speeches at the Spring Training Fanfests, I constantly hear comments about how much fans have learned from him and how much they enjoyed meeting him. His insights, comments, and stories are the kind that fans live for. Having a positive and accessible face for the fans is an absolute boon to the Angels organization.

9. Extending Dipoto Now Helps the Team at the Trade Deadline

With the July trade deadline rapidly approaching, and all teams in the hunt looking to improve, the cost for key players will be substantial. The more leverage a team suspects it has in a trade, the more it will try and exact for one of its players. If rival organizations sense that Dipoto’s job depends on the team making the playoffs, they will try to extract an even greater value from him in any trade. That’s the nature of leverage in negotiations. This may result in the Angels making costly overpayments or failing to conclude trades that they otherwise could have made. By extending Dipoto now, it sends the message to all other organizations that Dipoto’s tenure does not depend on making the post season and therefore reduces some of the leverage that those teams would have in any trade talks.

10. Renewing Dipoto Now Helps the Angels Better Prepare for 2015

Many players don’t like to talk contracts during the season. It makes sense. It’s a distraction. There’s the whole offseason and free agent time period to handle all of the details.

But for organizations, the window right after the playoffs is crucial. That’s when the entire organization meets to review its strengths and weaknesses and to develop its strategy to win in the following year. If the Angels have to spend the first few weeks of that time period deciding and negotiating an extension with Dipoto, that will hinder their ability to progress onto improving the team’s performance on the field. Trades may be missed or opportunities to win over free agents may be lost while the Angels organization decides which way to go with their GM. Things would be even more complicated if the Angels had to engage in an entire search to replace Dipoto and then have the new GM bring about even more changes to the organization.

If the Angels are going to extend Dipoto either way, they should do so now so that they can remove one major issue at the start of the offseason.

For all these reasons and more, I believe that Dipoto has done a great job as the Angels GM and the Angels should extend him as their GM now. 

Love to hear what you think!

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