What the #$%&! is Wrong With This Team?
No matter how frustrated, awful and/or confused you feel about the state of the Los Angeles Angels organization you still have Mike Trout. That’s right, Mike Trout, perhaps the best player the game has seen since the days of Mantle and Mays. According to baseball-reference.com when you use the metric of OPS+ (calculates on base plus slugging percentage, adjusted for player’s league and park) for all players through their age 24 season, he ranks 4th… ever, EVER.
1. Ted Williams — 190
2. Ty Cobb — 176
3. Lou Gehrig — 171
4. Mike Trout — 170
5. Stan Musial — 169
That’s some serious company. So again, don’t be too frustrated, you still get to watch the best player in baseball night in and night out. Yet despite two MVP seasons (not that the argument isn’t there for four) in his first five years, it still hasn’t been enough. What can they do? What should they do? Let’s start with the farm system and work our way up.
Currently the Angels farm system, according to Bleacher Report, ranks 30th in MLB. This is from after the 2016 trade deadline. At the start of 2016 it was reported that their farm system is the “worst I’ve ever seen”, by Keith Law in his 2016 farm system rankings. Baseball has a flair for the dramatic so let’s dig a little deeper and see if there’s any fact to the claim. We will start in 2007 because I believe this is the proper place to start in order to tell this story.
2007 — They rank 4th in MLB farm systems (according to Baseball America). This crop of prospects included Erick Aybar, Brandon Wood, Hank Conger, Nick Adenhart and Jeremy Haynes. In 2007 they drafted Jonathan Bachanov, a right handed project at best and a quick Google search indicates it never really amounted to much more than that as his career fizzled out and he was finished by 2013, never touching the show. The beautiful thing in this draft is that the Angels grabbed a little unknown high school pitcher in the third round named Matt Harvey. A top tier high school arm with good projections. Harvey was a Scott Boras client who said he wouldn’t sign for less than $2 million, which scared teams away, and eventually he would turn down the a million dollar offer from the Angels and re-enter the draft. We all know what happened from there. Scouting director Eddie Bane was none too pleased with management.
2008 — They rank 11th in MLB farm systems, however they forfeited their first round pick because they signed Torii Hunter. Nothing really came of those two picks and it’s never healthy running down the rabbit hole of “who they could’ve taken”. Point is Hunter was great for the Angels. They drafted Tyler Chatwood a nice high school arm with again, good projections. They did sign Chatwood but eventually traded him to the Rockies for Chris Ianetta who ended up being awful. Chatwood had some injury trouble but had a decent campaign this year finishing 12–9 with a good ground ball rate, and he plays half his games at Coors. Nice find by Eddie Bane but again management gave up too early for… oh yeah Ianetta. Ouch.
2009 — Their farm system now ranks 25th in all of MLB. Follow along here, the Angels lose their first round pick because they sign Brian Fuentes but they gain two first round picks (24 and 25) because the Mets sign K-Rod and the Yankees sign Teixeira. What do they do? They draft Randel Grichuck 24th and a high school player out of New Jersey named Mike Trout 25th. In the supplemental first round they grabbed both Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs. In the second round they drafted Patrick Corbin. All in all a pretty damn good haul. Eddie Bane must have been on top of the world. Also worth noting the big league club finished 2nd overall in MLB, things were looking up right?
2010 — The Angels had the 26th best farm system in MLB. They also had three first round selections that year and took Kaleb Cowart, Cam Bedrosian and Chevy Clarke. Also, in the eighth round they found a little guy named Kole Calhoun who turned out to be a pretty nice little player. Again, Eddie Bane had to have felt good. Except not… management let him go allegedly saying “I don’t like your last couple of drafts”. Weird. Instead they brought in Ric Wilson.
2011–2016 — Ric Wilson era as scouting director. The next 6 years were awful as the Angels had a total of four first round picks in CJ Cron, Sean Newcomb, Taylor Ward and Matt Thaiss. None of those names appeared on MLB’s top 100 prospects for 2016, in fact, no player in the Angel’s system is in the top 100. This may not seem like a big deal but I doubt you’re that ignorant. It basically cripples the GM when trying to trade because they just don’t have the cupboard full of goodies that other organizations can offer when putting together a trade.
August 2016 — Ric Wilson gets “removed” and given a job somewhere else in the organization because he did such a good job. The Angel’s hire Matt Swanson, a 33 year old former pitcher who came up through the Pirates organization and topped out at AA. He became a scout for the Cardinals and was instrumental in the finding and signing of both Piscotty and Wong. I’m not saying he’s the saviour but “swans” do carry some important symbolism about cleansing and purifying, plus he definitely can’t be worse than Wilson.
I don’t want to give the impression that Eddie Bane (currently a special assignment scout for the Red Sox) was the greatest scouting director ever, but he certainly led his scouting team to draft some capable talent. Consider that in his seven years at the helm, he only had four first round picks, yet under Bane the Angels selected/signed the following:
*Brian Matusz (failed to sign in 2005)
Jean Segura (involved in a trade that gave the Angels 13 starts of Greinke)
**Matt Harvey (failed to sign in 2007)
*Brian Matusz is interesting because although he had a couple good seasons in relief with Baltimore he really hasn’t amounted to much and is currently in AAA. Yet you never know what an organization could’ve done differently with a young arm to alter the outcome. Matusz was a San Diego kid with very high upside. The Angels saw him a lot, like a lot. The opportunity to land an arm with that much upside that late in the draft seems like a no brainer. But, we weren’t in the room so who knows what the conversation was like.
**According to numerous reports the Angels didn’t want to give Harvey the two million because he was a high school pitcher and couldn’t justify it. Harvey/Boras and their demand of the $2 million signing bonus caused them to tumble down the draft board. Yet worth noting that the Angels seemed like a good fit because they didn’t have a first round pick so it would seem they had the money available but just didn’t want to give in. Partly because they knew if they didn’t sign him they would get a compensational pick the following year. Regardless, I realize that a draft pick is no sure thing but tough to let an arm go of that caliber when you had the money to make it happen, but again, we weren’t in the room.
In 2013 on the “Halos Heaven” website it was clearly documented the players that Eddie Bane was responsible for (as of 2013) had a total WAR of 31.7. All non-Eddie Bane related players including Kendrick and Aybar (pre-dated Bane) were worth 9 WAR. Factor money into the equation and Bane’s guys cost $1.16 million per/WAR opposed to the non-Bane camp who cost $11.85 million per/WAR. They easily should’ve had the talent to contend for years. Heck, Trout alone has achieved a higher WAR in each of his past two seasons than all those “non-Bane” related players combined. It’s quite difficult to track every player that was drafted outside of the Bane era but looking at 2003, 2011 and 2012 (one year prior and two years after) — the combined WAR of players selected in those drafts (that actually have MLB service) is approx. 7.
What a different looking organization we could be looking at if the Angels sign those two arms and decide to keep Eddie Bane on. Shortly after Eddie was fired the Jerry Dipoto era started for the Angels organization which led to such amazing signings as Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, who hasn’t really lived up to the contract. Not that he could. You can’t sign a guy when he’s 31 and expect him to perform the same way he has until he’s 41. Yet that’s what Dipoto thought I guess… the worst part about that signing is it actually gets worse the longer it goes because it’s an end loaded contract. Look, Pujols has still managed to be somewhat productive since becoming an Angel but his 2016 outlying numbers are all tremendously down from his career averages and it’s very likely they continue to trend that way. Of course in all of this we can’t forget Dipoto letting Morales walk and then trading for an awful Vernon Wells, or trading Trumbo for Skaggs whom he already had once before.
Truth is they did have the best record in baseball back in 2014 and narrowly missed the playoffs in both 2012 and 2015. Yet it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Angels are still a total mess. Their terrible signings, trades and draft selections over the past 6 years have left them with nothing to be happy about… except Mike Trout of course. So what do they do? Well here’s the thing, you definitely can’t trade Trout and you don’t have the assets, as previously mentioned, to trade for talent. Here’s what you do. You wait it out and try not to do anything stupid in the meantime.
After the 2017 season the Angels will be free of the Hamilton contract and this year they’re free of Wilson and Weaver’s contracts. Free up the salary and with a little luck in the draft they will be back in the fold. It’s clear the way to build championship teams is from the bottom up, just look at the Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox or even what the Yankees are doing right now. The mould is different and I’m not saying you don’t have to spend to win, as money will always play a factor but you need to build from within and who better to build around than Mike Trout.