For Angels, It’s Business as Usual


Amid the inflated salary demands of a pitching-thin market, the Angels and Chuck Finley severed relations Tuesday. It is hard to know how to feel about that because it is hard to know if Disney is intent on trying to win in 2000 or--in the lingering hope of selling or rebuilding--trying to keep its payroll in the no-man’s land that is the mid-range mine field.

New General Manager Bill Stoneman insists the intention is to win and it is doable. He will try to trade a surplus outfielder for scarce pitching help at the winter meetings starting in Anaheim on Friday, but one pitcher, of course, may not be enough to mend that shell of a rotation.

Stoneman has also inherited gaping holes at second base and catcher, along with voids on the bench and in left handed relief, and the departure of Finley, amid speculation that even Mo Vaughn could be available, underscores a sense that philosophical direction--and payroll--are more important than those physical needs.


The Angels, for instance, did not make one offer to Finley, who at 37, having won only 23 games in the last two years, is going to get a three-year contract in the $25-million range, illustrative of the wide need for pitching in combination with a limited free-agent market.

The re-signing of physically tender David Cone, at 36, to a one-year, $12-million contract by the New York Yankees characterizes the way it is.

Among a generally second-tier group of free-agent pitchers, Aaron Sele, Steve Trachsel, Darren Oliver, Kenny Rogers and Omar Olivares are all seeking multiyear deals for $20 million or more--and may get them.

After all, Jon Lieber and Dave Mlicki, neither of whom are .500 for their careers, recently received three-year contracts of $15 million and $15.4 million from the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers, respectively--and now the clubs will have even more money to dole out thanks to the new ESPN contract.

As for Finley’s departure after 14 years in Anaheim, the longest streak in club history, well . . .

* If the Angels--looking at a rotation headed, so to speak, by the physically impaired Ken Hill and Tim Belcher--are trying to win in 2000 they seemed to have no choice but to meet his steep demands.


* If they are not, the cold reality is that it made business sense to let him leave, which is not to impugn the left-hander’s competitiveness and professionalism.

Finley represented continuity and reliability in an organization that tended to spit on continuity and often won in double figures for teams that frequently considered .500 a success. However, Finley pitched well only over the second half of ’99 when there was nothing at stake except pride, the Angels reached the playoffs only once in his long tenure and the organization has been burned giving multiyear contracts to older pitchers, as it was by Belcher last season.

The obvious fallout is that the Angels have been left with nothing more than some wounded wings and a prayer. Can Stoneman acquire help, presumably moving either Edmonds or Garret Anderson, who are both eligible for free agency after next year?

A difficult task, Stoneman acknowledged, in that “people are reluctant to give up starting pitching and sometimes you have to overpay, but it’s definitely our focus. Assuming some of the people who were injured last year will be healthy, we have a shot at scoring a lot of runs. If we can improve the pitching a little, we can be right there [competitively]. We have enough talent that [winning] is doable. Our payroll is not going down.”

The Angel payroll was $51 million. It may not be going down, but how much higher will it go? The Angels already owe $43 million to 10 players. These may not be the payroll-purging Expos or Marlins, but the Angels are not prepared to be the Yankees either.

Sometimes, President Tony Tavares said recently, still angry over the combustible nature of the 1999 season, you have to take a step back before taking a step forward.


Finley represented a step back, but in an era when loyalty is measured by the dollar sign, he didn’t offer his longtime employers a reduced deal either.

“People are going to be emotional about this because he pitched a lot of good years here, but you have to separate emotion from judgment and do what’s best for the club,” Stoneman said.

What’s best, the former Montreal executive acknowledged, is, indeed, a change of philosophical direction from a pattern that began under the Gene Autry ownership, when management--in the attempt to win one for the Cowboy--was always looking to add that one more marquee player at a premium price.

“I think there was a need here for a more open-minded approach,” Stoneman said. “You have to be prepared to try new ideas like we did in Montreal. The public typically likes name players, but sometimes you can do better with lesser known players, younger [and less expensive?] players.”

The Angels finished last in the American League West. A healthy nucleus is better than that, but pitching is still pivotal. The young Ramon Ortiz, Brian Cooper and Jarrod Washburn will get their chance. Finley is gone, and who the Angels get to replace him is a mystery. If it’s a lesser known pitcher who isn’t a free agent, then it’s also probably not a Mike Mussina or Mike Hampton, who are both eligible for free agency after the 2000 season and could be traded if the Baltimore Orioles and Houston Astros, their current clubs, come to the conclusion they can’t be re-signed. Maybe Ismael Valdes as part of the long-rumored Edmonds-for-Valdes-and-Eric-Young deal with the Dodgers, a proposal that makes sense for both teams, although the Angels would be adding serious salary.

Then again, maybe there’s something to the speculation that the Angels are trying to dump more than $60 million of serious salary by trading Vaughn, who would also have to be compensated for waiving a no-trade clause.


Stoneman wouldn’t confirm or deny the possibility he is shopping his first baseman, putting it this way: “The one word not in my vocabulary is untouchable. You never want to close off the opportunity of someone coming in and blowing you away, but Mo has that no-trade clause. I don’t think a trade is likely.”

A Vaughn trade, of course, would leave no question as to the financial direction the Angels are headed, but it’s all a little hazy right now, and shortstop Gary DiSarcina, just back from a 10-day Hawaii vacation with the Finley family, refused to speculate.

“I learned a hard lesson last season,” DiSarcina said, referring to the bickering and distractions of a tumultuous year. “I just want to concentrate on doing my job and not get caught up in what management is doing. Obviously, Chuck had a good sense that the Angels weren’t going to take him back, so I’m not surprised. He’s going to be missed as a pitcher and person. It’s sad, but it’s the business.”

Business as usual with the Angels? It may be awhile before we know Disney’s true intentions.