The shrapnel from one of the ugliest seasons in Angel history continued to fly Friday when General Manager Bill Bavasi, unable to see eye to eye with President Tony Tavares on a number of issues, resigned by mutual consent, roughly a month after Manager Terry Collins resigned under duress.
Neither Bavasi, who was reassigned to the ceremonial position of special assistant to the president, nor Tavares would divulge the specific nature of their dispute, which came to a head during a lunch meeting between the two on Thursday.
But it became increasingly evident in recent weeks that Tavares wants to make sweeping changes to an underachieving team that entered Friday night’s game with a 67-92 record, while Bavasi wants to keep the core of the team, which consists mainly of players Bavasi signed to long-term contracts in recent years, at least somewhat intact.
“This seems to be a ballclub that, for whatever reason, gets close and then falls off,” Tavares said. “We want to find out what exactly causes that. It’s easy to say we need a second baseman, a catcher, a pitcher, but we all think it’s deeper than that. We want to be a winning organization. What are the pieces that create that?”
Whatever they are, they were not present this season, when the Angels disintegrated after the All-Star break on the field and in the clubhouse, plummeting to the American League West floor amid a flurry of bickering, finger-pointing and dissension.
“Frankly I’ve been embarrassed by all the B.S. that’s occurred this year,” Tavares said. “I feel it’s deeper than just looking at a couple of players. We need to step back and look at how we’re developing these guys. Obviously, we have some fine players, but I don’t know if they have an idea of what a team is.”
Tavares was so upset by the way the season soured in July and August that he referred to the clubhouse as “a day-care center.” Before Collins’ Sept. 3 resignation, Tavares said: “Someone told me, ‘You can’t trade 25 guys.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ ”
The problem is, Bavasi helped draft and develop many of today’s Angels--Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds, Gary DiSarcina, Chuck Finley and Garret Anderson--as the team’s director of minor league operations, and he was instrumental in locking those players up with multiyear contracts.
“Am I too attached to these players? Maybe,” Bavasi, 41, admitted. “But I never had a problem trading guys, not emotionally. Did I over-evaluate a player or two? That’s possible.”
Tavares said the Angels would hire a new general manager, who would then be responsible for hiring a new manager, “as soon as possible.”
Among the candidates expected to be considered are former general managers Pat Gillick and Bob Watson, who are finalists for the Seattle Mariners’ job, and current assistant general managers Dave Stewart (Toronto), Omar Minaya (Mets), Mike Port (Red Sox), Jim Duquette (Mets) and Danny Evans (White Sox).
The Angels are believed to be interested in Oakland General Manager Billy Beane, but Beane has a three-year contract that he can only escape if the A’s are sold, and the A’s have not granted other teams permission to speak to Beane.
Bavasi’s resignation does not bode well for the rest of the Angel front office, as well. A new general manager probably will be allowed to hire his own staff, which means the jobs of Ken Forsch (assistant general manager), Bob Fontaine (player personnel director), Jeff Parker (player development director) and Tony Reagins (baseball operations manager) are also in jeopardy.
“We still have a lot more to look at,” Tavares said. “We’ll sit down with whoever is the new GM and go through it, and Bill [Bavasi] will have a lot of input. I still respect his opinion and experience. He will be a valued counsel.”
Though they have differing opinions, there did not appear to be any animosity between Tavares and Bavasi, who addressed the media in Edison Field’s press dining room before Friday night’s game against the Texas Rangers.
“Bill and I sincerely like each other, and we agree on a lot of things,” Tavares said. “But when you’re looking for change, when you want a team that’s competitive year in and year out without these fluctuations, we were looking at getting there in different ways. . . . Once it became clear that we were on different planes, Bill said let’s do this.”
Added Bavasi, who will be paid for the remaining year on his contract: “The fact is, it’s not a crime to have different styles of management, and we do.”
Bavasi, the son of former Dodger and Angel general manager Buzzie Bavasi, was the youngest general manager in baseball when he took over for Whitey Herzog on Jan. 12, 1994.
One of his strengths was crisis management--Bavasi always seemed to be at his best in times of turmoil, such as when former infielder Tony Phillips was arrested on cocaine charges in 1997 or when the only two managers he hired, Collins and Marcel Lachemann, resigned.
But Bavasi’s five-year career was rather undistinguished when it came to trades, free-agent signings and on-field success, the three primary yardsticks by which general managers are measured.
Among Bavasi’s worst deals were Damion Easley for Greg Gohr in 1996 and four players for Jim Abbott in 1995. The oft-injured and unreliable Easley developed into an all-star second baseman in Detroit while Gohr, a reliever, retired the next season.
Abbott went 5-4 for the Angels down the stretch in 1995, but after signing a three-year, $7.8-million deal that winter, the popular left-hander went 2-18 in 1996 and was released in the spring of 1997. Three players the White Sox acquired for Abbott--outfielder McKay Christensen, pitcher John Snyder and reliever Bill Simas--are front-line major leaguers in Chicago.
Bavasi sent Gold Glove first baseman J.T. Snow to San Francisco for pitcher Allen Watson, who didn’t amount to anything in Anaheim. He sent productive designated hitter Chili Davis to Kansas City for pitcher Mark Gubicza, who was injured and never won a game for the Angels, though that deal cleared funds to sign Dave Hollins, who was very productive in 1997.
Though Bavasi did well acquiring role players such as Chad Kreuter, Jim Leyritz and Matt Walbeck, the low-budget signings of Eddie Murray and Cecil Fielder backfired.
Bavasi’s best move--before signing Mo Vaughn to a six-year, $80-million contract last winter--may have been trading outfielder Chad Curtis for Phillips in spring training of 1995. That gave the Angels a sparkplug of a leadoff batter in Phillips and cleared center field for Edmonds, who developed into a two-time Gold Glove winner.
That ’95 team built an 11-game lead in early August before suffering one of the worst collapses in baseball history and losing a one-game playoff to Seattle for the American League West championship.
The Angels contended for division titles in 1997 and ’98, finishing second both years, but Bavasi was unable to bolster the ’98 team at the July 31 trading deadline.
“I’d like to take all the blame,” said Bavasi, who plans to pursue another job in baseball. “It’s my responsibility. The buck stops here.”
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