Before Arte Moreno resolves the cold war between Jerry Dipoto and Mike Scioscia, the Angels’ owner ought to invite Mike Trout to lunch.
Trout could be the first player to wear an Angels cap in Cooperstown, if he sticks around. He could have won the most valuable player award in each of his first two seasons, if not for the Angels’ futility.
By the time the Angels replenish enough pitching to reclaim their status as a perennial contender — and this is a best-case scenario — Trout will be on the verge of free agency. It is something of a baseball parlor game to guess at how many zeros will be in his next contract, but there is no earthly reason for Trout to sign a long-term deal with the Angels now, to commit his prime years to a team desperately in need of a consensus plan instead of a tug of war.
So Moreno ought to share his plan with Trout, and get his franchise player to buy into it. Then Moreno ought to determine the management team he trusts to implement it, and let those folks do it.
Moreno has not spoken with local media all season — he declined an interview request for this column as well — but someone who has talked with him says he is frustrated at the criticism coming his way. After all, every fan covets an owner who fiercely desires to win and spends the money to do so.
On both counts, Moreno scores.
When Moreno bought the Angels in 2003, he wisely retained the baseball management team that had just led the team to its only World Series championship. After General Manager Bill Stoneman retired in 2007, Moreno elevated minor league director Tony Reagins to general manager and awarded Scioscia a 10-year contract.
In retrospect, both moves were flawed. Reagins failed to communicate effectively with agents and rival general managers and chased away Eddie Bane, the scouting director who delivered Trout, Jered Weaver, Kendrys Morales, Mark Trumbo and the late Nick Adenhart.
In 2011, Moreno fired Reagins and cleaned out the front office, then hired Dipoto and let him bring in his own people. The mandate: Dipoto would rebuild the Angels’ farm system and restore their financial flexibility.
Then Moreno spent $240 million on Albert Pujols, killing any chance for Dipoto to accomplish his mandate in rapid fashion. Moreno would not go one extra year for Adrian Beltre, which could have kept the balance of power in the American League West with the Angels, but he went 10 years for Pujols.
In each of Dipoto’s two years as general manager, the Angels have forfeited their first-round draft pick — first for signing Pujols, then for Josh Hamilton. The Angels had to raid independent leagues just to fill out their minor league rosters this summer.
Baseball America ranked the Angels’ minor league system the worst in the game last winter. John Manuel, editor in chief of Baseball America, said the Angels’ system might well be ranked worst again this winter.
“They need help everywhere,” Manuel said. “It’s like one of those big ships going in the wrong direction. It’s hard to turn those things around. The Astros, in the same division, have been much worse at the big-league level, but they’re turning around faster.”
Dipoto and his staff have revamped the organizational philosophy, personnel, facilities, and data systems in the minor league and scouting departments. The payoff in players takes years — and first-round draft picks, especially now that Major League Baseball has limited the kind of spending the Angels used to sign high-round talents such as Trumbo and Adenhart that had slipped into the lower rounds.
The challenge is stiff enough on its own, all the more so with a general manager squeezed between a manager with a 10-year contract and a pipeline to the owner that signed it. Then again, the Angels have gotten significantly worse in the two years since Scioscia was asked to step aside as unofficial director of player personnel.
When The Times and other media outlets reported on the tension between Dipoto and Scioscia around this time last year, Moreno popped up within 24 hours to say both men would return. Similar stories have appeared on national websites within the last couple weeks, but Moreno has said nothing.
The last time the Angels got rid of everyone, after the 1999 season, they plugged in three young pitchers to their starting rotation. The Angels do not now have three young pitchers who could compete at the major-league level.
Moreno could get rid of everyone and take a run at the Tampa Bay Rays duo of Manager Joe Maddon, the ex-Angels coach who lives in Long Beach, and General Manager Andrew Friedman. Moreno tried to get Friedman before hiring Dipoto, when candidates were told they would have no authority to replace Scioscia with their own manager. However, with Friedman enjoying autonomy from ownership and the Rays making slight progress toward a new ballpark, the duo figures to stay put.
Maddon has told friends he has no interest in managing anywhere Friedman is not the general manager. Still, if Moreno wants to give Dipoto a shot with his own manager, maybe Scioscia goes.
Ultimately, because Moreno is not believed to have any interest in rebuilding, the question for the owner is this: Who does he trust to put together a decent pitching staff on a limited budget, because the Angels’ chance at contention next year depends on it?
Dipoto tried this year, but his pitching evaluations included more misses — Ervin Santana, Jordan Walden, Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton and Ryan Madson — than hits. Maybe Moreno takes a deep breath and gives Dipoto and Scioscia one more chance, one more year to learn from this one.
However, from conversations with people inside and outside the organization, the sense is that Dipoto is more likely to go, which would put Moreno in the same awkward position as he was two years ago — hiring a general manager who would not get to bring in his own manager.
In that case, the best solution might be Bud Black, the manager of the San Diego Padres. Black worked in the Cleveland Indians’ front office for five seasons, then joined the Angels as Scioscia’s pitching coach for five seasons. Moreno would not have to wonder whether his GM and manager would get along; they already do.
Black knows pitching on a budget. And Black would be comfortable saying no to Moreno and to Scioscia; Black said no when the Boston Red Sox were interested in pursuing him for what would have been his first managerial job. It would help if the Angels could find a way to bring back former closer Troy Percival as a coach, to help enliven the clubhouse and sharpen the accountability there.
But it all comes back to Trout, a once-in-a-franchise player. Get the house in order, so that one of the few Angels who does not mind taking a walk does not have to take a walk.