May 15, 2003 marked a brand new era in Angels baseball: the Arte Moreno era. After purchasing the Angels from the Walt Disney Company, Moreno became the first Mexican-American team owner in the United States. The Angels saw incredible success in the early portions of Moreno’s tenure, winning the AL West in 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2009. They were also unafraid to go after big time stars on the free agent or trade markets, landing stars such as Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter, Mark Teixeira, Dan Haren, and Zack Greinke.
The second decade of Moreno’s tenure was far less kind to all non-Moreno parties. The Angels only saw a single playoff appearance in the 2010s; an ALDS appearance resulting in a 3 game sweep at the hand of the Kansas City Royals, putting their American League best record of 98-64 to waste. It wasn’t all from a lack of effort, but rather from a deficiency in rational decision making in some of the big deals they decided to invest on. The most notorious, of course, is Albert Pujols, whose 10 year, $240 million deal is still looming large on the payroll of the Angels in 2020. One of the most feared hitters of his time, the buzz surrounding the Pujols signing was enough to net the Angels a new TV deal with Fox worth approximately $2 billion. However, it wasn’t enough to propel the Angels to the postseason, as Pujols has ultimately ended up struggling through the majority of his time in Anaheim. In fairness to Arte, how could anybody have foreseen Pujols falling off this hard?
Well, a lot of people actually. As a high school senior in 1999, Pujols was walked 55 times by opposing coaches in protest of him, as many people around the game believed that he was significantly older than 18. The concerns about his age caused him to drop to the 13th round of the amateur draft, and there have been various rumors, including some sparked by words from Pujols’ mouth, that he might be 3-4 years older than his listed playing age. Taking the minimum of 3 years into consideration, the Angels gave a 10 year contract to a declining first baseman who would be entering his age 34 season. That, as people of my age would generally put it, is a big, big oof.
Arte, unfortunately, has shown a pattern of focusing exclusively on the short term, and a tendency to get involved in the decisions that should be left to baseball operations. The Pujols contract is a glaring example of that, as Arte was said to have loved Pujols and wanted him at all costs, but it extends beyond that. The failed trade between the Angels and Dodgers in the past week is the most recent example of “Arte Ball”, a trend of ownership to get its way in face of the benefit of the on field product.
The Angels were due to receive outfielder Joc Pederson, pitcher Ross Stripling, and a young prospect named Andy Pages who would’ve most likely slotted into the Angels top 10. In return, they would have been giving up Luis Rengifo, a fan favorite among Angels’ Twitter users but a very expendable asset, and an unnamed prospect who likely would’ve held little significance in the grand scheme of things. Pederson would have been an instant improvement in the corner outfield, but Stripling would have been the game-changer. A heavily underutilized pitcher in the Dodgers’ staff, Stripling has spent most of his career as a reliever, but has been highly effective during his stints as a starter. He would have represented a huge upgrade to the starting rotation, which presents itself as truly the only weakness of a very talented team. Instead, according to reports from highly reputable sources, Moreno became impatient that his deal was contingent on a cross town team receiving the second best player in baseball, and after being fed up with waiting, he pulled out of the deal, and cost himself a chance of a legitimate roster upgrade.
Not every Moreno move has proven to be bad. Mark Teixeira was the best player in baseball during his brief stint in Anaheim. Vladimir Guerrero became the first player inducted into the Hall of Fame wearing an Angels cap. Huston Street was a legitimately good closer. And, don’t forget, Arte also went out and got a consensus top 10 player in baseball this offseason in Anthony Rendon, another player he was reportedly enamored with. But the impatience at the forefront of these moves has caused far more problems than solutions. Though Arte was quoted as saying that he did not want to go through a full rebuild for the sake of the fans, it begs questioning if he cares about the long-term management of the team or if he just wants to bring in as much money as he can year in and year out. Trading for Dan Haren was exciting, but it cost us Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs. Trading for Zack Greinke cost us Jean Segura. Trading for Vinnie Pestano cost us (an admittedly worse) Mike Clevinger. The Angels have branded themselves as the team to go after all of the superstar money makers, but have once again shot themselves in the foot by refusing to wait.
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