Angel fans remember it well; in 2002 the Angels were crowned World Series champs, the first and only championship in the team’s history. Fast forward to 2016, and the Angels appear to be a franchise floundering.
After making the playoffs six out of eight years and winning the A.L. West five times between 2002-2009, the Angels have only been to the playoffs one time in the last seven years, winning exactly zero playoff games. So how did the Angels go from consistent contender to the struggling franchise in transition we have now?
In 2002, the Angels were stocked full of home-grown fan favorites; Tim Salmon, Garrett Anderson, Troy Glaus, Bengie Molina, Darin Erstad, David Eckstein, Troy Percival, Jarrod Washburn, and Scot Shields, and young players like John Lackey, Francisco Rodriguez, and Chone Figgins that all played huge roles in bringing a championship to the Big A. Salmon, Anderson, and Percival were on the downsides of their careers at this point, however, after being the core of the team for much of the past decade.
After the 2002 season, Arte Moreno purchased the team and after the Angels missed the postseason altogether in 2003, we had the first of several massive free agent hauls under Moreno. The Angels added outfielder Jose Guillen and pitchers Kelvim Escobar and Bartolo Colon on top of the biggest free agent signing of the offseason, Vladimir Guerrero. All four would pay huge dividends in 2004, as Guerrero won the AL MVP and took the Angels back to the playoffs while winning the AL West, where they were swept by the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS.
After being injured for much of the year, the Angels decided not to pursue Glaus after his contract was up, as well as Eckstein, signaling the first big departures from the 2002 team. In 2005 the Angels again won the AL west, with Bartolo Colon taking home the regular season hardware in the form of the AL Cy Young.
The Angels knocked off the Yankees in the ALDS before losing to the White Sox in the ALCS. After the 2005 season the Angels let free agents Bengie Molina and Jarrod Washburn walk, and in 2006 the Angels missed the playoffs, with Halo Hero Tim Salmon’s final season being the highlight of the year.
In 2007, the Angels continued to distance themselves from that 2002 team. After Salmon’s final season, the Angels would release Erstad and second baseman Adam Kennedy, mainstays of the lineup for years and huge contributors to that championship team.
In their place, the Angels would begin to rely on young players like Howie Kendrick, Mike Napoli, Casey Kotchman, and Jered Weaver. The Angels also made their first awful big free agent signing in outfielder Gary Matthews, Jr., giving him fifty million over five years. Remember when ten million a year was an awful contract and way too much to pay? Those were the good ol’ days. The Angels would make the playoffs and win the division, the first of three consecutive division wins. However, the Angels would again get swept in the LDS at the hands of the Red Sox.
In the offseason, general manager Bill Stoneman would retire and be replaced by Tony Reagins, and Reagins right away made two big moves, one a trade that worked out okay when he swapped shortstop Orlando Cabrera for pitcher Jon Garland and another big signing that ended up working out great for the Angels in outfielder Torii Hunter.
The Angels finished with the best record in baseball in 2008, and after trading for pending free agent slugger Mark Teixeira mid-season, they were clearly the team to beat. Which, of course, they were, being beaten in the LDS by, you guessed it, the Red Sox. The Angels would lose Francisco Rodriguez and Teixeira in free agency to the Mets and Yankees, but with the draft pick they received from the Yankees as compensation, they drafted Mike Trout, so that whole thing worked out pretty well in the end.
After winning the division again in 2009, the Angels exacted revenge upon the Red Sox, finally sweeping them in the LDS before being knocked out by the Yankees in the ALCS. After this season, the Angels lost Guerrero, Figgins, and Lackey to free agency, and missed the playoffs in 2010. The Angels did make a big trade, trading top prospects Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin for Dan Haren during the season, however, marking the first of many ill-fated win-now moves.
After a disappointing year, the Angels would make the trade that ended up defining Reagins time as GM, trading Napoli and Juan Rivera for Vernon Wells and his massive, ridiculous contract. Vernon Wells had not been very productive for the Blue Jays for a few years, and the fact that the Blue Jays were able to unload that contract onto the Angels at that point was a huge boost for that franchise and a drag on the Angels.
You could possibly follow the logic on this one for the Halos; Napoli was, unfortunately, never going to become the player he is now for the Angels and Mike Scioscia back then, and Rivera was a decent but unspectacular player, and maybe a change of scenery would be enough to return Wells to his all-star form. Giving up anything to take back that much salary and hope for something good to happen is flawed logic, however, and this is when things began to really fall apart for the Angels.
Eddie Bane had been the Angels’ scouting director since 2004, overseeing drafts that brought in players like Weaver, Nick Adenhart, Mark Trumbo, Kyle Hendricks, Randal Grichuk, Tyler Skaggs, Garrett Richards, Patrick Corbin, Cam Bedrosian, Kole Calhoun, and of course, Mike Trout. In 2010, Reagins fired Bane, citing poor drafts – Bane stated that the real reason was because he and Reagins didn’t get along.
Either way you look at it, this is the move that should define Reagins time as GM more than anything else. All drafts are full of misses; when you draft fifty players a year, not all of them are going to be superstars. Bane’s drafts were no different, but he no doubt made the Angels better in his time there, and the Angels farm system has been an absolute joke since he left.
While it’s hard to draft consistently without your first or second round picks, the Angels just have not been able to add any talent to their farm system through the draft since Bane was fired, and Bane’s stops with the Indians and Red Sox since his dismissal have yielded strong results, more than proving that a lot of what ails the Angels now can be directly linked to firing Bane for what basically amounts to no good reason.
There are a few reasons for the Angels drop in contention, but Tony Reagins time as GM did damage the Angels are still trying to recover from. Ill fated trades for Wells, Haren, and Scott Kazmir cost the Angels decent players, prospects, and lots of money, and after the 2011 season Reagins finally, mercifully resigned. After hiring Jerry DiPoto, the Angels vowed to be ‘agressive’ and ‘creative’ in their approach to the offseason.
The Angels had just missed the playoffs for two straight years for the first time in ten years, and this offseason lived up to that promise. This offseason marked another huge turning point for the Angels; the Angels had some exciting young players like Trout and Trumbo, but the pressure was on to win after a few disappointing seasons, and there was an air of negativity after the Reagins era.
Moreno was desperate for the Angels to be competitive and relevent again, and after signing Guerrero and Colon worked out so well for him previously, you can follow the logic here as he signed the top two free agents again, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. It’s another example of flawed logic, however; these big contracts just don’t work out, and there were so many recent examples of this type of thing not working out that the Angels should have known better.
It’s also flawed logic because the Angels failed to recognize the superstar they already had on their team ready to step up and make a name for himself; in fact, in the 2012 season, Trout would already establish himself as the best player on his team, and arguably in all of baseball. The 2012 season also did not go well, as the Angels struggled out of the gate and dug themselves a hole too big to dig out of. Out of the playoff picture at the trade deadline, the Angels made another big trade, surrendering top prospects Jean Segura and John Hellweg for Zack Greinke, who pitched less than half a season before leaving in free agency, and the Angels failed to make the playoffs again.
After yet another disappointing season, the Angels again ventured into free agency, and instead of making a serious run at re-signing Greinke, the Angels signed Josh Hamilton to a huge contract that was widely panned at the time and only got worse from there. Hamilton had an underwhelming season in 2013 and the Angels missed the playoffs again, and in 2014 Hamilton played in only eighty-nine games before undergoing surgery in the offseason, and he never played for the Angels again. After another drug relapse, Hamilton was given away to the Texas Rangers for nothing, with the Angels retaining the majority of his significant contract, which they will still be paying for one more season.
The Angels did finally return to the playoffs in 2014 after winning the Division for the first time since 2009, but were swept in the ALDS by the wild card Kansas City Royals, marking the third time in seven trips to the postseason that the Angels were swept in the first round, and the Angels haven’t been back to the playoffs since, suffering their worst season under Scioscia this year.
The Angels won three series in 2002 on their way to the only World Series championship in their history, and in the fourteen years since they’ve won two series total. Looking at the history of the team, going all the way back to 2002, it’s easy to see the specific times and decisions that lead to this team being where they are now.
After winning the World Series on the backs of home grown talent, and consistently contending from 2004-2009 after another wave of home grown talent emerged, the Angels have failed to restock the cupboard. A lot of that can be traced back to the ill-fated hiring of Reagins, who then fired Eddie Bane, and the Angels have failed to draft well from that point on. The Angels also dug themselves even deeper with the signings of Pujols, Wilson, and Hamilton, moves that killed any flexibility they might have had by clogging up the salary cap and costing them valuable draft picks.
The Angels had chances to become more flexible and restock the organization, instead continued to forfeit resources in moves that have not panned out, including signing bust shortstop Roberto Baldoquin as an international signing. The Baldoquin signing is another little known but important mistake; due to MLB’s international signing cap, the Baldoquin signing not only cost the Angels six million dollars but the Angels have also been tapped out on the international market, unable to make any impact signings while watching Baldoquin struggle at every level in the minors.
You could look at the history of any team in baseball and see all the mistakes they’ve made, and the Angels are no different; You could point to the hiring of Reagins, the firing of Bane, and the bust free agent and international signings as the biggest culprits for the Angels being where they are now. While teams like the Red Sox, Cardinals, and Rangers have continued to draft smart, use the international market to great effect, and make key signings when necessary without breaking the bank to build perennial contenders, the Angels have fallen to the wayside after being a model franchise for close to a decade.
The Angels have begun the long, arduous process of restocking the organization and building a consistent contender, but these things can take a while. Time will tell if the Angels will be able to build the kind of team they had in 2002, and if that team can bring a championship back to Anaheim, but they’ll have recent history to look back on for examples of what not to do.