Los Angeles sports teams have a lot in common these days. Their bloated payrolls and lack of performance appear downright contagious. Anyone remember when the Los Angeles Lakers were crowned NBA Champions before starting their 2012 – 2013 season? Yup. Even before stepping foot inside the Staples Center, the Lakers were a virtual “lock” to challenge the Miami Heat for the NBA title. By signing Dwight Howard and Steve Nash – two stars that would compliment an aging Kobe Bryant – the team (according to local media) was destined to win their 17th Championship.
And we all know how that turned out – the Lakers were bounced from the playoffs after losing four straight games against the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers literally limped into the seventh seed in the Western Conference and didn’t look healthy enough (or young enough) to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs.
Seeing any similarities here? The Angels experienced a similar fate last season. After signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to huge contracts in the off-season, a number of media outlets (including Sports Illustrated) picked the Halos to win the World Series. Not the American League West. The WORLD SERIES. And when you looked at the lineup no one in their right mind would disagree. After all, owner Arte Moreno and GM Jerry DiPoto succedded in adding arguably the best hitter in the game to a potent offense led by 2012 golden boy Mike Trout. Throw in a solid number two LHP to compliment ace Jared Weaver and a World Series appearance seemed like a no-brainer.
Or so we thought….
The Angels finished a disappointing 89-73 last season. After a slow start in April, the club managed to dig a hole in the AL west that they simply couldn’t climb out of. I remember watching the final game of the season pondering what had gone wrong. And I wasn’t alone – Halo fans were shocked as the Angels watched the World Series from the comfort of their cushy southern California (aka: Newport Coast) homes. Forget about the World Series. After the dust settled, there wasn’t even a wild card available for a club that was THE team to beat in 2012. A third place finish in their division was a disappointment to say the least.
And the worst part? History has a way of repeating itself.
Owner Arte Moreno – who appears obsessed with marquee players – went out and signed Josh Hamilton to the tune of $133 million for 5 years. Good move, right? Maybe not.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was ecstatic about this signing for two reasons: 1. The Angels managed to steal an incredibly talented franchise player away from their division rivals, and 2. Hamilton can be the hottest player in baseball when he’s locked on.
“When” is the key word there.
You would think that a lineup littered with offensive talent (i.e. Trout, Trumbo, Hamilton and Pujols) would be able to put up enough runs to offset the deficiencies of a thin pitching staff. At least that’s what DiPoto thought – and I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t think his strategy might actually work. Granted, 34 games may not be a large enough sample size, but it’s safe to say that we don’t like what we’ve seen thus far. The pitching has been mediocre at best and the offensive production has been incredibly anemic at times.
The Angels are currently 12-22 after dropping two of three games in their series against the Houston Astros this week. 12 wins for a roster that reported a 2013 opening day payroll of $139,914,107.00 is an ugly stat.
That astronomical number puts the Angels just under the MLB luxury tax of $178mm for 2013 (the luxury tax will increase to $189mm in 2014). Fans around greater Los Angeles began referring to the Angels as the “Yankees West” last season. The only difference – the New York Yankees actually win after spending that kind of money.
As if we needed more bad news, the club managed to clean out their farm system in the process (sending Jean Segura for a Zack Greinke Netflix rental is the most recent example of this). Don’t believe me? According the Baseball America and ESPN, the Angels farm system now ranks 30th out of 30 Major League teams. A minor league system that was once boiling over with talent now has top prospects 3B Kaleb Cowart, LHP Nick Maronde, and 1B C.J. Cron - all three started the season in AA and are working their way up to the bigs.
So yeah, Los Angeles sports teams definitely have a lot in common these days. And that’s not a good thing. At least the Angels aren’t alone. Both the Dodgers and Lakers have taken the same path with little success – using Monopoly money to lure big name players that often don’t produce immediate success. Maybe Billy Beane is on to something here?
This season presents new questions: Is manager Mike Scioscia on his way out? Will they dismiss Mike Butcher? Is Arte planning a fire sale in the near future? Fans are merely speculating when they attempt to answer these questions. My only hope is that the Angels can turn this thing around before it’s too late.