While the Tampa Bay Rays were opening an American League Division Series with a striking 9-0 thrashing of the Texas Rangers, including one rookie starter and two relievers combining on a two-hit shutout, the Rangers’ main American League West rivals, whom they shoved out of the wild card picture after snatching the West from them, made a cruel prophet out of their general manager.
“We have to make moves, we can’t stand pat,” Tony Reagins said the day after the regular season ended with the Angels not even showing pride enough to shove Texas back and take away their division series home field advantage. Only nobody bargained that the first move the Angels would make was Reagins moving out of his job.
Technically, Reagins resigned Friday. Realistically, there’s reason to believe owner Arte Moreno gave him a push. Depending on your point of view, an idealistic take says there’s reason to believe Moreno may be ready for a small but profound overhaul.
Reagins was seen as a general manager in over his head in the job, after a very successful spell running the Angels’ farm system. Very possibly, the grease that accelrated Reagins’s skids was Mike Napoli. For reasons barely known, Reagins all but insisted Napoli be part of the three-way swap that made an Angel out of Vernon Wells, whose monster contract the Toronto Blue Jays were itching to shed. For reasons lesser known, Reagins put Napoli into the pot despite the Blue Jays not really wanting or needing him, the Jays sending him to Texas, in whose silks Napoli could and did cause misery for his old mates, right down to the final week.
This is where manager Mike Scioscia comes into play. It was Scioscia who had, for reasons barely fathomable, too little use for a solid hit/serviceable-not-spectacular field catcher and too much use for what was perceived a solid field/no hit catcher. Jeff Mathis spent the season compiling -0.5 wins above a replacement-level player, a .225 on-base percentage, a .259 slugging percentage, a 27 percent caught-stealing average, and range factors per nine and per game well enough below the American League averages.
Napoli? He merely compiled a .414 OBP, a .631 slugging percentage, a 4.9 WAR, a 36 percent caught-stealing average, and a range factor per nine above the American League average. If Mike Napoli was at least as good behind the plate and probably better than Jeff Mathis, while being a far better hitter, just why did Scioscia apparently favour Mathis over Napoli when either man could have handled the Angels’ pitching staff and Napoli, considering the Ranger staff’s final tallies, might have handled it better?
This isn’t meant to say Scioscia should follow Reagins to the Angels’ guillotine, but it is meant to say that Scioscia probably needs to be, and probably will be, put on a slightly shorter leash this offseason and next regular season. Scioscia is usually proud of his evaluation of catching and up-the-middle talent, and he usually has reason to be, not to mention he’s perhaps the most intelligent and effective manager in Angels history. But favouring Jeff Mathis over Mike Napoli was a grave mistake.
So was doing little to nothing to at least show the Rangers pride enough to try his best to thwart their division series home field advantage. Putting his least imposing teams on the field, giving Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana what amounted to early vacations, Scioscia let the Rangers finish the season first shoving the Angels out of the wild card picutre at all, and then clinching their home field advantage on the Angels’ pennies.
Reagins made a few other serious miscues during his GM tenure—failing to retain Mark Teixiera after bagging him in a spectacular deadline trade; hungering for Scott Kazmir; landing only one genuinely quality reliever out of three splashy such signings after Francisco Rodriguez left in free agency. But failing to help shore up the lineup at this year’s deadline when it became apparent these Angels weren’t much in the way of hitting (and wouldn’t have Kendry Morales back for another year), and letting Napoli end up in the clutches of the Rangers, probably did the most to help cost the Angels the postseason.
The most but not all. Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter may be approaching the ends of fine careers, but their bats were too often absent even though Hunter remains, in many ways, the soul of the team. Nobody has yet fashioned a sensible explanation for Jerome Williams’s underuse and Fernando Rodney’s more-than-occasional use. By the time rookie Mark Trumbo arose to make splash, the Angels’ offence was offencive only to those having to watch them become overmatched by even weaker arms on weaker teams. Going 3-7 against the Kansas City Royals or 5-5 against the Jays isn’t necessarily the way to prove strength. Come to think of it, where once upon a time the Angels were the one team the New York Yankees dreaded (they had the only winning record among any opposition during the Torre era), in 2011 the Angels went 4-5 against the Empire Emeritus. Against all other contenders?
* Against the Detroit Tigers: 4-3.
* Against the Rangers: 7-12.
* Against the Tampa Bay Rays: 4-4.
* Against the Boston Red Sox: 2-6.
* Against the Atlanta Braves: 2-1.
* Overall: 23-31.
One winning record against one contending team and one winning set against another is not going to get you far or all the way in the race. Five games under .500 against all contending teams is going to get you likewise.
Reagins is going to stay with the Angels as a special assistant to chairman Dennis Kuhl, but maybe the Angels should send him back to the farm. Angel farm teams combined for eighteen playoff trips, fifteen division titles, and three league championships, while producing some of the most stellar talent the organisation has ever seen. That was Reagins’s strongest forte, and it wouldn’t hurt the Angels to think about restoring him there.
Meanwhile, they could fill the general manager’s chair with . . . well, Theo Epstein may yet become available, but if not such as Josh Byrnes (former Arizona GM, now San Diego’s vice president of baseball operations), Dan Evans (former Los Angeles Dodgers GM), Rick Hahn (assistant GM, Chicago White Sox), Jerry DiPoto (assistant GM, Arizona), and Thad Levine (assistant GM, Texas) could also look attractive on Moreno’s speed dial.