ANAHEIM, Calif. – There were some pretty good parties here once. Some good parties that followed good baseball. Some good baseball that portended more good baseball into October, back when there were ballclubs here nobody really wanted to play, on account of the fact they did so much well.
There's no telling what's to become of the Los Angeles Angels now.
For the fourth September since the last time the Angels were good enough to play on, their season is over well before the playoffs. Other teams fight. Other teams clinch. Other teams party.
Not the Angels. Not the team that once was. Instead, the organization has some decisions to make, some souls – and free-agent lists – to search. The Angels didn't play well again, and only a capable past four weeks keeps them just short of total humiliation, though there's a reasonable argument otherwise. The Angels didn't play a single important game this season, same as last season.
So what's Arte Moreno to do? Around the time his franchise started its backslide, the owner showed himself prone to thin skin and surly disposition. Presumably, these are not merely public traits. And while there's been plenty of conversation and speculation about Moreno's intentions come winter, few – if any – in the organization know if he'll give up on his general manager, his field manager, both or neither.
Given the heft of his payroll, and that such a large portion of it is piled over a handful of players, Moreno apparently has spent himself into a corner. He'll need himself a savvy general manager. Maybe Jerry Dipoto is that guy. What's important is whether Moreno thinks Dipoto is that guy, and how much responsibility Moreno bears – or is willing to bear – for the current state of the major-league roster. Then, Mike Scioscia, he of the presumably papal job security, has either lost his touch with his ballclub or hasn't had much of a ballclub. Regardless of the truth – I tend toward the latter – only Moreno's opinion counts. Finally, there are rumors of growing warmth in the Dipoto-Scioscia relationship, suggesting it is perhaps salvageable, but only if Moreno believes it is salvageable. And, frankly, little has gone on here for the better part of four years – two of them with Dipoto as GM – that should soothe Moreno. Either the people working for Moreno aren't good enough at their jobs, or he's not very good at his. Regardless, they've all been witness to recent clubhouse scenes like this: Mike Trout picking through his locker, sorting the trash from the keepsakes, one pile on the floor and the other forming in a cardboard box.
"It's definitely not a situation we want to be in," Trout said. "It sucks watching other teams clinch. And then seeing our guys walking into the clubhouse, packing up. It's tough."
He's 22 and, give or take a player or two, the best in the game. Here's the funny thing about the Angels: Take a poll of general managers, of anyone really, asking which player they'd prefer to start a team with, and the answer often is Trout. The Angels have him, they've added Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, and they're still really very mediocre. They've needed a big September kick to reach mediocre, and everybody knows if there's a month that is least reflective of a washed-up ballclub's true capabilities, September would be it.
There's a pitching staff to overhaul. There's a manager to consider. A general manager to evaluate. An owner to sort through all of it. And, now, two remarkable seasons from Trout have gone to waste, beyond what the Angels sold in tickets and other goods. In many ways, Trout, still one of the least expensive players in the league, was better this season than last. Instead of celebrating that with a decent team that at least challenged for a wild-card spot, the Angels had him packing a poster, a couple pairs of sneakers and some rope necklaces into a box.
He said he would go home for the winter proud of the number of runs he scored and the walks he took. He's likely to lead the American League in both. He's second to Miguel Cabrera in batting average and on-base percentage and, if this is important to him, will lead major leaguers in WAR.
"I have fun doing my job," he said, "going out there and playing. I don't really think about numbers."
Maybe he's too young to worry himself over the organization, as well. Or too respectful. Or too polite. There almost certainly will be changes, as the Angels can't continue down the same path if they're to be relevant in a division that has left them behind. A new GM would bring new direction. A new manager would bring new ideas. Regardless of how that goes, there should be new players.
None of it was of much interest to Trout.
[Related: Oakland A's repeat atop AL West]
"Nah," he said, "I just go out there and play. Whatever they do they're going to make the right decision."
Besides, he had a locker to clean out, and a winter to get to. Again.
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