Continuity breeds success for Angels

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

The Los Angeles Angels' clubhouse is a domicile for sameness. They've listened to the same music for years. They perform the same handshakes. They follow the same routines. They celebrate wins in the same manner. The Angels are the updated rendering of an old aphorism: The less things change, the more they stay the same.

Because it's true. Almost nothing changes in Anaheim. Not the team's owners nor the manager nor the brain trust. And especially not the players.

The Angels have managed to keep 13 players from their 2006 team on their current 25-man roster. Another four from '06 are on the disabled list. The number of players the Angels have kept the last three years dwarfs every other team in baseball – one of which has two players from 2006 on its active roster – and is a testament to the practiced pursuit of continuity. The Angels have managed the keep their team together while 82.3 percent of major leaguers who took an at-bat or recorded an out in 2006 are no longer on the same roster, according to an analysis of all 30 teams' rosters by Yahoo! Sports.

Whether such stability leads to success is arguable, though the Angels' recent track record isn't: five playoff appearances in the past seven years, and a sixth almost guaranteed, as their 73-46 record is the second best in the game. Of the 12 teams that have five or fewer players from 2006 on their current roster, only one is above .500, while 15 of the 18 teams with six or more are better than .500.

"It's very simple here. We don't try to do drastic things," Angels general manager Tony Reagins said. "We draft good players, sign good players and develop good players. Once we do those things, those guys are playing for us and know that expectation."

With 17 holdovers from 2006, the Angels represent 7 percent of the 243 players who remain with their teams. That works out to just a little more than eight players per team – and 6.6 per team when excluding the 45 currently on the disabled list. American League teams are far likelier to hold onto their players than their National League counterparts: nearly 21 percent to less than 15 percent.

The trade-deadline sell-offs in Cleveland and Pittsburgh highlight teams' willingness to blow up their current roster in search of greater success. Though it's not limited to bottom feeders by any means.

Some bad teams keep their players. The 2006 Colorado Rockies went 76-86. Fourteen from that team remain, and they're in the NL wild-card lead. The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series. Only six of those championship ring bearers still wear a Cardinals uniform.

"You have to remember, a lot of guys don't last very long," said Ross Ohlendorf(notes), the Pirates pitcher who wrote his thesis at Princeton on the amateur draft, and he's right. Some of the cup-of-coffee players among the 1,376 only get one shot. And free agency encourages players to chase money. And arbitration makes it next to impossible for teams with eight-figure payrolls to keep all of their young players.

So the Angels are unique, yes. Just how unique is the shocker.

No team in the AL – not even the perpetual 100-loss Royals – has revamped itself since 2006 more than the Oakland Athletics. Only three players remain from that team: second baseman Mark Ellis(notes), utilityman Bobby Crosby(notes) and reliever Santiago Casilla(notes), whose contributions in '06 consisted of an 11.57 ERA over 2 1/3 innings. (Justin Duchscherer(notes) and Eric Chavez(notes), two other holdovers, are on the disabled list.)

This shouldn't register as a surprise – A's general manager Billy Beane is among the game's pre-eminent tinkerers – save for one fact: The A's won the AL West in 2006. They were favorites to go to the World Series after running roughshod over Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs. Then Detroit swept them in the AL Championship Series, and the dismantling began.

Barry Zito(notes) skulked across the Bay for San Francisco's riches. Dan Haren(notes) was shipped to Arizona for six players, Rich Harden(notes) to the Chicago Cubs for another four, Joe Blanton(notes) to Philadelphia for three more and Huston Street(notes) to Colorado to finish the restocking. Rather than build around what it had, Oakland took the opposite tack and tried to reimagine itself.

Are you experienced?

The continuity issue is something of a chicken-and-egg debate it baseball – which begets which? – but one thing is obvious: Of the 18 teams that have six or more active players from their 2006 team, 15 are over .500. Of the 12 teams with five or fewer, just one is better than .500 – and barely.

Teams above .500 in 2009*

Players since
2006 still
active or on
disabled list
Team Active DL
Win %
Los Angeles Angels 13 4
Colorado Rockies 12 2
Minnesota Twins 11 4
Detroit Tigers 10 3
Boston Red Sox 10 1
Toronto Blue Jays 9 2
Cleveland Indians 9 1
New York Yankees 9 1
Florida Marlins 8 2
Philadelphia Phillies 8 2
Chicago White Sox 8 0
Los Angeles Dodgers 8 0
Texas Rangers 7 2
Chicago Cubs 7 1
Tampa Bay Rays 7 0
Atlanta Braves 6 1
San Francisco Giants 6 1
St. Louis Cardinals 6 0
Seattle Mariners 5 1
Baltimore Orioles 5 0
Kansas City Royals 5 0
New York Mets 4 6
Arizona Diamondbacks 4 3
Pittsburgh Pirates 4 0
Milwaukee Brewers 3 3
Oakland A's 3 2
Washington Nationals 3 1
Cincinnati Reds 3 0
Houston Astros 3 0
San Diego Padres 2 2

*As of Thursday, Aug. 20

This is not novel. Teams like the Angels simply do not exist around baseball. Just four others have 10 or more players from their 2006 teams. The $200 million Yankees, the best team in baseball, are not one. They've recast their entire rotation since 2006. Only Chien-Ming Wang(notes) remains, and he's on the disabled list. The Devil was not all Tampa Bay excised since 2006; the Rays got rid of their entire starting lineup except for Carl Crawford(notes). If not for Jim Johnson's(notes) one start – and a disaster it was, eight runs in three innings, leaving him with a year-end 24.00 ERA – every remnant of Baltimore's 2006 pitching staff would have vanished.

Not a single everyday player from the best regular-season team of 2006, the New York Mets, is presently on their roster. Granted, their four best are still around and on the disabled list, but it's telling that the lone leftovers from their pitching staff are the just-activated Billy Wagner(notes), Mike Pelfrey(notes), Pedro Feliciano(notes) and Oliver Perez(notes).

They're almost as bad as the Washington Nationals, baseball's worst team and best case for a renovation going forward. The 2006 Nationals had a baseball-high 57 players. Three remain, and only third baseman Ryan Zimmerman(notes) has spent the whole season in the major leagues, as relievers Jason Bergmann(notes) and Saul Rivera(notes) rode the 300-mile merry-go-round that stretches from Washington to Triple-A Syracuse and ferries pitchers back and forth.

It's even bleaker in the NL Central, which has more impatients than a florist. Lance Berkman(notes) is only regular still in Houston. Brandon Phillips(notes) holds the same distinction in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh can't even boast that much. Pittsburgh catcher Ryan Doumit(notes), the team's only position-playing holdover, was a backup in 2006. Jack Wilson(notes) and Freddy Sanchez(notes) joined him until the Pirates' deadline purge dropped them to four players from '06.

They still beat Houston (which dipped to three when Chris Sampson(notes) was optioned last week), Cincinnati (three, too, after the David Weathers(notes) trade to Milwaukee) and the Brewers themselves (at three following the demotion of J.J. Hardy(notes) and the dismissal of Bill Hall(notes), and with no leftover starting pitchers, either).

The Cubs – who in 2006 finished with the worst record in the league 66-96 – actually have the division's most leftovers on their active roster: seven, tied for 13th in baseball. Only 30 of the 271 players from the NL Central in 2006 remain in the major leagues with the same team. That's almost 4 percent worse than the NL average and nearly 10 percent lower than the AL.

And yet to find the team with the most turnover, go over the Rockies, past Arizona (zero out of 25 pitchers from '06 are on today's active roster, as Brandon Webb(notes) recuperates on the DL) and land in San Diego where the purging of a 2006 team that won the NL West is all but complete.

There is one hitter from that team: first baseman Adrian Gonzalez(notes). There is one pitcher: starter Tim Stauffer(notes), who got a single courtesy start in September '06. And, with Chris Young and Brian Giles(notes) on the DL, that's it. Forty-two other players gone, some traded (Jake Peavy(notes) and Scott Linebrink(notes)), others let go (Trevor Hoffman(notes) and Russell Branyan(notes)) and the rest drifting off into Major League Baseball's version of the trading floor, where people are turned into commodities and four in five change hands over a three-year period.

Incredible riches are part of Curt Flood's legacy. The other is uncertainty. Players move because the business expects them to, through trades and free agency and the Darwinian winnowing of the weakest.

Which makes the Angels, then, a modern relic: a team that actually embodies team.

"Here's the thing: If an organization wants to keep around a core group of guys, it's for a reason," Bobby Crosby said. "It makes sense they've stuck together. They've been successful. Why change things?"

For the Pirates and Indians, the answer is easy: Because things, as presently constituted, stink. For Oakland and San Diego, it gets more complicated. Money played a factor in both, more for San Diego – which was devastated by former owner John Moores' divorce – than Oakland. In the A's case, Beane runs the team with a coolness that doesn't as much dismiss continuity as commoditize it – and value it lower than, say, the Angels.

Look at 2003, when the A's went 96-66 and won another division title. From that team, only seven players of 41 were held over for three years: Zito, Harden, Ellis, Crosby, Chavez, Duchscherer and backup catcher Adam Melhuse(notes). Even if the A's like to romanticize about the core they had – the one that included Chavez, Zito, Miguel Tejada(notes), Jason Giambi(notes), Mark Mulder(notes) and Tim Hudson(notes) – its life was short-lived and its worth negotiable. To Ellis, the price was high.

"When we had our little run here, we were together," he said. "You learn what makes a guy tick. You know when you can get on somebody, and you know when to leave them alone. There's something to knowing each other."

How much is impossible to quantify. The majority of the remaining Angels ascended to the major leagues together. Vladimir Guerrero(notes) was a big free-agent splash, and the Angels lavished contract extensions on the homegrown Scot Shields(notes) and Ervin Santana(notes) and the major league-reared Kelvim Escobar(notes) and Juan Rivera(notes). Otherwise, it's been players kept around despite high arbitration price tags: John Lackey(notes), Chone Figgins(notes), and soon Mike Napoli(notes), Joe Saunders(notes), Jered Weaver(notes) and Erick Aybar(notes).

More teams don't emulate the Angels because they have neither the money to keep a cache of their own locked up once free agency beckons nor the scouting and player-development departments to churn out a cadre of homegrown talent. Ten of the Angels' 12 pitchers came from their system. Same for eight of 13 position players.

"A lot of it starts at the top," Reagins said. "(Owner) Arte Moreno's been here now six years. (Manager) Mike Scioscia's been here for 10. I've been in the organization for 18. There is a consistency at the top. That plays a part in it. Our ownership likes that stability and continuity."

So the Angels operate as they do best: with minimal change. When Reagins took over as GM for Bill Stoneman in 2007, the switch was seamless. He had spent more than a decade in the organization, seen it go from a middling franchise to among the game's most envied. And he wasn't about to change that. He'd simply abide by what he knew worked for the Angels.

Same time. Same place. Same everything.