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For some top officials of the Los Angeles Angels, the ugliest numbers in the organization aren't the $212 million owed Albert Pujols after this season or the $98 million due Josh Hamilton. They're the digits to dial in to conference calls with general manager Jerry Dipoto.
As ugly as the Angels' season has turned on the field, behind-the-scenes cattiness is adding to the grim sense that continues to pervade the organization. Perhaps nothing illustrates it as well as Dipoto's meetings, which, sources told Yahoo! Sports, scouts have actively tried to duck as this season careens toward another massive disappointment that could end with Dipoto's ouster.
However much Angels manager Mike Scioscia tries to deny a rift between he and Dipoto, as he did Sunday, sources said one does indeed exist. And a simple assessment of the situation – Scioscia's contract runs through 2018 and Dipoto's 2014 – places the GM far closer to the guillotine than the manager.
The Philadelphia Phillies whacked Charlie Manuel a little more than a week ago, the first of what officials across the sport expect to be a handful of changes among baseball leadership over the next few months. Even though nine managers are in the final year of their contracts, it's not expected to be a bloodbath like 2010, when between May and November teams hired nine new managers. Nor a general manager carousel as in 2011, when within 2½ months, seven jobs were filled, including …
1. Jerry Dipoto heading to the Angels with what he believed to be full authority. This idea was dubious from the start, no matter how much owner Arte Moreno and Scioscia backed it publicly. Moreno might be the most hands-on owner in baseball. He wanted to lavish Pujols with the third-richest contract in American sports history. He chose to bring in Hamilton. Many of the Angels' most egregious baseball sins are on his direct order.
And the idea of muting Scioscia was like handing Dipoto a remote control with a missing battery. For all of the Angels' recent problems – four straight years of no postseason following an ALCS and two first-round bomb-outs – Scioscia's influence in the organization is most pervasive outside of Moreno. Though this season and last merit an examination of his job status, he is believed to be safe because of the $25 million or so left on his contract.
Dipoto, on the other hand, is fungible. His reliance on statistics – especially large for a former player – has furthered the chasm with Scioscia. And his inability to make substantive moves outside of Moreno's splashes have left the Angels 16½ games out of first place in the American League West and even behind …
2. Jack Zduriencik and the Seattle Mariners. Zduriencik faces similar questions as Dipoto with another disappointing team, his fourth in five years as Mariners GM. Zduriencik's vitals: a 347-430 record (.447 winning percentage) with a minus-482 run differential. Eek.
Still, the sense in Seattle is Zduriencik will return, even if his power has been limited. At the trade deadline, opposing general managers got the sense Zduriencik needed to run all serious trade proposals by team president Chuck Armstrong and owner Howard Lincoln, the sort of intervention that left Seattle standing pat in July with viable pieces to deal despite a minuscule chance at contention.
The front office shifting has begun – Tony Blengino, a former Zduriencik lieutenant who came with him from Milwaukee, was marginalized this season and let go quietly this weekend – and Zduriencik isn't altogether immune. With a one-year extension that the Mariners won't even acknowledge exists, however, chances are he gets one more chance to nurture Seattle's strong young core (Kyle Seager, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino, Brad Miller and star-in-the-making Taijuan Walker) before his tenure is over.
Then again, the Mariners have sent feelers in former GM Pat Gillick's direction to see if the 76-year-old might have interest in returning. The answer for now: No. He's happy to stay on as an adviser in Philadelphia, even if the Phillies are the most disappointing team this side of the Toronto Blue Jays. In all likelihood …
3. Alex Anthopoulos won't pay for the disastrous 2013 with his job, but the level of disappointment up north is staggering.
The only teams worse than Toronto in all of baseball this season: Houston, Miami, both Chicago teams and Milwaukee. Considering how Anthopoulos pillaged his farm system this offseason, the return has been desperately awful. Beyond Jose Reyes, the main pieces Toronto acquired – Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson – have had seasons ranging from meh to blurgh. Blue Jays starting pitchers have a 5.10 ERA on the season. It is something straight out of the steroid era and more than a run higher than the major league average.
So many of Anthopoulos' moves have gone right – the Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion extensions are two of the savviest signings of the last decade – that he deserves more rope to turn this mess around. Whether it's admitting John Gibbons wasn't the right manager for this team, overhauling the rotation or both, he's got to overcome the stigma of the deals with the Mets and Marlins. For pure dysfunction, of course, nobody beats Miami, and that has extended into this season with …
4. David Samson being noticeably absent for a period in the middle of the year. Sources around the team wondered where Samson had gone, a question that has still gone unanswered. One thing, sources said, was clear: Owner Jeffrey Loria no longer considers Samson, his ex-wife's son and the team president, an untouchable in a planned overhaul of the organization.
At this point, Marlins officials are fascinated to see how it shakes out. Loria almost fired president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest last season, and that could again be in play. It's not like Beinfest drafted and developed Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich and traded for the rest of the Marlins' young talent or anything.
Loria is the East Coast Moreno, dirtying everything up with his paws. People throughout the organization were disgusted by his handling of Chris Valaika earlier this week, as the Miami Herald reported. Valaika was one of the players verbally abused by hitting coach Tino Martinez, who has since resigned. Martinez was Loria's personal hire, and, still angered by Martinez leaving, Loria personally stopped Valaika's promotion from Triple-A and instead insisted the Marlins call up journeyman Gil Velazquez.
It was as vindictive and ugly a personnel move as Loria has engaged in, and that's saying something. Whoever goes in the purge may well be relieved to get away from the worst situation in baseball, even if the Marlins' future does look better at the moment than the one …
5. Terry Collins sees with the New York Mets. Yes, he's got Matt Harvey as his Fernandez. And if Zack Wheeler can harness his stuff and cut his walks, he'll be better than any No. 2 the Marlins have (though scouts do adore last year's top pick, Andrew Heaney).
Here's the ultimate question for the Mets: Do they have the money to complement David Wright, Travis d'Arnaud and a resurgent Ike Davis with anything more of substance? Or, as it soon will be known, how will they fare on the Robinson Cano Litmus Test?
Collins has done well in keeping the Harvey hype train from derailing and transitioning Wheeler to the major leagues, and while he hasn't singlehandedly put an end to the LOLMets stories of yore, his job stabilizing the Mets certainly has mirrored what …
6. Joe Girardi has done with the New York Yankees. The fashion in which Girardi has handled the entire Alex Rodriguez saga is similar to that of his predecessor, Joe Torre, who did wonders with the most calamitous situations, including his own with A-Rod.
It's not just the off-field nonsense. Girardi somehow has coaxed a 69-61 record out of this perilously flawed Yankees team. The starting pitching is OK. The hitting ain't much better. The Yankees actually have a negative run differential at minus-4. And yet they're just 3½ games back of Oakland for the second wild card. Perhaps more than any lame-duck manager, Girardi deserves a contract extension.
Managing in New York is no easy job. Hell, six years of it left …
7. Davey Johnson gasping for air. Granted, he was surrounded by the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll Mets of the '80s, but still. Johnson, too, is one of the soon-to-be departed, and he's not coming back, resigned to retirement at 70 years old even though his final season with the Washington Nationals has been a colossal letdown.
The Nationals' job should be the most desirable in baseball. Matt Williams and Jay Bell's names have been floated as potential replacements, and one source said not to count out Cal Ripken Jr., who this week told CSN Chicago he was getting the itch to manage. It would be a coup for Washington to steal the Baltimore Orioles' icon out from underneath them, particularly with the rancor inside the Nationals organization about the miserable local-TV-rights deal that the Orioles foisted on them in order to move from Montreal.
It's a long shot, sure, but it's fun to think about. Cal Ripken not in an Orioles uniform. It's like …
8. Ron Gardenhire not in a Twins uniform. Minnesota still hasn't resolved Gardenhire's future, though the lack of progress – at 57-72, the Twins are five games better than last year at this juncture but still dueling the White Sox for last place – speaks more to the organization's failure to develop talent than Gardenhire's skills.
Others with lapsing contracts have similar uncertainty to Gardenhire:
Eric Wedge, Seattle: Three straight dreadful years for Wedge don't bode well for his job standing. At the same time, he just returned from a stroke, and if Zduriencik is indeed coming back for a season, it might not make sense to let him hire another manager who likely would want a multiyear deal but could become expendable if another GM arrives and wants to hire his own guy.
Walt Weiss, Colorado: Weiss actually did receive a one-year deal, which was absurd at the time and remains so. Even though the Rockies have cratered since a hot start, cutting Weiss now doesn't make sense. This is Colorado, of course, so anything is possible.
Ned Yost, Kansas City: The Royals' topsy-turvy season doesn't reflect well on Yost, but GM Dayton Moore is unlikely to get a third managerial hire, which means Yost will stay to manage a team with potential but turnover. Unless he takes a well under-market deal, Ervin Santana won't be back. And the Royals will need to figure out their rotation beyond James Shields, Danny Duffy and Jeremy Guthrie.
Two other managers with contracts – the White Sox's Robin Ventura, whose expires in 2014, and the Brewers' Ron Roenicke, whose does the same with a 2015 option – should return in spite of ghastly seasons. Depending on what happens in October …
9. Jim Leyland may not do the same. While the 68-year-old is enjoying working on one-year deals and indicated in spring training he has "absolutely no intention of retiring," the allure of winning a second World Series and stepping away might be strong. All of his contemporaries – Torre, Bobby Cox and good friend Tony La Russa – have retired from managing, leaving Leyland as everyone's Grandpa Chimney.
Granted, leaving this team would be a hell of a thing to do. Almost every main piece of the team is back for 2014: Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Prince Fielder, Anibal Sanchez, Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Austin Jackson, Jose Iglesias, Alex Avila, Andy Dirks, Bruce Rondon. Only Joaquin Benoit, Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante are eligible for free agency. The talent GM Dave Dombrowski has gathered is staggering, and if somehow the Tigers again trip up in the postseason, the allure for one more ring might be too big for Leyland to leave.
Because the Tigers are what a team with superstars is supposed to look like, whereas the mess …
10. Jerry Dipoto oversees doesn't have a whole lot of promise. The Angels' farm system is an abject disaster on account of trades (hello, Jean Segura and Patrick Corbin) and free agent signings that gave away their first-round draft picks (thanks, Hambone). With a meddlesome owner, possibly the worst minor leaguers among all 30 teams and the expectation of winning and winning now, so as to pay for that $150 million payroll and, you know, not waste the two greatest first years in the history of the game, the job of Angels GM is difficult even without alienating subordinates.
When a power struggle cloaks it, that makes the situation entirely untenable, and that's what Dipoto faces. He has allies still, and they hope he can wriggle his way out of the firing line and use his baseball knowledge in the sort of fashion he did when turning Dan Haren into Corbin and Tyler Skaggs.
Back then, Dipoto was interim GM for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and it was on the strong recommendation of their president, Derrick Hall, and owner, Ken Kendrick, that the Angels hired him for their full-time position. As much as the Angels hope that bright, young executive they hired can show the acumen they suspected, it might be too late. The rift is wide. The owner is sharpening the guillotine. The last of the phone calls may come soon enough.
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