They are two trains running, 15 games apart. One signed Josh Hamilton, got the payroll close enough to the luxury tax so that their pitching became an afterthought. The other let Hamilton walk, and when it came time to address pitching, they had the prospects to add the best pitcher on the market, Matt Garza, and turn to a 21-year old lefthander out of their farm system.
And after the Angels lost to Hiroki Kuroda Monday night, they sat 9-18 in their last 27 games. As the Rangers watched Yu Darvish blow away the Astros, they prepared to return home Tuesday winners of 13 of 14 knowing that the next time they meet a team above .500 will be Sept. 2 and the Oakland Athletics.
In all likelihood, this will be the fourth straight October that the Rangers have been in the post-season. They replaced Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch, who had a combined 5.63 earned run average, with Garza and Martin Perez, and when they had to replace Nelson Cruz, they had his $3M savings and a skilled minor league infielder named Leury Garcia to give the White Sox for him. When they decided to try to outbid the Athletics for Garza, they could afford to deal third baseman Mike Olt and had a top pitching prospect in C.J. Edwards they could deal, looking at Edwards as what Jon Daniels calls “a gift from our scouting department” because he was a 48th round pick. And if one starts thinking that they are unloading tomorrow for today, Jurickson Profar is 20, Leonys Martin is 25, Elvis Andrus is 23 and Perez is just now breaking out in the rotation behind Darvish, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando while they wait to see if and when Matt Harrison returns to the rotation and Neftali Feliz to the bullpen.
The Rangers are, in many ways, the model the Angels look at and realize how it has all gone wrong. Arte Moreno made the big off-season splashes, signing Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in their thirties and CJ Wilson, but look now and realize where they are and where they can go. Oh, maybe Garrett Richards is going to turn out all right. He has the arm. But looking down the line? Jered Weaver is really good, but he is 30. Joe Blanton is 32. Wilson is 32. Jason Vargas is 30. Tommy Hanson is back in the minor leagues. Jerome Williams is 31.
Now look at what they have with top-heavy, backloaded Pujols and Hamilton deals. In 2014, they have $80M committed to Hamilton, Pujols, Weaver and Wilson, $110M if you throw in Howie Kendrick, Blanton, Erick Aybar and Chris Iannetta. In 2015, when Hamilton and Pujols will take home $55M, they have $83M committed to The Big Four. Oh yes. And there are some dudes named Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo standing in the arbitration line.
With no first round draft picks and the farm system cabinets barren, how will they get young arms? They have to trade the tradeable chips, if Moreno is willing to move Kendrick, Trumbo or Aybar.
There was a time not long ago that with Eddie Bane as scouting director, they appeared loaded with young pitching, even deeper had upper management not pulled the plug on Bane signing Matt Harvey for somewhere in the vicinity of $1.8M. In 2010, going for it, they packaged Joe Saunders to Arizona with a couple of Bane draft picks named Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs; ironically, it was current Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, who was making the deal for the ‘Backs along with Peter Woodfork, in the wake of Josh Byrnes’ firing. They traded Tyler Chatwood for Iannetta, Alex Torres in the Scott Kazmir trade. Tragically, Nick Adenhart was killed in an automobile accident.
Now they look around and the Rangers are building and rebuilding around their scouting, development and farm system. Seattle may be on the verge of having a staff of bigtime arms. Billy Beane is constantly redesigning the Athletics and keeping them in contention.
It is clear that Mike Scioscia isn’t comfortable with what he calls the Angels’ “Batters Box Offense.” Maybe he and Dipoto do conflict on some issues.
But what has happened is that in the war for Southern California media dollars, the Angels fell prey to the siren song of the big name free agents. They won two consecutive Januaries, but they are losing the on-field wars of July and August, and without Corbin and Skaggs and young pitching, they can go two ways: spend $13-18M an arm on the free agent market, or try to get the Blantons and Greens and Vargases off the rack.
If they are willing to spend like the Dodgers, they can restore themselves into contention. But that isn’t going to happen, not as long as there’s a luxury tax threshold, just as they’re not going to get out of those Pujols and Hamilton contracts.
Maybe they can and would deal Trumbo for a big arm, or two. Ditto Kendrick, or Bourjos. But, for now, they are not on parallel tracks with the Rangers or the Athletics or even the Mariners, and it’s going to take a lot more than a new GPS system to get them back where they were, and believe they belong.