According to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, there's some tension these days between Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia and general manager Jerry Dipoto.
That's certainly understandable, considering the Halos currently hold fourth place in the AL West. Regardless of what happened this year, you figured the Angels would finish ahead of the Seattle Mariners. (Of course, they still could. The Angels are only one game behind Seattle going into Tuesday's play.) But for the second consecutive season, this team is one of the biggest disappointments in MLB.
The latest example of Scioscia and Dipoto not speaking the same language occurred on Monday when the Angels optioned pitcher Tommy Hanson to Triple-A Salt Lake, as reported by MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez. The 26-year-old right-hander compiled a 5.59 ERA in 13 starts, posting the lowest strikeout rate (6.9 Ks per nine innings) of his five major league seasons. Hanson also allowed 10.5 hits per nine frames, the highest rate of his career.
Hanson's performance has to be particularly troubling for Dipoto, as he was one of the starting pitchers acquired to compensate for the loss of Zack Greinke to free agency. Making matters worse is that the Angels GM weakened his bullpen to get Hanson, trading reliever Jordan Walden to the Atlanta Braves in exchange.
Walden's been great for the Braves this season, posting a 2.50 ERA in 43 appearances while striking out 10.7 batters per nine innings. Scioscia would love an arm like that in his bullpen right now.
To be fair, the Angels thought they would have Ryan Madson pitching for them this year, which presumably made Walden expendable. But Madson was coming off Tommy John surgery performed before the 2012 season and just hasn't recovered as expected. Last week, Madson was released. Taking a chance on Madson with a one-year, $3.5 million contract was arguably worth the risk for Dipoto. But it obviously would've looked better had Madson been able to contribute this season.
Signing Madson was one of several reasons many analysts predicted the Angels to win a playoff spot this year. Of course, adding Josh Hamilton to an already formidable lineup was probably the primary reason. Albert Pujols would presumably perform better during his second year in the American League. And Mike Trout was coming off an AL Rookie of the Year (and near-MVP) season, ready to assert himself further as one of the brightest young stars in baseball.
But losing Greinke to the Los Angeles Dodgers was a huge blow, one Dipoto never managed to recover from. As hard as he worked to add arms to the Angels' rotation, an ace-level starter can't be replaced by a handful of lower-tier pitchers. Going into the season, the Halos just didn't have the starting staff to compete with the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers in the AL West. Replacing Greinke with Hanson, Joe Blanton and Jason Vargas just wasn't good enough.
Perhaps Vargas shouldn't be grouped with Hanson and Blanton. With a 6-4 record and 3.65 ERA, he's actually having a good season. Vargas isn't going to notch big numbers of strikeouts, but he can get opposing batters out effectively — especially in a home ballpark that's kinder to pitchers. (According to ESPN Park Factors, Angels Stadium is just below middle-of-the-pack when it comes to ballparks that favor hitters.)
Interestingly, clearing a spot for Vargas — who's recovered from a blood clot issue near his pitching arm — necessitated sending Hanson down to the minors. Blanton — with a 2-13 record and 5.53 ERA — probably seemed like another strong candidate to be shoved off the roster, since he's already been demoted to the bullpen. But he's inexplicably signed for a $7.5 million salary next season, while Hanson had minor league options remaining. Under those circumstances, sending Hanson down was the easier choice.
However, this is merely a short-term solution for a longer-term problem with the Angels. As mentioned, Blanton is signed for next season. Hanson has two more years of arbitration eligibility, keeping him under club control through 2015. Both of these pitchers figure to be in the Angels' rotation next year.
The Angels shouldn't give up on Hanson anyway. He's 26 years old and should be relatively inexpensive (at least compared to what a free-agent pitcher would cost) over the next two seasons. The back and arm injuries Hanson has suffered over the past two years should be a concern. That's certainly been a factor in his performance declining during the past three seasons.
But this lost season gives the Angels a chance to properly evaluate Hanson and get the most out of him in the future. Sending him to the minors allows him to keep throwing a starter's workload, keep his arm stretched out and build his strength back up after being sidelined for a significant portion of the year. (Teaching him to hold runners better, as he allowed five stolen bases last Wednesday versus the Rangers, would also be in the Angels' best interests.)
Hanson is only two years removed from a season in which he went 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA and struck out 9.8 batters per nine innings. He has one 200-inning season on his résumé and threw 175 innings last year. Despite his overall disappointment this season, he's held the opposition to three runs or fewer in seven of his 13 starts. (Five of those games came against AL playoff contenders.) Getting Hanson might eventually pay off well for Dipoto.
That is, if Dipoto is still around to see his trade yield some dividends. Next season will be the final year on his contract. If the Angels fall far below expectations yet again, while Dipoto and Scioscia continue to butt heads, it's not difficult to imagine owner Arte Moreno deciding to make some changes in his front office. Dipoto hasn't exactly built a strong case for himself during his two years in Anaheim, though he didn't make the call on signing Pujols and Hamilton.
Moreno could make a change in the dugout as well. Scioscia has been the Angels manager since 2000 and the team could very well need a new voice and new leadership after 14 seasons. But Scioscia is under contract through 2018, which seems to indicate that Moreno will stick with his manager for the long term. It's yet another questionable decision the owner has made.
For the Angels to turn this thing around, ownership, the front office and the manager all need to work in the same direction. (Players living up to expectations certainly wouldn't hurt either.) Different agendas and increasing dysfunction among the three has been a key reason for the Angels' downward spiral in recent years. Will we see more of the same next year?