The Angels have a problem. OK, they have a lot of problems but this problem is a new and potentially fatal one. Like so many of their other issues, this is one they brought upon themselves.
Many were glad to see that cooler heads prevailed when Arte Moreno opted to fire neither Mike Scioscia nor Jerry Dipoto. For the sake of stability and letting a front office implement a long-term strategy, this was a positive. Alas, it was also a misstep because while Dipoto did not get relieved of duty, he also did not have his 2015 contract option picked up. What that means is the second that the off-season officially begins, Jerry Dipoto starts fighting for his job.
This is how mistakes happen. This is how teams make short-sighted moves that wind up crippling the franchise for years to come. This is how the Angels become the west coast version of the Mets.
They've already been doing a fine job of making mistakes, short-sighted moves and regrettable decisions while Dipoto still had a sense of job security, so what are they opening themselves up to now?
I can't help but think of what just happened with the Mariners this last season when Jack Zduriencik was fighting to save his job. After years of slowly rebuilding the M's around young talent with a focus on pitching and defense, Jack Z. made a radical change to his philosophy. Pitching was moved down the priority list and defense was all but thrown out the window in favor of providing short-term boosts to the offense which had been quite awful the last few years. This is how Seattle traded multiple years worth of John Jason for one year of injury-prone Mike Morse. It was a bad investment in a lesser player, but that player hit dingers! Jack Z. felt he needed more dingers to save his job, so he got those dingers, even if it took a bad trade. That's why he also signed the mummified remains of Raul Ibanez and actually let him patrol the spacious outfield of Safeco Field. That's why they traded Jason Vargas, a pitcher tailor-made for Safeco, for Kendrys Morales and his bionic leg and let Morales play a fair amount of first base.
Predictably, the Mariners didn't get any better. They were still a bad offense, but not embarrassingly bad. But they were also a terrible defensive team that, wouldn't you know, ended up needing more pitching. It was good enough to get Zduriencik another year at the helm, but with a team that seems no closer to breaking out of rebuilding mode, only now they have fewer assets to work with.
How does this apply to Dipoto? Because he has also tried to build this team under a specific philosophy. He has tried, and oft been undermined by Moreno, to build a high-end offense that controls the count and slugs the ball. He has made a clear decision that he will not spend big money on relievers. He's already talked at length, by his tight-lipped standards, about finding young, talented pitchers to inject some life into the rotation. But will that all still apply this off-season when Dipoto has been given a tacit win-or-else mandate?
Jerry could double-down on his commitment to building that elite offense by trying to talk Arte Moreno into throwing stupid money at Robinson Cano. Sure, it will damn the long-term financial flexibility of the team, possibly even hindering them from keeping Mike Trout beyond his arbitration years, but it will fix some of the issues in the 2014 offense, which is all he cares about now.
Dipoto might also fear once again getting burned by his attempts to build a bullpen around cheap, fungible power arms and give a lucrative three- or four-year deal to Joe Nathan, despite Nathan being 39 years old with a history of arm problems. That could easily prove to be another regrettable contract that the Angels will have to swallow, but at least Jerry can point to it at the end of 2014 as a sign that he really, really tried to improve bullpen. Worse yet, Dipoto could go the other to prove he is a man of principle and instead of throwing big money at a pitcher, he could make short-sighted trade of some quality prospect for a middling reliever who happen to bare the "proven closer" tag. I can almost see the Kaleb Cowart for Chris Perez trade happening now.
The biggest risk though is Dipoto's commitment to landing young starting pitching. He has hung his reputation on making that happen for the 2014 club. Might that lead to him trading Howie Kendrick for 80 cents on the dollar just to make sure he doesn't get caught holding the bag? Or will he throw in some of the precious few prospects the Angels have to sweeten the pot?
Lord only knows what kind of crazy moves Jerry might make if his search for young pitching comes up empty. At that point we might as well kiss the 2014 first round pick goodbye so he can burn it in favor of signing someone like Ervin Santana to cover his ass.
Hopefully this all just proves to be fear of an unlikely doomsday scenario. I'd like to think that Dipoto has the wherewithal to stick to his philosophical guns on fixing this team even if it means he goes out Butch and Sundance-style this time next year instead of allowing Moreno to work his puppet strings even more than he already does or kowtowing to Mike Scioscia in order to not be seen as the one creating that much rumored tension.