Pitching? We don't need no stinking pitching! The Angels have leadership and chemistry now.
Well, they are ate least trying to have it based on the recent machinations from Jerry Dipoto. While the rest of us have spent the last two weeks wringing our hands over which free agent leftover Jerry is going to pick up to fill out the rotation, he's been erstwhile occupied scooping up veterans on minor league contracts. While nobody could blame Dipoto for trying to build bench depth, it has become apparent that depth is just a happy side effect. What Dipoto appears to be targeting instead is clubhouse chemistry.
Yep, the dreaded "C"-word. No, the not that "C"-word. I probably should've thought that through better. What I'm talking about is the mythical concept of chemistry on a sports team, the non-quantitative unicorn of managers and front office executives who are running out of ideas for getting more out of their roster without, you know, actually changing the roster.
For all his sabermetric leanings, it seems that Dipoto has reached a stage where he is desperate enough to try just about anything. That became apparent in the slew of non-roster invite signings he has made in the last week.
First there was John McDonald. At first it seemed he was added to provide competition for Andrew Romine as a defensive-minded infielder on the bench. The fact that he was one of many clubhouse leaders in Boston last year didn't hurt nor did all the other stops in his long career where his leadership skills were one of the reasons he was acquired, including a stop in chemistry-obsessed Arizona in 2012.
Then the Halos added Carlos Pena, a curious signing since he was left-handed and thus not an ideal complement to Raul Ibanez at DH. OK, fine, maybe they just want him as insurance at first base in case Pujols' feet and knees can't handle everyday fielding. But Pena is also a guy who has bumped around the league the last few years despite declining numbers because he is such a good clubhouse guy. That's why he spent much of 2013 serving as a stopgap first baseman and part-time mentor in Houston. A pattern is starting to develop.
That pattern became clear as day when they inked Chad Tracy to an NRI contract yesterday despite the fact that he is also left-handed and can't play a defensive position of need. What Tracy does do is serve as a quality guy to have on the bench, but not just because he is a solid pinch-hitter. Tracy was a founding member of the Nationals' Goon Squad, a pretty blatant attempt the 2012 Nats made to rip off the "Idiots" dynamic that drove the 2004 Boston Red Sox team.
Even though only one or two of these players is actually going to make the Opening Day roster, it is now evident that Dipoto feels a need to inject some new leadership into the clubhouse. Really, we should have seen this coming because the pattern actually started earlier, back when the Halos jumped on Raul Ibanez in the aftermath of the Trumbo trade. As you might know, Ibanez has a sterling reputation for being a great clubhouse presence for both his demeanor and his strong work ethic. Even David Freese had a budding reputation as a veteran leader in the Cardinals dugout last year.
Unless this is all one big coincidence, addressing clubhouse chemistry has been part of the master plan all along. Even if you are like me and doubt that chemistry is a real thing with actual significant positive benefits, you can't blame Dipoto for this new tactic. Over the last few years, there have been slowly strengthening rumors that there are leadership issues in the Angels clubhouse. That came to something of a head last year when a report surfaced that there was a rift in the clubhouse between the Albert Pujols-led veterans and the Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo-lead youngsters on the roster. A generational divide had formed and that was somehow at least partially responsible for the Angels' struggles, or so the narrative goes.
It certainly seems convenient that these rumors all started around the time the Angels stopped going to the post-season, but after four playoff-less seasons, it certainly can't hurt to address the issue, if there even really is one. Of course, by trying to address the issue, the Halos are implicitly admitting that the issue is real and big enough to merit addressing. In that case, let's hope these signings work out the way Dipoto hopes because the Angels need all the small advantages they can get.