What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
As a Los Angeles Angels fan who dates back to the days when they were still the California Angels and the “Big A” was surrounded by orange groves, I can finally say our long national nightmare is over. With the Angels having designated future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols for assignment a while back…after which he cleared waivers before the Dodgers decided to throw money down the hole which has been the end of his career…it’s clear we are finally entering the final pages of the Albert Pujols story.
No matter what those last few pages bring, the story is going to end with Pujols’ induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But for Angels’ fans, Pujols now headlines a Hall of Fame all our own…one of an exceptionally ignominious nature.
I’ve explored some of the worst personnel decisions this team has made in the past as part of a litany of why being a fan of this team will drive one to drink. But that list doesn’t touch some of the truly catastrophic free-agent signings the Angels have made. What it all boils down to is no matter what happens from here on out for the future Hall of Famer, Albert Pujols is the “leader in the clubhouse” for money the Angels have wasted.
The fact of the matter is that Albert Pujols’ production on the field was never worth the money the Angels paid him, and during that time he was a consistent example of the law of diminishing returns. The Cooperstown-worthy part of Pujols’ career came in St. Louis; as an Angel, he was rarely more than better-than-average. I’ll get into detail on that later…
But in order to understand how truly a titanic failure the Pujols era was for the Angels, we must first explore some of the truly questionable player personnel decisions this franchise has made in and around that time.
Colon’s time as an Angel is a tale of two halves. His first two seasons in Anaheim were among the best in his career, capped off with a 2005 campaign in which he went 21-8 and captured the American League Cy Young award. But the second half saw Colon win 7 games in only 28 total starts because he was often injured and always overweight.
The numbers don’t really tell the story in this case, as Wilson really was a reliever turned into a starter by the Angels. But he was part of the “Free-Agency Frenzy” in the off-season between 2011 and 2012; a spending spree which includes the $240 million Angels’ owner Arte Moreno dropped on the guy at the head of this list.
To be fair, this wasn’t a terrible deal; I completely understand taking a gamble to end up with a legitimate lefty starter. To be even more fair, a 3.87 ERA is completely respectable in the American League. The tightwad in me can even come to grips with the amount of money Moreno spent; after all, he was announcing there was new “big spender” in the league.
The problem was the gamble didn’t pay as much as anybody would have liked. Wilson never saw the end of the deal due to injury, and there’s still the fact the Angels bet “ace” money to get a “middle of the rotation” guy.
Here’s a case where the numbers above clearly don’t tell the story. When he broke in with the Minnesota Twins, Hunter was an elite defensive outfielder, and as one would expect with age, that declined over time. But the offensive numbers are skewed by the fact that early in his career, Hunter couldn’t hit water if you threw him off the end of Santa Monica Pier. On the other hand, his best seasons at the plate came with the Twins, which led to the expectations the Angels thought they were buying.
Here are the numbers that tell the true story:
Throughout his career, Trevor Cahill has been a guy who has bounced back and forth between the bullpen and the starting rotation. Don’t look now, but there was a time when Cahill notched 18 wins as a starter and had 5 seasons with 25 or more saves.
Here’s what the Angels didn’t look at…a calendar. All those hints of Cahill’s success came before 2013 which makes it even more curious the Angels decided to pay him in 2019.
On the other hand, Matt Harvey was a clear case of trying to catch time in a bottle. Remember when Matt Harvey was with the New York Mets, and he was such a dominating starter he was dubbed “The Dark Knight?” That’s what the Angels saw, but again they didn’t see the calendar. Harvey’s run of three consecutive season with a sub-3.00 ERA ended in 2015, but the Halos’ desperate hunt for arms was in full throat by 2019. That explains how he and Cahill combined in 2019 to burn through $20 million of Arte Moreno’s money.
Before the Red Sox finally won a World Series in 2004, there was this legend used to explain the 86-year championship drought. What a lot of people don’t know is there was a connection between the Angels and the Red Sox during that folklore known as the Curse of the Bambino.
The example of this “Curse” that most people point out is the infamous Bill Buckner error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. But what most people forget is Boston did some “cursing” of their own in the 1986 American League Championship Series against…you guessed it…the Angels.
With the Halos one strike away from their first World Series appearance, Boston outfielder Dave Henderson slugged a two-run homer run off closer Donnie Moore which changed the entire series. The BoSox went on to win that game in 11 innings…as well as the next two to take the American League pennant.
Angels’ manager Gene Mauch was widely criticized for leaving Moore in the game to pitch to Henderson. But Moore took it way beyond the diamond; he sank into depression with a truly tragic ending.
“Ever since he gave up the home run to Dave Henderson he was never himself again. He blamed himself for the Angels not going to the World Series. He constantly talked about the Henderson home run. It was that important to him that the Angels make it to the World Series. He couldn’t get over it. I tried to get him to go to a psychiatrist, but he said, ‘I don’t need it, I’ll get over it.’ Even when he was told that one pitch doesn’t make a season, he couldn’t get over it. That home run killed him.”~ Dave Pinter, Donnie Moore’s agent, as told to the Los Angeles Times
Moore’s career went on a slow descent until the Angels couldn’t keep him on the roster; they released him near the end of the 1988 season. Things only deteriorated until the hit rock bottom on July 18, 1989, when Moore was triggered by an argument with his wife, after which he attempted to murder her then killed himself.
So, what does that have to do with Mo Vaughn? For Angels fans, Dave Henderson and Mo Vaughn are forever linked as the dual curses from Boston
In Vaughn’s case it’s all about wasted potential. After signing with the Angels in 1999, on opening day while tracking down a popped-up foul ball, he fell into the visiting dugout, sustaining a bone bruise and ligament injuries that kept him out of the lineup for more than two weeks. While he recovered from that, and even though he had two pretty damn good seasons in Anaheim, this marked the beginning of Vaughn’s slow descent.
While his production dropped, his weight ballooned, which left the Halos with no choice but to cut their losses and deal the bloated, oft-injured, and soon-to-be former slugger in 2001. Vaughn was out of baseball less than two years later.
If you’re a “glass half-full” type, then you know that the son of “Sarge” Matthews arguably played his best baseball as an Angel. The “glass half-empty” guys know the truth; the entire glass was made of mediocrity. Even at his peak, Gary Matthews, Jr. was nowhere near worthy of what he got paid. During his time in Anaheim, Matthews drove in 169 runs and scored 185. In other words, under the terms of his contract, Matthews was paid $141,242.93 for each run he accounted for. At the time, this was roughly one-third the major league minimum salary for a player for the entire season.
In short, that makes this the worst signing on this list; the silver lining is it only cost $50 million.
The Halos fell for “the banana in the tailpipe” when Matthews, Jr. hit the free-agent market after a 2005 season with the Texas Rangers in which he posted a.313 batting average, 19 home runs, 79 runs batted in, and 10 stolen bases. The Angels pushed $50 million to the middle of the table betting that season wasn’t a fluke for the 32-year old outfielder, even though he had never done anything even remotely close to that in the past.
There was promise at first; in 2006 Matthews, Jr. went .252/18 HR/72 RBI, but by 2007 his production hurtled off a cliff. By 2010, the Angels had seen enough. They pawned him off on the Mets, where he lasted exactly 36 games before he was released. Matthews, Jr’s. time in baseball ended at Triple-A in the Cincinnati Reds’ organization, where he was still pulling in $10.9 million in guaranteed money from the Angels.
In 2013, the Angels were desperate for starting pitching to accompany established ace Jered Weaver and the recently-acquired and aforementioned C.J. Wilson. For reasons we may never know, the Angels signed the solidly mediocre Blanton thinking he was going to become a dependable “middle-of-the-rotation” guy. Instead he set career-worst numbers and pitched so poorly he never made it out of spring training the following year.
To be fair, the Angels didn’t sign Wells to that deal. The Blue Jays did that after a 2006 season saw Wells club 32 dingers drive in 107. The five years prior to that, Wells averaged 27 homers and 97 RBI. The problem was Wells never came near those numbers ever again and after five years of diminishing returns, the Blue Jays were looking to cut their losses. Luckily for them, along came the Angels’ front office like the rubes at the county fair who can’t stay away from the ring toss game.
Thinking Wells was the irresistible giant Teddy Bear, they laid their money down to take on the last two years of that contract; trading away OF Juan Rivera (who was worth 2r HR and 92 RBI per 162 games) and C/DH Mike Napoli (who averaged 25 HR and 70 RBI in ~400 ABs after the Angels dealt him) to do so. To make matters worse, two years later they traded him to the Yankees for a pair of minor-leaguers nobody ever heard of…and had to pay most of Wells’ remaining salary.
Josh Hamilton is the classic “what might have been” story. Selected with the 1st overall pick by the Tampa Rays in 1999, the combination of injuries and a developing drug addiction turned the “can’t miss” prospect into a mess who languished in the minors, bouncing between organizations.
In 2007, the Cincinnati Reds gave the leftie slugger a shot, and he responded with 19 home runs and 47 runs batted in in less than 300 at-bats. That was good enough for the Reds to use him as “bait” in a trade with the Texas Rangers to get the pitching they needed more than they needed a big bat.
In the next five seasons between 2008 and 2012, the baseball world revolved around Josh Hamilton. In 2008, he led the American League with 130 RBIs. In 2010, he took home the American League MVP trophy by going .359/32 HR/100 RBI. In his contract year of 2012, Hamilton had tongues wagging in front offices across the majors by slugging 43 dingers and driving in 128 runs.
You can hardly blame the Angels for opening up their wallet on this one. Everybody else wanted this guy, and everybody else ignored the warning signs that Hamilton’s addiction issues were about to make a comeback.
All the sexy “slash line” numbers were certainly trending in the right direction, and the Angels had the cash. But they still came up “snake eyes” on the bet on Hamilton. Almost overnight, Hamilton’s production went off the Gary Matthews, Jr. Memorial Cliff in his first year in Anaheim; dropping by half in exactly the same number of plate appearances.
Boil it all down and what you get is the Angels dropping $125 million in 2013 for what was supposed to be 5 years, but Hamilton’s addiction issues got in the way, forcing outright release in 2014 after a total of 240 games in Anaheim. He attempted a comeback in 2015, but after a 50-game stint with the Texas Rangers, Hamilton was out of baseball for good.
It was a matter of time. Eventually, the Albert Pujols era had to come to an end. The bottom line was the Albert Pujols who is just waiting for his induction at Cooperstown and the guy who started this season wearing an Angels’ uniform were no longer the same guy. In fact, the argument can be made that the part of his career which is going to get Pujols into the Hall of Fame happened in St. Louis. The numbers above only begin to tell that tale.
On just his numbers as a Cardinal, a .328 career batting average would have put him in between guys like Stan Musial (.330) and Rod Carew (.327). 455 dingers would land him right around Dave Winfield (465) and Carl Yastrzemski (452). 1,321 RBIs is just shy of Orlando Cepeda and more than Roberto Clemente by nearly 50.
In other words, somebody is going to put a statue of this guy in front their ballpark, and that’s not going to be in Anaheim. If it were, there’s better be a giant pile of flaming cash in front of that monument, because statistically speaking, the Angels spent $240 million+ on another 2000s Rookie of the Year, Jason Bay.
Well, there’s one major exception to that comparison. When the Halos sunk almost a quarter-billion over ten seasons into him, Pujols was pretty far from his rookie season. To this day, I don’t understand giving a guy who was at least 30 years old a long-term deal…with guaranteed money. The “at least” part of the previous sentence is really the key here.
With the 20th anniversary of 9/11 right around the corner, does anybody remember the post-attack tightening of scrutiny on the documentation for work visas for foreign nationals? Do you remember what this did to baseball, when we found out that a lot of players from Latin/Carribean nations had birth certificates which were of questionable accuracy?
In this case, the problem is that nobody really knows how old Pujols really is. Thanks to record-keeping standards which are less than stringent, it was established that birth certificates from the Dominican Republic could be off by anywhere up to five years. In other words, it was bad enough going $240 million strong over ten years for a guy who was already 30 wasn’t smart; it only gets worse if you had reason to believe he might even be older than that.
It all comes down to this. Ever since Arte Moreno bought the Angels, they have easily led the league in money wasted on bad personnel decisions.
At least they have the money to burn.