Like any Angel fan, I've continued to monitor their free agency decisions and subsequent performances for the past two seasons since Jerry Dipoto was hired. I'm beginning to recognize a pattern that likely reflects the approach Dipoto has taken toward putting his own personal touch on the Angels system. To the untrained eye, it appears as though the Angels have a bloated payroll full of under performers and an empty minor league system that is offering little or no support to a struggling Major League roster. I'm not here to give a rosy red assessment of the state of the organization. Those statements are relatively true. But ask yourself this question, why does the club look like it currently does and why does the minor league system look barren? Wasn't Dipoto supposed to be a smarter, more innovative "new school" type of General Manager?
The best way I can explain the Dipoto regime and his moves is that this man has his eye on the future. He's more of a long term architect than GM who is looking for answers in the short term. The signing of C.J. Wilson, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton strikes me as the sort of moves designed to stabilize a team in the short term while Dipoto essentially builds an organization from the ground up. I believe that Dipoto's design was simply meant to add to current Angels roster immediately before disappearing from the free agent scene for a few years while the organization retools itself. If you're looking for proof that Dipoto is making strategic calculations and not just desperately taking shots in the dark, consider the other moves he's made.
In essence, Dipoto inherited a burning house when he signed on to be the Angels GM. The frame of the house was still intact but most of the interior had already perished in the flames. The Angels were a decent team, but little did most people know that because of faulty management, this organization was headed for certain collapse unless something was done. The Angels lost their Latin American presence due to scandal, had a plethora of tremendous "misses" despite multiple 1st round picks and had a team talented enough to compete, but never truly challenge for a crown. If Dipoto had done nothing, the Angels would have been a decent squad fore two more years until free agency took Aybar, Kendrick, Morales, Weaver etc. Payroll would've expanded but the team itself would've rot from the inside out.
So what did Dipoto do? He bought a few support beams to make this house structurally sound and began to work on rebuilding the interior. Those support beams are now Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson, and though virtue of luck, he inherited Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo. Admittedly, Wilson, Hamilton and to an extent, Pujols have struggled mightily in their attempt to provide stability to the Major League squad. Still, the logic behind the moves is the same.
However, the interior is a different story. There was no salvaging the burnt couches and dining table. Dipoto needed to start from scratch with this portion of his project. The first thing Dipoto did was hire a team of front office workers that could assess what the Angels had in the minor leagues and indicate what was worth keeping and what was worth holding onto. This took approximately one year. They parted ways with Donn Roach, Alexi Amarista, Tyler Chatwood, John Hellweg, Ariel Pena and Jean Segura all in one year. That's a lot of prospects to lose and that's what makes the interior of this proverbial house look so empty.
However, you didn't think Dipoto would gut the interior of the house without the intention of rebuilding it did you?
The first thing Jerry needed to do was re-establish a Latin American presence. The Angels missed out on this gold mine of ball players for two or three years because of their lack of scouting, infrastructure and communication down there. I'm sure you've heard recently that the Angels hired a new scouting director for that area and have committed to building an entirely new, state of the art complex down there to house potential future major leaguers. In the mean time they've gone about aggressively promoting and signing Latin American prospects. Previously stagnated prospects have been sent stateside by the Dipoto regime to see their worth, thus system has been infused by the likes of Pedro Toribio, Daniel Hurtado and Gabriel Perez. Meanwhile, the Angels have inked highly regarded prospects (and promoted them) SS Jose Rondon and Arjenis Fernandez.
Next, the Angels have taken their first steps toward reloading their interior by adopting a different draft policy. Under scouting director Eddie Bane, the Angels tended to draft a lot of high risk, high reward high school prospects. This resulted in a couple of home runs like Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo but also resulted in countless whiffs, the likes of which you've never heard of because they simply couldn't make the adjustments. The year before Dipoto was hired, the Angels promoted Ric Wilson to be the scouting director. Wilson was kept in place because he tended to favor many of the same prospects Dipoto did. This new drafting policy has taken root in the Angels system and in a few years, Dipoto fully intends to use them to stock the system. It seems likely that the approach of trading away prospects is finished. Still, the Angels system is currently stocked from Ric Wilson signees. C.J. Cron, Nick Maronde, Michael Roth, Austin Wood, R.J. Alvarez, Alex Yarbrough, Eric Stamets, Mark Sappington, Reid Scoggins and Mike Morin are a few of the mor prominent prospects Wilson has brought into the fold. The majority of these prospects are collegiate athletes that may lack the ceiling but possess more "finish" than their high school counterparts.
To sum it up, Dipoto's convinced Arte Moreno to spend big in free agency in the short term, yet was creative enough in his negotiating to keep the Angels payroll well under 150 million. This policy seems likely to fade over the next few seasons as contracts will inevitably become more expensive and the Angels will need to focus on keeping their younger players (Trout, Trumbo, Bourjos, Richards) away from free agency. This is done to keep the Angels competitive in the short term. The policy of trading away prospects for rentals also seems as though it's likely met it's conclusion. Now that Dipoto has the minor league personnel and prospects in place, I believe he intends to preserve the Angels system in much the same manner that former GM Bill Stoneman did. In essence, I'm saying that because Dipoto is trying to keep the major league squad competitive while building from scratch a minor league system, he's gone about RELOADING this organization, and not REBUILDING. The difference is subtle, yet considerable.