Watching the Angels this season, I keep thinking, "Why does Mike Scioscia need this?"
This is his 14th season in Anaheim. His best teams had an aggressive, distinctive style. This one revolves largely around two free-agent sluggers whose worst years are ahead of them, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
The Angels no longer run. They no longer play crisp defense. They've got the worst farm system in the majors, according to Baseball America. And they're locked into Hamilton at $25 million per season through 2017 and Pujols at $24 million per season through '21.
I'm not ruling out that the Angels could rebound from their 11-19 start once their injured players get healthy. But even if that happens, what is the end game?
Other injuries are bound to occur. The team is boxed in on the trade market by its lack of young talent and owner Arte Moreno's desire to stay under the luxury-tax threshold. And in the best-case scenario, can anyone seriously envision the Angels' rotation carrying the club through three postseason series?
Scioscia takes pride in adapting to his talent, and he did that quite well in the final five months of last season, nearly leading to the Angels to the postseason after a start very similar to this one. He is deeply invested in the franchise, and would not want to leave with unfinished business. But even though he is signed through '18, a fresh start eventually might be best for all.
For the sake of discussion, let's assume the Angels miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season. The team's home attendance and local TV ratings likely would decline, maybe even sharply. And Scioscia would become the face of the team's failure, though many of the Angels' problems are not his fault.
General manager Jerry Dipoto's master plan this season was for a powerhouse offense and shutdown bullpen to mask the shortcomings of a modest rotation. Injuries, particularly in the bullpen, have rendered the plan unrecognizable. And unlike last season, there will be no Mike Trout and Zack Greinke to save the Angels - and not even those two, plus a red-hot Torii Hunter, could lift the club to the playoffs in 2012.
Remember how the Angels of old pressured opposing defenses with their base-running? These Angels are tied for ninth in the American League with 19 stolen-base attempts. They are in tied for 11th in going first-to-third, a category they led in four of the past six seasons. And they rank second in grounding into double plays.
Some of this falls on Scioscia, who dropped the speedy, electric Trout from the leadoff spot to the No. 2 spot after eight games. Some of it also is a reflection of Hamilton's season-long slump, plus injuries to shortstop Erick Aybar, third baseman Alberto Callaspo and now center fielder Peter Bourjos. Then again, the injuries only point out another of the Angels' flaws - their lack of a quality bench.
The defense is another problem. The Angels lead the AL with 21 errors and are tied for second with 21 stolen bases allowed. Right-hander Tommy Hanson was particularly helpless against the Orioles on Saturday, allowing three uncontested steals in five innings.
Again, the effect of the injuries cannot be dismissed - just as the absences rob the lineup of flow, they contribute to the lack of defensive consistency. On the other hand, the excuse only goes so far. The Yankees are surviving just fine with even more significant losses. For a Mike Scioscia team, the Angels too often look like they don't know how to play.
Of course, Scioscia didn't pick these players - Moreno was the driving force behind the Pujols and Hamilton signings, and Dipoto rebuilt the rotation, which actually has performed better of late. No baseball manager, in the parlance of Bill Parcells, "shops for the groceries." But Scioscia has lost influence under Dipoto, and former Angels such as David Eckstein and Darin Erstad seemed to be purer reflections of the manager than many members of the current club.
But want to know what is really scary?
For the Angels, in the foreseeable future, this might be as good as it gets.
It's bad enough that the Angels traded shortstop Jean Segura to Milwaukee for two months of Greinke last season. But at least Segura was stuck behind second baseman Howie Kendrick and shortstop Erick Aybar, both of whom recently signed long-term deals.
Worse, the Angels have parted with an entire rotation of the future in win-now trades. Left-handers Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin went to Arizona for righty Dan Haren and righty Johnny Hellweg to Milwaukee for Greinke. Righty Tyler Chatwood went to Colorado for catcher Chris Iannetta, and righty Donn Roach to San Diego for reliever Ernesto Frieri.
Ah, but at least the Angels can replenish through the draft, right? Not so fast. In September 2010, the team fired Eddie Bane, the scouting director who delivered Trout, outfielder Mark Trumbo and right-hander Jered Weaver, among others. And in the past two years, the Angels sacrificed first- and second-round picks for signing Pujols and lefty C.J. Wilson and another first rounder for signing Hamilton. The pickings are slim when your first choice is at No. 114, as it was for the Angels last year, and No. 59, as it will be this year.
Again, the question begs asking: Why does Scioscia need this? He is 54, the same age as Indians manager Terry Francona. When Francona left the Red Sox after eight seasons in 2011, he spoke of failing to reach his players and said, "It's time for a new voice." Scioscia might be too stubborn and proud to make a similar concession, and he also has a contract while Francona didn't. But if the Angels fail to recover, something will have to give.
Scioscia could take a year off like Francona, but that would require him to renounce his contract. Better Scioscia should sit down with Moreno with the two agreeing to part amicably through a John Farrell-type trade - only with a bigger return.
The Dodgers, Scioscia's former team, would be the most obvious possibility. Moreno would recoil at the idea, but if he could parlay Scioscia's reputation into a significant player or two, why not? The Angels could hire a new manager with new energy. And they would be better for it.
Fourteen years is a long time for a manager to stay in one place. Especially when everything is no longer the same.