Team could use some good news after recent headlines in the Skaggs investigation
In pure baseball terms, Joe Maddon’s return is an offseason win for the Angels.
They still desperately need starting pitching, but they again have a man in the manager’s office with gravitas. Even better, they have one who spent 31 years in their organization and has a pretty good grasp of how the Angel Way brought Anaheim that long-awaited World Series title in 2002 and sustained success throughout the rest of that decade.
But landing Maddon, as the Angels did Wednesday with a three-year deal, is even more significant given the breaking news of the past weekend.
The recent revelations surrounding – and elaborating on – the death of Tyler Skaggs, and the role of opioids in that tragedy, have put another black cloud over this franchise. DEA agents are interviewing players, criminal charges are a distant possibility and civil lawsuits are more likely, and … well, does Joe really know what he’s now stepping into?
(We might get a hint next week, when the club formally introduces Maddon at a news conference.)
Even beyond those details, this could be a challenge greater than any Maddon has faced since becoming a manager in 2006. When he left Mike Scioscia’s coaching staff to take over the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays, his task was to help transform a franchise and a mentality. When he joined the Cubs in 2015, there was not only a World Series drought but an expectation of failure that permeated the organization.
In both cases, though, he was joining clubs that were transitioning upward, the Rays making themselves over with new ownership (Stuart Sternberg) and front office leadership (Andrew Friedman) and the Cubs bringing in Theo Epstein from Boston to revamp their organization and reverse another curse.
The Angels’ general manager, Billy Eppler, is in the last year of his contract and is taking a second whack at hiring a manager after promoting Brad Ausmus a year ago.
(Last time, the candidates for the manager’s job took a written test as part of the process. Somehow, I have trouble imagining that this year’s process involved Maddon, a three-time Manager of the Year, picking up a No. 2 pencil and putting it to paper.)
Bottom line: There is a very good chance that the manager might outlast the general manager in this case, barring some significant moves this winter. You have a team with baseball’s best player, Mike Trout, and arguably the game’s best prospect, Jo Adell. But, to borrow a phrase from Angels history, bringing in two 8-7 pitchers isn’t going to get it done.
(Gerrit Cole, the former Orange Lutheran High and UCLA standout and a free agent to be, might. He’d at least be a great start. Just sayin’.)
Maddon, at least, should understand the need to return to the Angel Way. He was a minor league catcher for four seasons and performed a variety of roles in the organization – scout, minor league manager, roving instructor, player development director – before joining Marcel Lachemann’s big-league staff in 1994. He was a bullpen coach, then first base coach, then bench coach, and ultimately interim manager twice (1996, when John McNamara was hospitalized with a blood clot, and ’99 after Terry Collins stepped down).
We talked in 2005, the second of the team’s five AL West championship seasons that decade, about how those Angels had eventually developed a coherent organizational philosophy.
“Between 1984 and ’94-95, I think we put more players in the big leagues than any organization,” Maddon said.
“The only problem we had was the constant changing of philosophy. Every couple of years I’d have to go back and tell the players that we’re going to do it differently now, because this way is right and the way we’d been doing it was wrong. I never liked the constant changing of ideas.”
Scioscia, schooled in the Dodgers’ organization with its firm organizational blueprint, assumed the manager’s job in 2000 and brought those ideas with him, and things changed quickly. That says that a manager can influence the tone and the direction of an entire organization.
Maddon might be one of the few men who could do so in today’s baseball.
More often, teams hire managers who will work for less (often around $1 million a year at entry level) and are satisfied with implementing the front office’s vision.
Maddon embraces analytics and creativity, but he’s also a strong personality in the dugout. And he’s not working cheap; he was making $6 million a year in Chicago and will reportedly make $4 million per year on his three-year deal to return to Orange County.
He’s worth it for a franchise that needs every scrap of good news it can get. Especially now.
@Jim_Alexander on Twitter