Thursday, August 29, 2013
Moreno must choose: Scioscia or Dipoto
By Buster Olney
Arte Moreno is stuck in the middle between Mike Scioscia and Jerry Dipoto.
The first question asked by some of those interested in the job of Angels' general manager was this: How much power and influence does Mike Scioscia have?
Because the answer to that question pretty much defines the parameters of the GM job for the Angels. To this day.
And it's a question that Angels owner Arte Moreno must answer, for himself, in building an effective chain of command for his organization.
Scioscia is the longest-tenured manager in the big leagues, with 14 seasons at the helm of the Angels. He led them to the World Series title in 2002, and slowly, through his overall body of work in baseball, he is building a case as a Hall of Fame candidate, as Joe Torre did.
Scioscia is signed through 2018, and in the time that Tony Reagins was the general manager of the team, the perception was that Scioscia was the most powerful manager in baseball. The belief among officials with other teams is that Scioscia not only managed the lineup and the pitching staff and the game strategy on a day-to-day basis, but also had a lot of influence in the decisions about big league personnel and minor league player development.
If there was an Angels way in the organization, a policy for how players are taught, that started with Scioscia, in the eyes of others in the organization.
So when Moreno fired Reagins two years ago, some of the officials who explored the job called around to ask that burning question: How much power and influence does Scioscia have?
Because if Scioscia has a major voice in the oversight of the minor leagues, in player development, well, then the job of Angels GM, in its practical power, is something much less than the role Andrew Friedman has with the Rays or Frank Wren has with the Braves.
During the GM search, Moreno seemed to be aware of the concern about Scioscia's power, because the manager had only a minor role in the interview process and assured others that he wasn't trying to dictate decisions and policy beyond the clubhouse and the dugout.
Jerry Dipoto took the GM job with the Angels and made changes in the team's scouting and in player development. When the team started slowly in 2012, he and Scioscia clashed over the firing of hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, a longtime teammate and close friend of Scioscia, as Scioscia has acknowledged.
It's not as if the tension has led to fistfights, and to be clear, every organization has differences of opinion between the GM and the manager -- and in fact, those discussions and debates can be a strength, a part of the team's process, if the competing parties are open to change.
But with the Angels, Scioscia and Dipoto don't appear to be pulling in the same direction, and the same question seems to linger: How much power and influence does Mike Scioscia have?
Moreno's answer and his forceful application of his vision will determine the chain of command.
If he believes in Scioscia's vision, then he needs to make that clear. He needs to say out loud, to everyone in the organization, that Scioscia's view will prevail over all others -- that Scioscia will have a dominant voice in the shaping of the major league roster and the minor league policy. He needs to tell that to Dipoto, who then must decide if those are acceptable working conditions.
If Moreno believes in Dipoto, a former player with a long scouting background whose vision includes reliance on statistical analysis, then he needs to make that clear to everyone, particularly Scioscia.
If Moreno wants the GM to have full and necessary influence to do his job, then Scioscia needs to stay in his corner and support the decisions, whether he disagrees or not. Scioscia has been around so long in the organization that if he has lingering unhappiness with Dipoto's choices, everybody knows it, and that in itself becomes destructive.
Scioscia must pull in the same direction as the general manager, or the GM must follow Scioscia. It has to be one way or the other.
If Moreno makes it clear that Dipoto is in charge, then Scioscia will have a decision to make about whether he needs to broker a way out of the Angels' organization this fall, when jobs could be available in his hometown of Philadelphia, and perhaps with the Dodgers, if Don Mattingly isn't retained.
Moreno also must make his peace with the notion that he needs to defer to the recommendations of either Scioscia or his GM, because it's been demonstrated the last two years that when Moreno steps in -- first to sign Albert Pujols, then to sign Josh Hamilton -- it's a problem. The contracts were too long, too expensive, and damaged the rest of the organization, especially an already-depleted farm system.
Moreno's management of the team has been much like that of former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who fostered a fluid chain of command depending on who he was mad at on a given day. As rival executives sometimes joked, you didn't know if the most influential person in the Yankees organization on a given day was Steinbrenner's GM, his manager or his bodyguard.
Steinbrenner's method of operation led to enormous dysfunction, and near the end of the 2005 season, the contract of Yankees GM Brian Cashman was set to expire and Cashman assumed he was on the way out. He presented to Steinbrenner, in what Cashman thought was his exit interview, an unvarnished vision of what he thought the Yankees needed: a well-defined chain of command. Scouts answer to the scouting directors, players answer to coaches, who answer to the manager, with all the information funneling through one trusted person who could make recommendations to Steinbrenner, and then Steinbrenner would make the final decisions.
Cashman told Steinbrenner that the Red Sox were doing things the Yankees weren't doing by operating that way, as was Tampa Bay, and the Yankees were falling behind. You can't function properly if the manager and the scouting directors and the assistant general managers have varying degrees of direct influence on the owner or other parts of the organization.
The same words could be presented to Moreno today. The Angels have fallen behind the Rangers and A's, who are doing things that the Angels are not through a well-defined chain of command.
After Cashman hung up the phone, Steinbrenner called him back and told him he wanted Cashman to implement the organization he had defined. With that, the Yankees joined the 21st century.
Moreno needs to make the same choice, and it all starts with his answer to the big question: How much power and influence does Mike Scioscia have?
If Moreno wants Scioscia to be The Guy, Scioscia needs to have all the weapons and influence at his disposal. The GM needs to answer to him.
If Moreno wants his GM to be The Guy, the GM should have all the weapons and influence at his disposal, and Scioscia needs to defer to the GM.
The Angels cannot function properly any other way.
• The other Dodgers smile warily when laughing about how Yasiel Puig pursues fly balls without regard for his teammates, and they have to loudly scream for the ball to call him off, or get the heck out of the way for fear of being run over.
But Puig's style of fly-chasing is pretty close to how he carries himself on and off the field: He has been doing whatever he wants without regard to anybody else, and as he continues to do the same stuff over and over, Puig's recklessness is becoming a growing problem for the Dodgers.
There's a great side to Puig, of course. He's hitting .346, with 13 homers, and he has a high-impact throwing arm plus range and speed.
But Puig continues to break rule after rule after rule, written and unwritten, whether it's the time he shows up at the park, or where he needs to throw the ball, or paying attention to the base coaches, or how he interacts with umpires.
This leaves Don Mattingly in a tough spot as manager, because he is asking others to follow the same rules and almost all of them do -- and when Puig doesn't, repeatedly, then Mattingly needs to act. As he did Wednesday, in benching the outfielder in the middle of the game.
The Dodgers won again, this time behind the work of Ricky Nolasco. From ESPN Stats & Information, how Nolasco won:
A. Nolasco threw 37 percent sliders, his highest percentage in more than two years. After throwing 24 percent sliders with the Marlins this season, Nolasco has upped his slider usage to 31 percent with the Dodgers.
B. Eight of Nolasco's 11 strikeouts came on his slider, his most in the last four seasons.
C. Put hitters away: Nolasco took 17 hitters to a two-strike count and retired all of them, only the second time he's done that in the last two seasons.
From Elias: Nolasco, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw were a combined 13-2 with a 1.30 ERA in August. Since 1969, when the mound was lowered to its current height, no other trio of starters has combined in a single month for 13 wins and an ERA as low as 1.30 with each making four or more starts.
By the way: As reported Wednesday by ESPN, the Dodgers immediately jumped into serious pursuit of Edinson Volquez after he was released by the Padres; by the end of the day, he had agreed to terms.
• The Orioles have been the most aggressive team in making waiver claims, according to team officials, and now they are trying to work out a deal with Josh Willingham for some badly need DH thump: Dan Connolly reports that Baltimore has a claim on Willingham.
• Wednesday's game felt like a must-win situation for the Orioles -- and they lost. The Orioles lost their eighth straight one-run game Wednesday, and their record in such games is 14-24 this year; they only lost nine one-run games all of last season, when they went 29-9 in one-run affairs.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Wainwright lost to the Reds:
A. Eight of the 16 batters Wainwright faced swung at the first pitch, his second-highest percentage in the last five seasons. Three of those first-pitch swings resulted in hits, tying Wainwright's season high.
B. When he did get ahead, Wainwright struggled to put hitters away. He took seven hitters to a 0-1 count but five of those would reach base.
• Going into Wednesday's games, I thought Felix Hernandez was the biggest challenger to Max Scherzer for the AL Cy Young Award. But Hernandez allowed nine earned runs and his ERA jumped from 2.63 to 3.02, so Scherzer is in a very strong position.