As the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim enter the home stretch of their fourth consecutive season of not making the playoffs, it's time to look back at the last 10 years under the ownership of Arte Moreno.
On May 15, 2003 Arte Moreno became the first Latino majority owner of a professional sports franchise in America when he was named the fourth owner of the Anaheim Angels. He came out of the gate as a champion of the fans, lowering the price of beer as his first public act as owner. During the first couple years of his ownership he was very engaged with the fans. He would frequently leave his suite in the stadium to talk to the fans about his team. I remember meeting him for the first time right outside the team store in 2004, he was talking to a family about their experience at the park, and seemed genuinely engrossed in the conversation, no handlers, just him.
Then in 2005 Moreno dropped a bombshell. He was going to rename his club the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim despite the fact that Los Angeles is 29.4 miles from Angel Stadium. The city of Anaheim sued the club for breach of contract because they had partial naming rights (a subject that would come up 8 years later). Moreno won the suit, but the public outcry was immediate with local fans feeling betrayed so that Moreno could negotiate a better TV deal. There's even a petition to change the name back to the Anaheim Angels, if you're a die hard Angel fan you've probably already signed it, but if not you can do so here.
Moreno seemed hell bent on bringing a winning team to the city. In 2004, his first full year as owner, he signed superstar free agents Bartolo Colon, Vladimir Guererro, and Orlando Cabrera. The team went on to win it's first American League West championship in 18 years. It would repeat as AL West champs in 2005, and following a disappointing 2006, the team would rebound by posting a winning record in three consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history from 2007-2009. They also won three consecutive American West titles during those years, but they kept falling short in the playoffs. They acquired superstar Torri Hunter from the Minnesota Twins in 2008, but still seemed one piece short of winning it all.
Starting in 2009 with the acquisition of pitcher Scott Kazmir, the Halos began to seriously deplete their farm system in trades for high profile players. Abandoning the strategy that brought the club their only World Series, build a franchise from within to maximize chemistry and team unity. The decimation of the farm system continued in 2010 with prospect rich trades for pitcher Dan Haren and infielder Alberto Callaspo.
2010 also began the current playoff-less streak for the Halos. The year began with the decision to not bring back aging outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, who would eventually sign with the division rival Texas Rangers. The move appeared to be the right one, as Guerrero had declined significantly, and his desire and numbers had dwindled to the point that he did not warrant a high price tag. No one could have predicted that Guerrero would have a monster year for the Rangers and lead them to the World Series. Of course hindsight is 20/20 and fans quickly forgot their irritation at Guerrero for being lazy and not producing when he flourished for a competitor.
In 2011 the team traded for Vernon Wells on the insistence of Moreno. Numerous rumors say that Moreno threatened to fire General Manager Tony Reagins if he did not get the outfielder. Wells' huge contract and poor performance became the focal point of the Angels woes during the 2011 campaign, and would begin the team's habit of overpaying for superstars in an attempt to buy their way into the playoffs. The 2011 Angels ended the season 10 games out of first place.
2012 was a mixed bag for the team. They missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year and finished an incredibly disappointing third in the American League West. The club signed the biggest free agent of the off season, in 3-time most valuable player Albert Pujols for an incredible $250 million over 10 years. They also picked up the top pitching free agent in C.J. Wilson for $75 million over 5 years. A dynasty was all but assured... and then the season started. Wilson and Pujols both struggled greatly and the team never got on track. Despite having one of the largest payrolls and best teams on paper the team was never able to get something going. The bright spot of the season though was the performance of rookie phenom Mike Trout. The outfielder won Rookie of the Year, and finished second in voting for American League MVP. He destroyed most offensive rookie records, and was a tremendous asset on defense.
With 2012 behind them, and labeled as a fluke, Moreno and the Angels set out to find the final missing piece to the puzzle. Clearly learning nothing from their overpaying the year before, the club purchased two more high priced free agents for the 2013 season. They signed former MVP Josh Hamilton for $125 million over 5 years and pitcher Joe Blanton for $15 million over 2 years. Angels' ace Jered Weaver began the season on the disabled list, but last year's blockbuster acquisition C.J. Wilson returned to form and became a dominant pitcher. Unfortunately the same could not be said for struggling slugger Albert Pujols, who continued to decline before being placed on the DL and eventually missing the final third of the season to an injured right foot. Even worse, perennial all-star Josh Hamilton is in the midst of his worst season ever, and Blanton is 2-14 as of today. Worse still, the team is 4-22 in games that Blanton has started. Assuming nothing miraculous happens, the Angels will miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year this season.
Also in 2013, Moreno and the Angels set out to renegotiate their contract with the city of Anaheim. They would agree to delay their option to leave the city from 2016 to 2019 in exchange for a number of items outlined here. Chief among them was the club's ability to lease the parking lot for $1 annually for 66 years, the opportunity to build shops/homes on the property, and giving the club exclusive naming rights. The naming rights would allow them to remove the "of Anaheim" from their title, and simply be the Los Angeles Angels (make sure to sign that petition folks). Moreno also expressed his willingness to move the team if he sees fit.
Arte Moreno started out as the people's owner. He was relatable, and voted on several occasions the best owner to work for by Forbes Magazine. In recent years though he has taken a very Steinbrenner-esque approach to the game, with one small difference, the Yankees won. The Angels were recently voted the worst team for the money by Forbes, and went from pre-season favorites to Sportscenter jokes this season. A lot of blame is rightfully placed at the feet of manager Mike Scioscia, and unfairly on GM Jerry Dipoto, but ultimately if Moreno wants to claim to to be a hands on owner, it falls on him. He is responsible for the product on the field. Gone are the days of scrappy Minor-League-grown players who play as one entity, and in is the overpaid superstar looking to increase his fame. The team has no focus and is a ship with no one at the wheel. They need a leader in the clubhouse and a strong manager. It's time for someone, maybe Trout, to step up and lead the team, and after 14 years it's time for Scioscia to go.
I think Moreno's heart is in the right place. His willingness to spend money and make the big moves proves that he is in it to win it. My main concern is that the team seems to lack focus and leadership. People like Salmon or Hunter, who can energize a team and help them through the 162 game grind with optimism and who embody the team spirit. Also makes you wonder if the team is cursed. How many times have great players come here and underperformed? Or the opposite, how many players have left here to thrive elsewhere? Maybe it's the pressure of playing under the guise of the big city. Even though we aren't in Los Angeles our name says otherwise, and some people aren't big city players. Maybe if we were the Anaheim Angels, players would feel less pressure to perform and gain confidence by the time the playoffs came around. Look at all the superstars who have floundered during the LA era; Hamilton, Blanton, Pujols, Kazmir, Haren, and Wells. Then look at the players who thrived after leaving because they were underperforming; Guerrero, Hunter, and Napoli. Perhaps we need to change the name to ward the evil spirits holding our beloved Angels down.
Be sure to sign our petition to change the Angels name back to the Anaheim Angels. They need to hear from us before they drop our great city completely from their name. We appreciate your support.