Everything has broken right for Jerry Dipoto and Arte Moreno in 2014.
Amidst a stretch in which the Angels took control of the AL West, word came out Friday afternoon that the Halos exercised GM Jerry Dipoto’s contract for 2015. The club also holds an option for 2016 and presumably a decision on that will be made next year.
Dipoto replaced Tony Reagins following the latter’s removal in 2011. Almost instantly, Dipoto made a mark as the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to massive free agent contracts in December 2011. Perhaps unfairly, Dipoto’s Angel tenure will likely always be associated with Pujols and Josh Hamilton, two risky signings widely thought to have been Arte Moreno’s making.
Even though the 2012 Angels won 89 games, they missed the postseason and failed to live up to the World Series hype. The 2013 Angels won only 78 games, and there were murmurs Dipoto and/or Mike Scioscia could get the boot. Presumably, Moreno took the patient approach and it has worked out in 2014 — Baseball Prospectus projects the Angels have a 20.4% chance of winning the World Series, the highest in baseball.
Even if we assume the Pujols and Hamilton contracts were Moreno moves, Dipoto rightly deserved blame for the ancillary players brought in his first two seasons. Bullpen arms like Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins, Sean Burnett, and Ryan Madson were all disasters for different reasons. Trading Jordan Walden for Tommy Hanson felt like a decent idea, but backfired almost immediately. Paying Joe Blanton actual American currency was a thing that happened.
However, Dipoto has had the hot hand of late. Trading Mark Trumbo for two viable starting pitchers was a master stroke. So was unloading Ernesto Frieri for Jason Grilli. It appears he traded Alberto Callaspo at just the right time, netting a useful bench player in Grant Green. Nobody knew who Cory Rasmus was when the Angels acquired him last year for Scott Downs, but he has been a very effective long relief man out of the bullpen. I, and many Angel fans, hated trading Peter Bourjos (and Randall Grichuk) for David Freese and Fernando Salas; the Cardinals may very well win that trade, but Freese has admirably filled a black hole on the roster and Salas has even become a very solid middle-innings relief arm. If the point was to win in 2014, then the Freese trade worked out.
Like anything with sports, much of Dipoto’s 2014 success can be attributed to good fortune. He inherited Mike Trout when he took the job. Garrett Richards developed into a legitimate ace before his injury. Kole Calhoun was a projected fourth outfielder that turned into one of the best right fielders in baseball. The lowly regarded Matt Shoemaker has become the rotation’s savior. The bullpen, a disaster in 2012 and 2013, now has a case as the American League’s deepest and best; Dipoto deserves credit for building it back up, but relief pitchers are prone to high year-to-year variance. Nobody expected this type of season from Kevin Jepsen. But, if we criticize general managers when everything falls apart — whether by bad luck or poor design — then we should also credit them when a team succeeds.
It remains to be seen if Dipoto is actually a good GM. Sean Newcomb was his first first-round pick, so now begins the process of trying to rebuild a farm system lacking in talent. It should be noted Dipoto bears a large chunk of responsibility for that lack of talent, thanks to trades for Zack Greinke, Freese, Joe Thatcher, and Huston Street. The lack of young organizational talent could bite the Angels as soon as next year: the entire infield is on the wrong side of 30 and other big-money players like Hamilton, Jered Weaver, and CJ Wilson are declining. This could be the last year in a while the Angels are legitimate pennant contenders.
But if the Angels win the World Series this year nobody will care about future or the farm system, at least not right away. And I think it’s fair to assume Dipoto’s 2016 option would be picked up sometime before ring-sizing.