Angels' fate starts at the top
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Los Angeles Angels talk endlessly about the "pitcher-catcher relationship," but the fate of the franchise might hinge on the chemistry between a former pitcher and a former catcher.
New general manager Jerry Dipoto and his coterie of assistants and top scouts, most of them in their 30s and early 40s, have infused Tempe Diablo Stadium with a new energy this spring. They travel in a pack down the hallways, spread out on the team's practice fields and sit in on morning meetings.
It feels like a radical departure from the front office of Tony Reagins, whose top lieutenants were nearing retirement age and who largely deferred to manager Mike Scioscia on building a roster.
Of course, it's springtime, both in the time of year and in the relationship between GM and manager. The weather is beautiful, the team is healthy and Opening Day is five weeks away. The interplay between Dipoto and Scioscia has yet to be put to a test. It will be the times of crisis that arise during a season -- injuries, losing streaks, internal conflicts -- that test it.
Dipoto, a 43-year-old former major league relief pitcher, thinks the two men have begun to establish the lines of communication that will be crucial in the coming months.
"I told Mike the day I was hired, 'The style of play, the intensity with which things are taught, the freedom the team has always played with are top-of-the-scale,'" Dipoto said. "Why would you want to change that?"
Dipoto hasn't tinkered with Scioscia's spring training program, so the veteran manager -- the longest-tenured in baseball -- said it really hasn't felt all that different so far.
"They're right on board with our philosophy, so there's no issue at all," Scioscia said.
The relationship between Dipoto and Scioscia has the potential to be flammable and extraordinarily fruitful. Both men are former major leaguers with deeply entrenched sets of beliefs about baseball. Scioscia comes from a background spent entirely with the Dodgers, his ideals grounded in good fundamentals, aggressive baserunning and the influence a catcher has on a pitcher.
Dipoto comes from a more eclectic background, as a player and as a front-office man. He served with the Boston Red Sox, Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks before coming west. He has had the perspective of a player, a scout, a statistical analyst and a general manager.
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His top deputies are Scott Servais, 44, a former major league catcher and one of the architects of the Texas Rangers' abundant farm system; Matt Klentak, 31, who comes to the Angels from the Baltimore Orioles and has an economics degree from Dartmouth; and Hal Morris, 46, a World Series-winning player and longtime scout. Servais will be in charge of player development, Morris runs the pro scouting and Klentak handles contracts.
Away from the field, this 2012 season will be largely about blending the new with the old. How that turns out could set the direction of the franchise for years to come. The view of the Angels from within the baseball world had begun to drift in recent seasons, from a top-flight organization to one that had let its scouting and player development departments fester.
That blending process began before players pulled their luxury cars into the parking lot adjacent to the spring training clubhouse here.
"We went through a couple of days discussing where we are, how we teach and what we're about," Dipoto said. "I don't think it could have gone much better."
The more difficult discussions come later in the spring, when the roster shrinks, through the July trade deadline and, if all goes well, as the playoffs approach. Will Scioscia and Dipoto always see eye to eye on which players can best help the team? Will Dipoto consult Scioscia before making trades or other personnel moves that will change how he does his job? Can Scioscia adjust to a stronger voice from upstairs?
At some point, there will be a disagreement -- if there hasn't been already -- but how they react to it could determine how smoothly things work.
"You're not going to have the same opinion for every player, but they don't vary as much as you think," Scioscia said. "So far, they've been good conversations."
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