Deep Depth

Reggie Willits began his professional career in 2003 with the Provo Angels.

It’s a familiar refrain on Angels fan bulletin boards.

Depth is bad.

Why have more than one prospect at a position, goes the illogic. Trade everybody else for an aging "name" veteran whose future performance is "guaranteed."

The last time I checked, nothing on Planet Earth is guaranteed.

That fact of reality aside, proposed "fan" trades are usually a variation of something like this — Nick Adenhart, Brandon Wood, Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis and "whatever it takes" to get Manny Ramirez, Mike Sweeney or Randy Johnson.

Angels GM Bill Stoneman has managed so far to avoid this helpful advice — and it’s the reason the Angels have remained competitive in 2007.

Whether it’s the Angels Curse or just a streak of statistically improbable mishaps, it seems that every year the Angels have to survive a number of injuries that test their ability to stay afloat.

Coming out of spring training, the Angels were short two starting pitchers. Bartolo Colon was recovering from a labrum tear, and Jered Weaver was set back by tendonitis. For most teams, losing a Colon and a Weaver would be a devastating setback. But for the Angels, no problem, because Stoneman didn’t trade Joe Saunders a couple years ago when some claimed he was a "wasted" draft pick because he suffered a labrum injury early in his career. Stoneman also had Dustin Moseley, acquired in December 2004 in a trade for Ramon Ortiz. Moseley might have blossomed earlier if not for his own injuries the last couple years.

These few complaining fans claim that Stoneman never makes trades, yet Ortiz for Moseley is just one successful example that he does.

The fact of the matter is that he doesn’t make a trade just to get in the headlines. He makes trades when he thinks it will make the Angels better.

Among his other trades are:

  • Mo Vaughn for Kevin Appier
  • Brian Cooper for Brad Fullmer
  • Kimera Bartee for Chone Figgins
  • Jose Guillen for Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis

Not every trade has turned out on balance in the Angels’ favor — I happen to be one of the few people who thinks Jim Edmonds for Adam Kennedy and Kent Bottenfield was okay because the Angels got the best defensive second baseman in the A.L. for seven years — but no GM can claim a 100% "guaranteed" track record.

True, Stoneman has never orchestrated one of those four-team trades involving seventeen players that Billy Beane makes, which make some fans swoon in ecstasy. But no one seems to ask whether those trades ever actually make a positive impact in the long run.

After his playing career and before he returned to baseball in the Montreal front office, Stoneman was a banking industry executive. If you look at how he runs the Angels from that perspective, you realize he understands the importance of saving your assets. You can save a little money each week in case of a future disaster, or you can blow it all on a drunken binge weekend in Las Vegas. I suspect his critics would choose the latter option, but Stoneman patiently chooses the former, and now it’s paying off.

So as Colon, Weaver, Figgins, Juan Rivera, Dallas McPherson, Howie Kendrick, Kelvim Escobar, Shea Hillenbrand, Maicer Izturis, Garret Anderson and Vlad Guerrero have either gone on the disabled list or at least sat out a few games due to injury, the Angels have gone to the well and are currently in first place in the A.L. West.

I think most rational people agree Brandon Wood should be in Triple-A, but he’s in Anaheim now only because first Izturis and now Erick Aybar are playing regularly. Robb Quinlan, another potential 3B, has been in left field due to Anderson’s hip injury.

Reggie Willits, who’s never had any power in the minors, has brought to the big leagues his high-OBP game of singles and walks. (Funny how those same critics claim the Angels disdain high OBP, yet there’s Willits.)

If Stoneman had pulled one of those "flush the farm" trades that show up on fan boards, the Angels would be in a world of hurt right now. Literally. And metaphorically.


One comment


    Well, well. I’m trying not to sound like a FutureAngels sycophant but I have to throw my full support behind this analysis of the situation. I know Stephen will get hammered for this on Al Gore’s internet because I do just espousing this position at work.

    Listen up! Trading away the farm will, in the long run, leave you with a team looking a lot like the Giants. No farm=old free agent signings and no kids to bring along. For those who may have missed a good chunk of the 70’s, the Angels tried the reverse of this by using a lot of low-powered “talent” from their non-existent farm. That was ugly, too. Stoneman has struck a pretty darn good balance between the two.

    No, trading the present (as effective injury replacements) and future (who are gaining great experience from short call-ups) for a “name” or “used-to-be-name” (who the heck is advocating Randy Johnson or the inevitably-injured Mike Sweeney??) is the wrong way to go.

    While I have had disagreements with a couple of Stoneman’s signings (picture Ben Stein saying, “Hillenbrand? … Hillenbrand?”), I am very happy to go along with his results this decade. To quote Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh as closely as I can remember, “I like winning, It’s like, you know, better than losing.”

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