It’s time for Bill Stoneman to be named Executive of the Year. (That’s original Angels farm and scouting director Roland Hemond in the background.)
He’s not glib, he doesn’t swap gossip, he doesn’t seek headlines by making short-sighted convoluted trades.
But with the Angels headed for another post-season appearance, while protecting one of the deepest farm systems in the business, it’s time to give Stoneman his due.
Stoneman’s contract allows him to retire at the end of this season. His run as the Angels’ GM is the most successful in the organization’s history. Not only did he deliver their first world championship in 2002, but in eight years he’s sent four teams to the post-season and built a highly respected minor league system.
When he took the job in November 1999, Baseball America was about to rank the Angels the worst organization in baseball. Stoneman took flak when he hired former Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia to be the Angels’ new manager. And the local media flamed him when he failed to blow up the roster, choosing instead to build upon a talent base that was better than what the pundits claimed.
In July 2000, I wrote the below passage in a column on FutureAngels.com:
Baseball America last October ranked the Anaheim Angels organization the worst in baseball. According to urban legend, it was the reading of this article by Anaheim Sports Inc. President Tony Tavares that led to a total overhaul of the Angels’ front office and field management during the winter.
While the Angels were ranked last, the Oakland A’s were ranked #1.
Sportswriters and media pundits enjoyed kicking the Angels while they were down. The columnists for The Orange County Register unanimously picked the Angels to finish last in the American League West this year. Some so-called "experts" predicted the Angels would lose 100 games.
Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "the Angels have done virtually nothing to shake up their roster this winter" and claimed "someone forgot to hand [General Manager Bill] Stoneman a broom, because the former Expo executive has seemed paralyzed in his efforts to bring change." Of the new manager, DiGiovanna wrote, "It appears [Mike] Scioscia, unproven and untested with only one year of minor-league managing experience, will begin his first major-league managing job with the same core — some would say rotten core — of players that forced [Terry] Collins and [Bill] Bavasi to depart."
The Angels are playing exciting baseball. The team is being led by players produced by the supposed worst farm system in baseball. Darin Erstad and Troy Glaus were sure-fire major leaguers when they were selected a few years ago. But what about Brian Cooper and Bengie Molina and Scott Schoeneweis and Jarrod Washburn and Seth Etherton? Veterans like Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson, and Troy Percival came out of this farm system. Speaking of Percy, Bob Clear and Frank Reberger were smart enough in 1991 to convert him from catcher to pitcher, creating one of the most dominant closers in the game.
DiGiovanna’s "rotten core" has been led by "unproven and untested" Scioscia into contention for a division title and wild-card spot. DiGiovanna, so far, has yet to admit he was wrong.
Here we are seven years later, and to my knowledge DiGiovanna still hasn’t admitted his error, but it’s been a long time since he’s written a similar cheap shot, so I suspect he realizes he got it wrong.
Part of the problem is that Stoneman isn’t colorful. He speaks quietly, and measures his words. Some people interpret that as meaning Bill is slow-witted. Quite to the contrary. You don’t get a job as a banking executive, followed by executive positions with two major league organizations, if you don’t know what you’re doing.
For years, media pundits and impatient fans have demanded Stoneman flush his minor league talent for a feel-good quick fix that would make a headline and be quickly forgotten days later. He ignored them, and kept top prospects that are now in the majors taking the Angels to the playoffs — John Lackey, Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Howie Kendrick, and many more.
That depth also protected the Angels this year when the inevitable injuries depleted the roster planned out of spring training. Remember when people complained that Stoneman wouldn’t trade away top pitchers to get a "big bat"? But when Bartolo Colon and Jered Weaver were hurt, and when Ervin Santana faltered, Dustin Moseley and Joe Saunders were there to step in. When Casey Kotchman got hurt, Kendry Morales was available. Garret Anderson? Reggie Willits. Chone Figgins? Maicer Izturis. And when Izturis was hurt, Erick Aybar stepped in.
Jeff Mathis, dismissed as a "bust" by some, progressed to the point where Stoneman could trade Jose Molina to the Yankees for minor league reliever Jeff Kennard. When Mike Napoli got hurt, Mathis stepped into the starting catcher role and may have a lock on the job for the rest of the decade.
Over the last five years, the Angels’ average minor league talent ranking by Baseball America was 3.4, the best of any organization. The Boston Red Sox, who are the Angels’ likely challenger for the A.L. crown, averaged 17.6. The Oakland A’s, the darling of the stathead crowd, averaged 20, and with their 2007 season in the toilet it’s becoming harder and harder for the Moneyball zealots to credibly argue that Billy Beane is some sort of baseball god.
But Beane is often described as a "genius" by the baseball media, while Stoneman is never mentioned.
My theory is that it’s because Beane is glib, swaps gossip with reporters, and makes short-sighted convoluted trades that give sportwriters something to fill a column with. That makes a GM popular with the people who vote for Executive of the Year.
While the A’s system is increasingly devoid of top prospect talent, the Angels have re-armed with a new wave. Brandon Wood should be a regular within the next year or two, and not far behind him is young pitching ace Nick Adenhart. On the horizon are the talented group who were at Cedar Rapids this year, evoking memories of the group from the early 2000s that included Kotchman, Mathis, Santana, Dallas McPherson and more. This new group includes Hank Conger, Sean O’Sullivan, Mark Trumbo, Matt Sweeney, Chris Pettit, Trevor Bell, and Warner Madrigal. Orem ace Jordan Walden might catch up to them with a superlative spring training.
So if there’s any time for Stoneman to get the award, it’s now. And if not … name one other GM with a better track record — major league win-loss record, post-season appearances, farm system productivity — over the last five years. I don’t think anyone can.