Calls for Hatcher's firing misguided
If blame is to be had for the Angels' woes, fingers should point up the food chain
ANAHEIM -- Baseball teams usually talk a lot about patience up until around June. Then, the firing season begins.
Last week, the Oakland A's, who have been both disappointing and -- at times -- divided, fired manager Bob Geren. The day before, both the Florida Marlins and Texas Rangers fired their hitting coaches.
The Los Angeles Angels might be the most disappointing team in baseball. They have relentlessly failed for more than a month at a rather crucial aspect of the game, hitting, and are fumbling to keep their fans interested. Sunday they had as many double plays turned on them, five, as hits.
They have a $139 million payroll and are six games under .500. Manager Mike Scioscia has been fairly consistent: This gradual implosion rests squarely on the shoulders of the offense.
So, is it time for the Angels to contemplate personnel changes? You can't fire the players, but you can fire a coach or front-office executive. Maybe that could provide a spark.
The specifics are where things get messy. Scioscia is the most firmly entrenched manager in the game. He's three years into a 10-year contract and, besides, there's no evidence he has gone from arguably the best manager in the game to the worst in a span of 12 or 15 months. He has more power within the organization than any manager in the game.
The usual clamor to dismiss hitting coach Mickey Hatcher has begun in the chat rooms, radio call-in shows and comment sections of blogs. It's misguided anger.
It would be hypocritical for general manager Tony Reagins to fire anyone at this point. He's responsible for handing Scioscia and Hatcher a bunch of jigsaw pieces that don't click together and hoping the coaches could somehow make a pretty picture.
Reagins should be under more scrutiny than any member of the organization. The Angels' template was dangerously reliant on one player, Kendrys Morales. A team with a nine-digit payroll shouldn't unravel this completely after losing one player, especially when it knows that player is coming off major surgery.
Reagins has wasted tens of millions of owner Arte Moreno's dollars trading for Scott Kazmir, currently fighting in Triple-A to avoid being released, and Vernon Wells, batting .189. The Dan Haren and Alberto Callaspo trades in between have been winners so far, but they're drowned out by the general direction of the team.
When the offseason began to go bad seven months ago, Reagins' reaction was to fill the hole with Moreno's money once again, acquiring Wells and the $86 million owed him for the next four years. After that, he closed his eyes and hoped the Angels' system was better than everyone thought. The fact Peter Bourjos, Mark Trumbo and Hank Conger haven't hit lately shouldn't surprise anyone. Young guys tend to be inconsistent. There's a reason big-money teams don't usually fill one-third of their lineup with guys who spent the previous season in the minor leagues.
This lineup is a collection of once-very good players past their primes and unproven guys fighting to start their careers. Those are the two ends of the spectrum you can least rely on.
The Angels don't usually make major personnel moves in the middle of the season. Last fall, Reagins fired a scouting director and a medical trainer, hardly earth-shattering moves. Arte Moreno hasn't proven to be a rash owner.
Hatcher might appear to be the most susceptible fall guy over the next few months. It's not going to happen, Scioscia said, not if he has a say (and he almost always does).
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"There's no question that, when you struggle, you tend to take apart things more to make sure you're moving in the right direction," Scioscia said. "We've got one of the best staffs you could ever put together. We're still sticking together, we're still moving forward.
"That's not the issue right now, as I see it. That's my opinion."
Hatcher was where he usually is before a game. He was camped out in the indoor batting cage Sunday. He'd been there since 9:30 a.m., though the Angels didn't get out of here until about 10 p.m. Saturday night.
Bourjos was hitting balls off a tee and Hatcher was standing behind him, watching his swing. Trumbo and Conger were waiting their turns. Ten months ago, all three of those guys were riding the waves of failure and success at Triple-A Salt Lake and few people noticed because, well, it's Triple-A.
Hatcher feels the pain of an Angels offense that has been taking body blows game after game. Going into Sunday, the Angels ranked No. 23 out of 30 MLB teams in runs scored. Before Friday's series opener against the Kansas City Royals, Hatcher called a hitter's meeting. This one didn't get as much press as the team meeting Scioscia had called the day before. Hatcher didn't want any of the players talking. He was the featured and, frankly, only speaker in the room.
Hatcher has seen a passivity creep into these hitters.
"Let that pitcher know you can hit," Hatcher told them. "That's what good hitters do."
"I don't want them talking about a pitcher's stuff or any of that," Hatcher said. "We've got too much thinking going on. Let's just get in there and compete."
Scioscia said the time to fire a coach is when either the coach stops working hard or the players stop listening. That hasn't happened on this team, at least not yet. Another week or two of losing could splinter the clubhouse, the worst-case scenario.
Torii Hunter said he sometimes wanders down to the indoor batting cage and realizes Hatcher has been in there for hours without a break.
"I'm like, 'Have you eaten yet? Go get a sandwich. I'll wait for you,'" Hunter said. "Mickey has a pretty good plan. He's very positive and all he does is stay in that cage if guys want to work. Sometimes, you've got to just realize, you're a grown man. When you're a grown man, you should be able to go in that batter's box and get it done on your own."
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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