Angels might want to follow path of Dave Dombrowski’s Phillies

No one had built World Series teams for three different franchises until Dave Dombrowski did. Now he’s done it for four on behalf of the Philadelphia Phillies.

The head of baseball operations usually changes because baseball isn’t good.

Baseball may not be doing well because the team lacks elite talent.

However, not here. Not when the Phillies hired Dombrowski three years ago.

“When I started, star players weren’t our problem,” Dombrowski told The Times.

This sounds familiar to any fan who follows the team that Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani play for. Dombrowski was a free agent the last time the Angels hired someone to build their team amid ongoing industry speculation that owner Arte Moreno was going after him.

We know how the story ends: Moreno will end his 20-year lead with the Angels without a World Series appearance.

That’s not to say the Angels would certainly have been in the World Series if Dombrowski had come to Anaheim.

Perry Minasian, whom Moreno hired as general manager, built a third-place team this year and fired his manager in June.

Dombrowski also built a third-place team and fired his manager in June. His team snagged the final wildcard spot in the National League postseason field and caught fire, winning nine of 11 games to advance to the World Series.

That said, the Phillies had an owner who trusted a veteran baseball operations manager to tell him which players could make his team a winner and who willingly paid a luxury tax to acquire them.

Whoever buys Moreno’s Angels shouldn’t miss this lesson: Hire the best people you can, then give them the resources they need and stay out of their way.

The Angels got to Andrew Friedman before the Dodgers ever did; Friedman passed.

Moreno hired four general managers, all of them young professionals. Moreno has never hired anyone as president of baseball operations, Dombrowski holds the title with the Phillies and Friedman with the Dodgers.

The angels declined to say if they had reached out to Dombrowski. All Dombrowski would say was that at the time the Angels hired him, Minasian was determined to work for a potential expansion franchise in Nashville, Tennessee.

Phillies President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski and Interim Manager Rob Thomson attend a news conference

Phillies President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski, right, introduces Rob Thomson as the team’s interim manager June 3 in Philadelphia.

(Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

That’s what Dombrowski told the Phillies. The Phillies held out for weeks, got reassurances from the commissioner to Dombrowski that there would be no expansion anytime soon, and got their man.

For a decade, Moreno has run the Angels with a win-now philosophy, not an unreasonable plan with Trout and later Ohtani. Moreno has refused to trade either player, uninterested in rebuilding, respectful of the fans who want to see a team play to win now, not five years from now.

As speculation swirled around Dombrowski and the Angels in the summer of 2020, an industry source had told The Times that he would be the perfect man for that kind of philosophy. Dombrowski may be a big spender and deal with many prospects, but he’s as much a win-now manager as Moreno is a win-now owner.

When analytics convinced teams to pay older players not for what they’d done for other teams but for what they could do for your team, the source thought Dombrowski could fall.

“He knows how to build a big league squad,” the source said at the time. “That’s an area he could exploit with an owner willing to spend money. They could sign some major league free agents at low prices as the market gets flooded with pretty good veteran players.

“If you’re trying to look at a best-case scenario, that’s yours.”

When Minasian took over the Angels, they had Ohtani and Trout and Anthony Rendon, the latter two coming off a season in which they were among the top five positional players in the American League.

Ohtani, Trout and Rendon took the top three spots in the lineup on opening day this year, followed by journeyman Matt Duffy, who signed a $1.5 million contract last winter. The Phillies’ opening-day hitter: outfielder Nick Castellanos, who signed a $100 million contract last winter.

The Angels’ winter signings also included pitchers Raisel Iglesias, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Lorenzen, Aaron Loup and Ryan Tepera for a total of $117 million.

Iglesias ($58 million) accounted for half of that; The Angels traded him to the Atlanta Braves for a salary deposit. Syndergaard ($21 million) was traded to the Phillies and is scheduled to start Thursday’s Game 5 of the World Series.

The Phillies’ winter additions also included outfielder Kyle Schwarber for $79 million. Schwarber led the NL with 46 home runs.

Dombrowski inherited outfielder Bryce Harper, catcher JT Realmuto, and pitchers Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler.

“If you have All-Stars and you don’t have enough other people to supplement them, then that’s no use to you,” Dombrowski said. “So you kind of have to find that equation to balance that out.”

Under Moreno, the Angels often but not always spent well, especially with the $365 million on Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.

“If you’re spending dollars, which is great – you have an advantage if you’re able to – you’d better be spending them on the right players,” Dombrowski said generally. “They also know they’re going to age somewhere in a long-term contract. And how will you complement and complement those players?”

“Moneyball” is often misinterpreted as an ode to percentage and analytical wizardry. But his most important lesson is just as valid today as it was 20 years ago, in the season that inspired “Moneyball”: “When everyone else is zigzagging, there’s an opportunity to zigzag.

Moreno spends, but too many owners don’t, leaving less competition for the likes of Dombrowski to exploit. And with too many teams hoarding prospects for fear of mortgaging the future, trading a future star, or inflating the payroll with veterans, Dombrowski’s willingness to swap prospects gives him another opportunity to attract talent.

Dombrowski’s first job as general manager: 1988 for the Montreal Expos.

“People didn’t even know who your prospects were unless it was a top draft pick or a top guy,” he said. “Now people know them a lot better and they not only know them, they know their names. With that, they think they know the player.”

Dombrowski heeds the lesson of a man he calls his mentor: Roland Hemond, a Hall of Fame honored executive.

“He would say, ‘Dave, who is writing or reporting on this person? Is it a good scout who has watched the player play and really knows that person, or is it someone just writing what they’ve read?’ And that’s really important,” Dombrowski said.

“I think one of your responsibilities in the front office is to accurately assess your own players. We all tend to overestimate our own staff. And the reality is that a lot of the guys don’t live up to those expectations. So it’s up to you to do your best to distinguish between hyped and really good ones.”

The next great reviews for the Angels come from the new owner. Ohtani is signed for another year; The new owner can decide whether to trade him next summer or try to persuade him to stay. Manager Phil Nevin signed for one year; the new owner can decide whether to keep it beyond that.

Minasian is signed for another two years. Maybe it can thrive under a new owner, or maybe a new owner wants someone else to build the team.

No major league team has gone longer without a postseason appearance. That shouldn’t happen to a team in the second largest market in the league. The new owner will surely say, “We want to win.” But actions speak louder than words, and the scoreboard speaks loudest of all.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-11-01/dave-dombrowski-phillies-world-series-angels-arte-moreno Angels might want to follow path of Dave Dombrowski’s Phillies

Emma Bowman

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