Autryism


Howie Kendrick is rumored to be one of the players demanded by Florida in exchange for Miguel Cabrera.

Au · try · ism [aw - tree - iz - uhm] -noun 1. Failure to stick to a long-term plan. 2. Overpaying for aging free agents. 3. Trading one or more top prospects to acquire a famous or well-liked ballplayer. [Origin: 1961-1996]


The Angels head for the winter meetings in Nashville apparently bent on making the same mistakes that inflicted four decades of futility on their long-suffering fans.

Gene Autry, the team’s first owner, was a country singer and serial Western actor who bought the American League’s expansion franchise in Los Angeles scheduled to begin play in 1961. He’d gone to the December 1960 winter meetings in St. Louis intent on acquiring the radio rights from whomever got the franchise, but left town with the franchise in his pocket.

Autry’s public persona kept him popular with Angels fandom while the team failed to achieve any long-term success. He’d invest in "name" players who would attract paying customers even though they were beyond their best years.

After eleven seasons of futility, Autry lured Harry Dalton to Anaheim to build a productive farm system. Dalton had built a powerhouse Baltimore Orioles machine that contended almost every year from the late 1960s and far past his tenure into the early 1980s. After joining the Orioles in 1954, he worked his way up the organizational ladder including a stint as director of the farm system. When GM Lee MacPhail departed in 1965, Dalton succeeded him. During his tenure, the Orioles went to the World Series in 1966, 1969, 1970, and 1971. His first trade was to acquire outfielder Frank Robinson from Cincinnati in exchange for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun. Robinson is now in the Hall of Fame.

Dalton inherited from MacPhail a fertile farm system. In Anaheim, the cupboard was bare, so he methodically went about building the foundation for a productive minor league system. Dalton was patient, but Autry was not, as the parent club suffered through one of the worst eras in its history. After players won the right to take their free agency, Autry redirected his investments from player development into free agent acquisition. The Angels signed "stars" such as Joe Rudi, Bobby Grich and Don Baylor — the latter two former Baltimore Orioles who’d come up in their system under Dalton — but injuries and flops kept the Angels from post-season competition.

So after the 1977 season, Autry fired Dalton and brought in Buzzie Bavasi, a former Dodgers and Padres executive. Bavasi began trading off young talent to acquire "name" players. Some of those trades turned out to be pretty good moves, such as acquiring Rod Carew from the Twins for Brad Havens, Paul Hartzell, Dave Engle and Ken Landreaux. He also signed more free agent "name" players such as Reggie Jackson. While the Angels got close in 1979, 1982 and 1986, they could never get over the hump into the World Series. Meanwhile, as Autry’s money went into "names," the farm system slowly withered. In some years, they had as few as four minor league teams. When the "names" faded by the late 1980s, there was nothing left in the pipeline, and the Angels began a ten-year era of mediocrity.

Autry entered his 80s and the front-office mantra became "Win one for the Cowboy," so more short-sighted decisions led to feel-good trades that swapped young talent for fading "names." In 1982, they traded young outfield prospect Tom Brunansky to the Twins for veteran reliever Doug Corbett. In 1991, they traded young outfield prospect Dante Bichette for veteran outfielder Dave Parker. In 1992, they traded young pitcher Jim Abbott to the Yankees for Russ Springer, Jerry Nielsen and J.T. Snow. In 1996, his best years behind him, the Angels reacquired Abbott for Bill Simas, Andrew Lorraine, John Snyder and McKay Christensen. Fading veterans such as Fernando Valenzuela, Eddie Murray and Cecil Fielder were signed more as marquee attractions than for any substantive contributions they might make.

The Walt Disney Company acquired the Angels franchise in May 1996, but on the baseball side Autry’s people remained. Bill Bavasi, Buzzie’s son, became GM in January 1994 and kept the "country club" atmosphere that prevailed under Autry. Disney was more concerned with keeping the Angels in Anaheim than running the ballclub, so Bavasi was left to his own devices working within budget constraints that were left over from Autry’s last years when his wife was in charge trying to protect the dwindling family assets.

A decade later, Arte Moreno, the Angels’ third owner, heads for the winter meetings in Nashville with new general manager Tony Reagins in tow. Moreno is starting to show signs of Autryism.

Last week, the Angels signed free-agent outfielder Torii Hunter to a five-year $90 million contract. Even Hunter himself said the Angels overpaid, telling the media he would have signed for less.

But the more prominent symptom of Autryism is the apparent willingness to ship off a good chunk of the fertile farm system to Florida for Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera. Rumors are no more than that, so media reports of specific names should be treated skeptically, but Moreno himself has stated the Angels twice had a deal done with the Marlins, only to have Florida try to raise the ante by taking bids from other teams. The Angels have also reportedly inquired about Twins’ lefty Johan Santana, who can be a free agent after 2008.

The names most prominently mentioned are catcher Jeff Mathis, second baseman Howie Kendrick, third baseman Brandon Wood, pitcher Nick Adenhart, and outfielder Reggie Willits. No one can predict the future (not even the statheads who claim otherwise), and at age 25 next April Cabrera will be poised to enter his prime. But the Angels would be flushing the cream of their crop for one player, hoping that Cabrera doesn’t suffer a freakish injury as did Mo Vaughn in his 1999 Angels debut. Cabrera goes to arbitration this winter and will certainly improve on his 2007 salary of $7.4 million, but the nightmare scenario is that he takes his free agency after 2009 and the Angels will have had nothing but an expensive two-year rental. To keep him will probably require something like a seven-year $150 million package.

Meanwhile, all that young talent will be performing quite cheaply for the Marlins, who used that model to win world championships in 1997 and 2003. And money that the Angels could have invested in scouting and player development will be going to Hunter, Cabrera, and the inevitable contract extension for Vlad Guerrero.

Sure, the Angels will continue to contend for the next few years, and might even win more world titles. But when those aging players retire or no longer produce, there won’t be any talent left in the system because the Angels failed to properly invest in and protect their future. It could be 1987-1994 all over again. As those of us who went to sparsely attended Angels games in that era recall, the fickle fans will move on and the franchise will decline once more into mediocrity.

Media reports claim native Floridians Howie Kendrick and Jeff Mathis are already part of the Cabrera deal. I hope the fans clamoring for this trade will remember this when they see those two kids representing the National League in All-Star Games for many years to come.


UPDATE 3:45 PM PSTJon Heyman of Sports Illustrated reports the Angels “offered top young hitter Howie Kendrick, young catcher Jeff Mathis, one of two coveted young pitchers — Nick Adenhart or Ervin Santana — plus an additional pitcher prospect described as a "mid-level” talent” for Miguel Cabrera.

That’s not just overkill, that’s Autryism.

This article is copyright © 2007 Stephen C. Smith DBA FutureAngels.com. It may not be reprinted elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author. To obtain permission, e-mail Stephen at home@futureangels.com.

12 Comments

The deals the Angels are making are hopefully making them a better team. This is different imo than the Autry era. Back then the team was signing or trading for players that were like 36-38 years old in most cases. The guys we are getting now are 32 at the oldest. And i dont feel the organization is giving up on the farm by trading for Cabrera. They are using it as a tool to make trades. Stephen, i believe even you have said in the past that the benefits of having a strong farm was to build from within to replenish the major league team, or to give them the ability to use the farm to be able to make trades to improve the team.
Also at this time i feel the organization seems weak in the upper level of the farm AA and AAA, so they now have the nucleus to compete for 2-3 years until the talent rich A leagues replenish the AA and AAA. The reason the upper levels are depleted is because of so many players have moved to the major league roster in the last 2-3 seasons and also due to many players electing their 6 year free agency to look for a chance to play with teams with less depth. So i dont feel the Angels are in any way abandoning their philosophy to build from within. They are combining the farm, trades, and free agency to fill holes in the Angel roster.

Another great post, Stephen. I’ve been an Angel fan since 1962 and I ABSOLUTELY agree with your definition of Autryism. I remember those years of ineptitude and desperation to “win one for the cowboy” all too well.

Many “name” players made it known late in their careers that they wouldn’t mind playing for such a generous owner in that “country club” environment. And it was exciting to spend the off-seasons anticipating the next “name” acquisition, but winning the World Series was just a distant dream.

The best thing to happen to this organization was the hiring of Bill Stoneman and subsequently Mike Scioscia. FINALLY there is the stability and direction that comes with long-term planning.

Now there is a new owner that has, so far, apparently not pushed to change course. But if the rumors are true, they may be about to trade a big, long-term loss for a small, short-term gain.

I really like the Cabrera/Garland deal. You never have too much quality pitching and I have no doubt that Aybar is ready to carry the load, with some backup from Izturis. Aybar can be a better #2 hitter than Cabrera…good bat control, switch-hitter with better speed.

It seems they did overpay for Hunter, although he is a solid professional and they can use his leadership with Cabrera gone. And, although it’s been denied, I have to think Hunter’s sudden acquisition is insurance in light of Matthews’ situation.

To envision Miguel Cabrera as the Opening Day third baseman certainly is exciting and makes me want the season to start tomorrow. He is the missing cornerstone that should catapult this team to the next level…for a couple of years. And that’s assuming he doesn’t suddenly grab his hamstring running to first base or take a fastball on his hand or wrist. Then they will be facing a bloated payroll and a severely weakend farm system from which to draw. That is the scenario that Mr. Moreno has said he wants to avoid.

If the Marlins are offering Cabrera because they feel they can’t pay him, that would seem to mean that they are willing take a reasonable offer that would work for both teams. But according to a couple of GM’s, that’s not the case. It sounds like they want to trade one expensive, proven talent for lots of inexpensive, proven talent.

It seems the Dodgers have smartly walked away and the Giants also have…or will. But the Angels appear to remain in the picture, for some strange reason.

Of the names most prominently mentioned, Kendrick alone is too much to give up. Adenhart and Mathis together are too much.

Either the rumors are WAY off, or there are signs of desperation in the organization.

I’m hoping for the former.

I just added an update from Sports Illustrated reporting the Angels offered Kendrick, Mathis, either Santana or Adenhart, and a “mid-level prospect” for Cabrera.

Anyone still want to argue in favor of this trade?! That’s just nuts.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I’m trying to put myself in Mr. Moreno’s shoes a bit here. The only scenario where I can see this madness ultimately making some kind of sense is the following:

Having seen that Boston has adopted a “win-at-all-cost” posture (to heck with profitability), Mr. Moreno has decided to make the 25 man roster as competitive as possible, make a serious run at the World Series and then put the team up for sale.

I think he is a true fan of baseball, but he may have found it to be undesireable as a business venture. So he has installed a GM that is more willing to do as he’s told, rather than suggesting better options.

Maybe non-baseball issues like the Anaheim City Council’s lawsuit and the “dark cloud” of the use of performance-enhancing drugs in MLB have soured him on baseball as a business.

I know this may sound far-fetched and it’s all pure speculation on my part, but there just has to more involved here than meets the eye. From everything I read about him, Mr. Moreno is a very savvy businessman, but this proposed trade is a real head scratcher. I thought the Angels were finally on the right track.

I hope the rumors are grossly inaccurate.

Is there a pill or something to combat Autryism? I really hate the thought of going back to the way things were before this decade, yet it appears the seeds are near to being sown. Santa, how could you let me down like this??

The only thing that may save us is the ineptitude of Dodgers management and what must be their growing desire to make a splash with the media. They may ride to our rescue with such a ridiculous offer the Marlins say “yes.”

How sad for all of us. We have to root for the Dodgers to win this one.

Maybe “aamares” is not so far off but maybe the bigger picture that we are not seeing is a new TV network with global marketing centered around Vladdy and Miguel?

As for the trade that is seeming more and more inevitable, I think the club is being short-sighted at best, but unfortunately, other than beer prices, they don’t really listen to their fans, do they?

The Angels just signed a 10-year pact with FSN last season to broadcast 150 games/season. Although I’m sure there is an out-clause, I doubt Arte would have made that kind of a commitment with a sports network right on the horizon.

Miguel Cabrera is an unbelievable hitter, at an remarkably young age. He could have huge value, and put up huge numbers if the Angels locked him up long term. That being said, I don’t know why they are tolerating these knuckleheads from Florida. There doesn’t appear to be anyone else even considering this deal, so why are the Angels willingly upping there offer? I hope they have the good sense and confidence to push a little harder. I fear Arte is trying to battle for headlines (instead of players) in LA newspapers.

Stephen, great post with the Autryism Years and very ironic, as just a few days ago, I finally found my Angel’s scrapbook I had kept from various years.

Allow me to give my take on the Angels and team policy in the late 70’s.

I have clippings from the 1977 issues of the Sporting News involving the team and the March 5, 1977 front page has a great colour photo of Joe Rudi, Don Baylor and Bobby Grich ( caption with their hands in saddlebags ) with this cover photo description…..” Caught raiding the saddlebags of ex-comboy star Gene Autry are expensive newcomers Joe Rudi, Don Baylor and Bobby Grich. The three new Angels were among the highest-priced free agents signed during the winter. “.

November 1976 was the beginning of free agency signings and I recall how exciting it was for me then to have the team acquire some ” big bats “. Also, I soon realized that each big name signing in the late 70’s and early 80’s meant the Angels were giving up draft picks and that fact, along with the trading of younger up-coming talent from the farm system, created a bare cupboard in the ensuing years……..a double axed sword effect.

Let me point out the opening day position line-up for 1982…..Bob Boone ( catch ), Rod Carew( 1B ), Bobby Grich (2B ), Doug Decinces (3B ), Rick Burleson ( SS ), Brian Downing ( LF ), Fred Lynn ( CF ), Reggie Jackson ( RF ), and Don Baylor, the DH. It could certainly be said, an all star at each position…..but not one home grown talent. I often thought the Angel management at the time felt a need to compete with the Dodgers, using marquee name players.

However, there was no guarantee of a Championship and after being close in some of the years back then, after 1986 ( took me awhile to get over the pain of the series loss vs. the Red Sox ), the Angels were left with many players past their prime and few younger talented players for replacement.

Stephen, I like to add a couple of my favourite names to your list of good young home grown players, traded away for veterans…..SS Dickie Thon ( to Houston for ? Ken Forsch and 1B / DH Willie Mays Aikens ( hey, gotta love the name ) for Fred Patek, yikes. I think Tom Brunansky for Doug Corbett and the trade of Dante Bichette for Dave Parker were simply brutal.

I am really having mixed emotions with the present rumour of unloading so much young talent for Florida’s Miguel Cabrera, especially Howie Kendrick. Although, as the old saying goes that one must give up talent to get in return, let’s point to the Nov.24,2005 trade between Boston and Florida, the principles being Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell ( who was a throw in ) to Boston for among others, SS Hanley Ramirez ( in 2007, .332 avg., 29HR, 81 RBI, 51 SB’s ) and Anibal Sanchez ( in 2007, a 10-3 record with a no-hitter on Sept.06 ).

Needless to say, Boston would not have won this year without the contributions of Beckett and Lowell for sure but they gave up some great young talent in that trade with the Marlins.

I like what the Angels have done this past week or so and if they can add without too much substraction, all the better……hopefully we can keep Howie.

You guys who worry to much in the past, need to see that this a new era in Angel Baseball. We have maybe the best organization in this country. You have the owner who is willing do anything to WIN….People I said Win. Not many out there except the teams in the East (Boston & NY)have that luxury. So with that in place you also have stability in the coaching department, Mike Sciocia. Which in no doubt one of the elite managers around the league. We also have a player name “Vlady Daddy”, who is not getting younger. We need to make this deal happen to get this man several rings with Tori who is a proven hitter and glove. We have the Picthing staff intact. Those of you who cried that the Angels need a third baseman and a so call big bat. Well he is available folks. I do agree you don’t give up the farm. But if it means Howie, so be it. I know Howie will be an all-star and a Batting champion for many years to come, but not now. We need to win now!!!
I don’t see the Angels going back to their hay days as a weak team. We have the fans base growing more each year we are contending. Fans want winners. Dodgers are fading away and becoming the second team in L.A. Make the deal, we will be in the next world series in 08′, 09′, ….

Thank you, Detroit!

Thank you, Santa!

Now I have to relive the whole thing with J. Santana and, maybe, M. Tejada. I still say let the kids play.

Hmm, maybe something can be worked out around Jered Weaver. Face it, he’ll be trade bait soon with Boras representing him.

Let Weaver go.

He’s a head case to be just like his brother and will want more money than Johan Santana in a few years.

Remember how hard it was to sign Weaver the first time.

Weaver, Rivera, Saunders and Aybar for Johan Santana is my bet. Heck, switch out Adenhart or Willits or Morales.

Just not Kendrick or Wood.

My guess it is a done deal already, except the Twins need to decide who they will take if Kendrick and Wood are not part of the deal.

Well, it looks like reality has finally set in. Thank you Angel Management! (although we’ll probably never know if the rumors were true and accurate)

Now, a trade for Santana or Tejada/Bedard would make much more sense. A package that does not include Kendrick, Wood or Adenhart would be best. Given the depth at starting pitching and outfielders (and a catcher, if necessary, with Bobby Wilson coming on in AAA), I would think something significant could be done to further improve the team.

News has surfaced that Cabrera is working out hard and getting into the best shape of his short career. I say good for him and his new team. If he suddenly becomes the next ARod and hits 50 hr’s and drives in 150 runs, I still would not have liked the trade. Depth is what makes this team go.

Injuries are always an issue in a 162-game season. Giving up 4 very good (possibly great) players for one superstar would have been somewhat reckless, in my opinion.

Thanks to whomever nixed this.

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