How could a team blessed with three-time American League most valuable player Mike Trout and two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani—the unanimous 2021 MVP and likely the runner-up this season to New York Yankees home run king Aaron Judge — miss the playoffs again?
His response was born of common sense and stating the obvious.
“We’ve got two of the greatest players ever to put on uniforms. There’s no secret there,” the Angels’ general manager said. “But we need more. It’s not a two-on-two game. If it was, I love our chances.”
“It’s everything. We need more of everything,” he said during a season wrapup news conference Thursday at Angel Stadium.
He got that much right, at least, in summing up a season that went so wrong after a teasingly good start, a season that included the surprise firing of manager Joe Maddon when the team was 27-29 and flailing through a losing streak that reached a club-record 14 games.
Coincidentally or not, Maddon’s criticisms of what he considered Minasian’s heavy-handed, numbers-driven philosophy surfaced on Thursday via si.com’s excerpts of a book Maddon wrote with Tom Verducci, “The Book of Joe: Trying Not to Suck at Baseball & Life.”
Maddon objected to pregame “choreography” by Minasian and assistant general manager Alex Tamin, who decided which relievers were available for each game and limited Maddon’s flexibility with his bullpen, according to the book. Maddon also said Minasian called the dugout and had trainer Mike Frostad tell him to pull Trout from a game the Angels had turned into a blowout on May 9; earlier in the day Trout said he had a sore groin but later told Maddon he was fine, so Maddon had left him in until the eighth inning. Maddon confronted Minasian the next day and told him to never dictate lineup decisions again, though front-office influence on dugout decisions is common now. “I plead guilty to having philosophical differences with Perry,” Maddon said. “You don’t take it personally. It’s business.”
Minasian declined to say whether Maddon’s version of events was true.
“I’m not going to get into it. I enjoyed working with Joe. We had a really good relationship. I thought we had a really good relationship,” Minasian said.
“He wrote a book. He’s trying to sell it. I get it. I wish nothing but the best for Joe. I hope he’s on the New York Times Best Seller list.”
With that book removed from Minasian’s reading list, he will have more time to figure out how to change the wretched course of a team that has wasted the prime years of both Trout and Ohtani. That’s enough of a challenge. Minasian will have to accomplish that while knowing he has Ohtani under contract for only one more season — and without knowing what his budget will be if owner Arte Moreno sells the team.
It’s not clear what has happened since Moreno announced in August he had retained Galatioto Sports Partners as financial advisors to explore a possible sale. Minasian said it’s not his place to ask where the process stands. “That’s above my job description,” he said.
But it will have an impact on whether he can retain Ohtani. And, probably, on whether Ohtani wants to stay long term.
If it’s more of the same next season — more of the pitching problems the Angels had this season, the same weak bats in what should be the heart of their batting order and same lack of quality depth throughout the lineup — who could blame Ohtani for wanting to leave to play for a contender? “I'd love to have him here for a long time,” Minasian said. His offseason moves could go a long way in influencing Ohtani’s decision.
It's not about spending money. Moreno didn’t refuse to spend money. The problem was he too often didn’t spend it well.
It should be difficult to find two superstars and easy to build around them. The Angels lucked into the hard part and can’t pull off the simple part. Minasian used a basketball analogy, noting successful duos such as John Stockton and Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were great players, “but there were some really good supporting casts around those guys. It’s the same thing.”
Minasian’s focus after last season was his bullpen. He secured closer Raisel Iglesias to a four-year, $58-million deal and signed veterans Ryan Tepera and Aaron Loup as free agents. When the team collapsed, Iglesias became more valuable as a trade chip and he was traded to Atlanta. He will be in the playoffs. The Angels won’t.
“That didn't work out,” Minasian said of the bullpen-bolstering plan.
“You know, there's no secret formula. You have to be able to compete on a daily basis in every area: bullpen, rotation, lineup, bench, depth, all those things. And we did not do that. And again, that falls directly on me. So, nobody's running, nobody's hiding from it. I understand the job that needs to be done.”
At this time next year, Minasian said, he hopes he's discussing a postseason roster and who’s pitching the Angels' playoff opener. That felt a long way off on Thursday, so soon after the end of another year of wasting the remarkable talents of Trout and Ohtani and the reminder that baseball isn't a two-on-two contest.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.