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Obstacles in Search for Angels’ General Manager

Theo Epstein has officially joined the Chicago Cubs — which has largely thrown the baseball media into a collective frenzy — but another high-profile GM position remains wide open in Los Angeles.

The Angels’ GM opening is very attractive in many ways. The organization dished out $138.5M in contracts in 2011, ranking ahead of the Cubs as the fourth highest payroll in the majors, so the monetary limitations are relatively non-existent. The farm system also boasts elite prospects — such as Mike Trout, Jean Segura, and Kaleb Cowart — which lays the groundwork for potential sustainable success. The city of Los Angeles also packs a substantial number fans into the stadium, offering a consistent stream of revenue for the organization. The Angels finished the 2011 season with the fifth-highest average home attendance — 39,090 per night.

Despite all of those enticing aspects of the GM position with the Angels, significant drawbacks exist for any potential candidate, and they could deter a current GM from legitimately considering a switch. After all, Theo Epstein actively pursued the Chicago Cubs over the Los Angeles Angels for a reason, and it’s not all about organizational history.

Established GMs, such as Esptein, generally seek out positions in which they are granted tabula rasa to rebuild the organization their way. Chicago offers that opportunity. Los Angeles does not. Any potential Angels’ GM will be forced to mold his or her personnel decisions around the institution that is Mike Scioscia.

Scioscia has managed the Angels since 2000 and is under contract until 2018. He has led the organization to six postseason appearances, as well as their first (and only) World Series in 2002, which helped cement him as a legend amongst the fanbase. There is little doubt that he will have a statue outside Angel Stadium of Anaheim one day.

One baseball executive told ESPN that he feels Scioscia’s immense power in Los Angeles could ultimately undermine a new GM’s authority within the organization. The source said:

“It’s a great job in the sense that it’s in a good city, it has a great owner and a packed stadium every night,” the source said. “On the other hand, you’ve got a manager who makes a lot more money than you who has more power than just about any other manager and he’s supposed to be working for you.”

And while Scioscia freely admits that he is not capable of serving simultaneously as the GM and the manager, the point remains that any new GM will have to appease Scioscia. Roster moves will have to have the Scioscia “stamp of approval”. Free agent or trade acquisitions will be made with Scioscia in mind.

Outside the managerial concerns, however, further drawbacks of the Angels’ job exist. The most egregious of which is the poor contracts that the new GM will be inheriting.

Vernon Wells played 131 games and only managed a .248 OBP, which was the worst in the league. Furthermore, of qualified batters in both leagues, Wells’ 12.3% LD% was the lowest line-drive rate — which is partially due to his IFFB% being a laughable 18.2%. All of that ineptitude, and he still has three-years, $63M remaining on his contract.

Aside from the albatross Wells contract, any new Angels’ GM would inherit a Torii Hunter contract that has $18M on the books in 2012, a potential Bobby Abreu contract worth $9M (pending option), and a Joel Pineiro contract worth $8M.

That is potentially $56M — or 40.42% of the payroll — owed in 2012 to four players who compiled a combined 4.5 WAR this past season. Talk about starting out behind the eight ball.

Then, there is the fact that the Texas Rangers have gone to the World Series in two consecutive seasons and appear poised for sustained success. Jon Daniels has done a wonderful job with the Rangers’ franchise. The farm system is loaded with premium talent, and their payroll is becoming more and more robust. The Angels’ new GM would not be joining the AL East by any stretch of the imagination, but the path to an AL West pennant is no longer a cakewalk.

The final deterrence for an established GM to join the Angels’ organization is that he or she would be captaining the ship of “the other” Los Angeles team. Make no mistake, Los Angeles belongs first and foremost to the Dodgers. Even in a year that was marred with divorce, violence and poor baseball, the Dodgers only lost the attendance battle with the Angels by a mere 200,000 fans.

Los Angeles wants to embrace the Dodgers. They have Vin Scully, Jackie Robinson, and Kirk Gibson. The messy divorce has cast a shroud over the Dodgers’ organization as a whole — and the Angels’ PR department is doing a wonderful job capitalizing on that — but the city wouldn’t be able to jump on the Dodgers bandwagon fast enough with any semblance of success.

The GM position for the Angels certainly has some appeal — with the money, the market, and the minor league talent — but the underlying drawbacks could be the reason existing GMs are shying away from the opportunity and the reason a first-time GM will likely be leading the Angels into the 2012 season.