From the lectern, the master of ceremonies glanced over the crowd that gathered for the news conference introducing Ron Washington as the Angels’ new manager.
“There’s a big crowd in here today,” play-by-play announcer Wayne Randazzo said.
More than 100 people packed the fourth-floor room at Angel Stadium.
The overwhelming majority of them, however, were team employees, who were basically called upon to be seat fillers.
They applauded when Washington was presented. They laughed at the jokes he told. They gave him a standing ovation when it was over.
There was nothing convincing about the spectacle because the purported excitement over the next season described by Randazzo doesn’t exist.
Nothing has changed. Regardless of whether they re-sign Shohei Ohtani, the Angels are still the Angels. Whatever excitement they are projecting is entirely make-believe, and everyone knows it.
Washington, 71, was hired to be fired.
The Angels can’t be competitive as long as Anthony Rendon’s $38-million salary remains on their books, and Rendon’s deal doesn’t expire for another three years.
Washington is under contract for two.
The Angels won only 73 games last season and that wasn’t because of how Phil Nevin managed the team. They won only 73 games because they paid more than $73 million to Rendon and another part-time player in Mike Trout.
The Angels once again have more than $73 million committed to Trout and Rendon next season. Unless owner Arte Moreno has a sudden change in priorities and starts ignoring luxury-tax thresholds, general manager Perry Minasian once again won’t have the resources to make significant changes to the roster. The Angels lack pitching, and pitching costs money. They also don’t have the kind of farm system that can provide their major league team with low-cost, high-impact players.
Trout and Rendon will have to remain healthy for the Angels to have any chance at contending, but how much can they be counted on?
Minasian said he expected them “to be in the lineup a lot more than they’re not,” but even that sounded overly optimistic. Rendon has played an average of 49 games a season over the last three years. Trout has looked like Cal Ripken Jr. by comparison, with an average of 79 games a season.
The Angels have to welcome back Ohtani if he wants to return because he would maintain their relevance and marketability, but their investments in Trout and Rendon raise legitimate questions about whether re-signing Ohtani is smart from a baseball perspective. Do the Angels really want to devote more than half of their payroll to three players?
Washington sounded unburdened by this reality, which was why they hired him. Change has to start somewhere, and the Angels figured they could start with their culture.
“There has to be a belief here that we can win and we can compete,” Minasian said. “He’s going to help create that belief day in and day out.”
How much can belief compensate for injuries to the team’s two highest-paid players? How much can belief make up for the lack of a starting rotation?
What, will the Angels win 78 games next year instead of 73?
Washington presented himself the way Minasian described him.
“I’ve been hearing a lot of negativity about the roster,” Washington said. “But here in Angel Country, there’s such a thing as the inside-out syndrome. Everybody that’s on the outside, you just gonna have to wait to see what you get, where everybody on the inside, [they] will know what will happen.
“It will be nothing but positivity around here.”
The more Washington spoke, the more he sounded overjoyed to just get another chance to manage after his previous opportunity ended in disgrace. He reached back-to-back World Series with the Texas Rangers but suddenly resigned in the final month of the 2014 season. He said he did so because he cheated on his wife.
Asked if he performed the necessary due diligence on Washington’s resignation and whether he was comfortable with what he learned, Minasian replied, “Yeah, I feel comfortable with it.”
That wasn’t the only controversy of Washington’s time with the Rangers. He tested positive for cocaine in 2009. Washington claimed he tried the drug only once.
Considering the Angels’ experience with substance abusers such as Josh Hamilton and the late Tyler Skaggs, was there any hesitation on Minasian’s part to offer him a job?
“I guess I’d say this: He owned up to what he did, and that was really, really important,” Minasian said. “To me, it’s more the human being. We all make mistakes. So did he make mistakes? Yes. Did he pay for those mistakes? Yes. Has he had any issues over the last nine, 10 years? I was with him day in and day out in Atlanta [as an assistant general manager of the Braves, for whom Washington was a third base coach]. No, he hasn’t. To me, second chances are warranted for good people.”
Washington was grateful. In his excitement, he referred to the Angels as both the “California Angels” and “Anaheim Angels.”
The mistakes drew warm laughs instead of scorn. This was a heartwarming story about a beloved baseball lifer who was granted a long-awaited second chance. But a chance at what? Washington is the Angels’ fourth manager in the five years since the team parted ways with Mike Scioscia. Washington might have characteristics that distinguish him from Brad Ausmus, Joe Maddon and Nevin, but he’s now in the same situation they were in.