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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS: ANGELS VS. BOSTON

Mission control

Some still think Angels General Manager Tony Reagins is a figurehead, but his decisions this season have made the AL West Division champions legitimate World Series contenders

October 01, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

When the Angels promoted Tony Reagins, a former marketing and advertising sales intern whose only front-office experience was at the minor league level, to general manager last October, the immediate assumption was that Manager Mike Scioscia and owner Arte Moreno would be calling the shots.

While that perception faded during a year in which Reagins has acted swiftly and boldly, it hasn't disappeared entirely.

"It would be fair to say he's not alone in the decision-making process; he definitely has input," said outfielder Garret Anderson, in his 14th year with the Angels. "I know his name is stamped on everything that gets done, but he's not alone. Which is good."

Whether people think he's a puppet or not, Reagins doesn't care.

"It doesn't matter to me, it really doesn't," Reagins said. "What matters is that the product on the field is good and we win games. I can't control what's said about me. I can only do my job to the best of my capabilities and let the chips fall where they may."

Reagins, 40, might be the chips leader among baseball executives this season. After he replaced the highly successful but often gun-shy Bill Stoneman, Reagins' rookie year featured five major moves and non-moves. He was five for five. His most controversial deal was his first, sending veteran shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who batted .301 with 86 RBIs and 101 runs and won a Gold Glove award in 2007, to the White Sox last November for starting pitcher Jon Garland.

Most considered it risky leaving such an important position to a pair of unproven players, but Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis showed they were more than capable, and Garland, though he faded in September, eased the loss of the injured Kelvim Escobar.

"I know we loved Aybar," Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro said. "Most people in the industry felt like they had the pieces to strengthen one area and add depth in the rotation."

The night before Thanksgiving, Reagins pulled off a major coup, signing free-agent center fielder Torii Hunter to a five-year, $90-million deal.

The Angels probably overpaid for Hunter, who hit .278 with 21 home runs and 78 RBIs, but he provided protection for Vladimir Guerrero, his defense has been superb, and his upbeat personality enlivened the clubhouse.

Reagins had several opportunities to trade Juan Rivera, but his decision to hold on to the reserve outfielder paid huge dividends.

Rivera replaced Gary Matthews Jr., who was slowed by a knee injury and hit .235 with seven homers and 34 RBIs in the first half, and hit .268 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs from July 2 on.

With veteran set-up man Justin Speier struggling with a 6.00 ERA on May 11, Reagins called up right-hander Jose Arredondo, who hadn't pitched much above double A. The rookie has been a bullpen force, going 10-2 with a 1.62 ERA in 52 games.

Reagins' crowning achievement came on July 29, when, despite an 11 1/2 -game division lead, he did what Stoneman never did -- consummate a blockbuster trade-deadline deal, acquiring slugger Mark Teixeira from Atlanta for first baseman Casey Kotchman and a pitching prospect.

The switch-hitting Teixeira has provided much-needed power (13 homers, 43 RBIs) and patience (.449 on-base percentage, 32 walks, 23 strikeouts), and his acquisition showed that Reagins wants to win the World Series title, not just a division crown.

"I just believe in being aggressive, and when the opportunity presents itself, being prepared to take advantage of it," Reagins said. "I'm not trying to fleece the other GM; I'm just trying to get the best deal for us, a fair deal, and when you look at it that way, you can get things done. If it's fair, you move forward. If it doesn't make sense, you don't make the deal. You saw that a lot with Bill. He was often criticized for not making a deal, but both teams have to agree, and if it doesn't make sense, you walk away."

Reagins seeks input from scouts, advisors and Scioscia before making a move. If it requires a significant financial investment, he runs it by Moreno.

"I like the communication, I like having a number of people involved as far as opinions, but I have to make the final call," Reagins said. "I have to be accountable for those decisions."

That Reagins has the ultimate authority on personnel moves has never been questioned, Scioscia said.

"I can only tell you that my relationship with Tony is no different than my relationship was with Bill," Scioscia said. "We all have opinions. Our staff voices them, I voice them to Tony, and Tony either acts or doesn't act depending on what he feels is the best direction to go."

Reagins has a challenging winter ahead. He'll enter his first negotiation with hard-nosed agent Scott Boras, who represents Teixeira, and he'll have to make tough decisions on how much to offer Teixeira and free-agent closer Francisco Rodriguez.

He'll have to decide whether to retain Anderson, Garland and Rivera, whether to pursue a free agent such as CC Sabathia, and how he's going to fit the roster into a payroll Moreno wants to keep around $125 million.

Reagins has negotiated only one free-agent contract -- Hunter's, which wasn't all that difficult, considering the Angels were Hunter's clear-cut first choice -- but he's not fazed by his lack of experience in this area.

"When I walked into this job there were a lot of things said about my experience level, and things turned out OK," Reagins said. "We'll go about the off-season the same way; I will lean on the resources we have, decisions will be made, and hopefully this time next year, we'll be standing where we are now."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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