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Angels see what develops

October 01, 2008|BILL SHAIKIN

There is no secret to the Angels' success. It's all on display, in a framed collage outside the owner's suite.

This is not about the past. There are no pictures of great players, or great moments, in club history.

This is about the present, about the future, about an organization that puts its commitment to player development in a place so prominent you would expect to see pictures of Tim Salmon, or Nolan Ryan, or Scott Spiezio.

Instead, on the way into Arte Moreno's suite, you see pictures of the Angels' minor league ballparks, from Arizona to Iowa, from Arkansas to Utah, that long road from rookie ball to the show.

John Lackey traveled that road. So did Ervin Santana, and so did Joe Saunders. Of the eight teams in the playoffs, the Angels are the only one that will use an entirely homegrown starting rotation.

It is a milestone that reflects the success of the blueprint Bill Stoneman and Mike Scioscia put into place when the Angels hired them eight years ago: Win with pitching, preferably your own.

"It reflects very favorably on our scouting and player development, which is basically our life source," Scioscia said.

This is the Angels' fifth trip to the playoffs under Scioscia, the first with a homegrown rotation.

"It lends itself to the long-term stability of the organization," said Tony Reagins, promoted last year from minor league director when Stoneman retired as general manager. "It gives you depth and strength for the long term.

"Financially, it gives you more flexibility. You have players under control for a longer term."

The Angels have All-Stars in Santana, three years from free agency, and Saunders, four years from free agency.

They have an ace in Lackey, in his sixth full season in the major leagues. They have paid him $17.6 million over those six years.

The New York Mets signed Johan Santana for six years -- for $137.5 million. Santana might be the best pitcher in baseball. He is better than Lackey, but not $100 million better.

The savings, and the flow of pitching prospects, enabled them to sign center fielder Torii Hunter last winter. They might spend $100 million to sign CC Sabathia this winter, but they won't even think about spending those bucks every winter.

"If you sign one free-agent pitcher every year, you're really draining the organization of a lot of revenue you need for the whole team," Scioscia said.

"And it's not reality that you can sign the top free-agent pitcher every year. There's a premium on developing your own talent, especially your own pitching. It's such a tough commodity to find."

That's why the Dodgers are keeping their fingers crossed that Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and James McDonald can head their rotation next season, and beyond. The Dodgers got mixed results from Kevin Brown at $105 million, virtually nothing from Darren Dreifort at $55 million and Jason Schmidt at $47 million.

And the Dodgers are far from the only team burned by big spending on pitchers. Think Barry Zito at $126 million, Mike Hampton at $121 million, Chan Ho Park at $65 million.

Think last winter, when the Seattle Mariners supposedly clinched the American League West championship by spending $48 million on Carlos Silva and spending five young players in a trade for Erik Bedard.

And think back to 2000, the first season under Stoneman and Scioscia. Out went the usual Angels' rotation filler, the sludge at the bottom of the free-agent pool. In went the kids, Jarrod Washburn and Ramon Ortiz and Scott Schoeneweis, into the rotation.

All three pitched on the Angels' 2002 World Series championship team. None would figure to make the Angels' rotation today.

Before Moreno bought the team in 2003, he asked for a one-hour meeting with Stoneman. The meeting extended to five hours, and Stoneman said Moreno came prepared with questions about virtually every player on the 40-man roster, minor leaguers included.

"If you really want to be the owner of a winner, you have to scout and develop players better than the other side," Stoneman said he told Moreno. "If you think you can come in and buy a winner, it doesn't work."

Moreno had found a philosophical ally, and Stoneman had found an owner willing to back the philosophy with cash.

So, in six of the nine seasons since Stoneman and Scioscia showed up, the Angels have spent their first draft pick on a pitcher. And, since the worst teams pick first, the Angels aren't drafting at the top of the first round.

Moreno has provided the money to keep the pitching pipeline flowing. He signed Bartolo Colon for $51 million, sure, to fill a vacancy at ace five years ago. He will probably need to spend more to sign Lackey to an extension.

But the Angels also signed Jered Weaver out of Long Beach State for $4 million, Jordan Walden and his 100-mph fastball out of junior college for $1 million, Korean prospect Young-Il Jung for $1 million and top prospect Nick Adenhart, coming off elbow surgery, for $710,000.

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