The Angels’ sale process is not expected to heat up until after the season. As it does, you will hear the names of an assortment of very rich people — some familiar, others not. I had no idea who Mark Walter was before he and his partners bought the Dodgers a decade ago; now, he is considered one of the best owners in sports.
The primary reason for that is because he and his partners pursued Andrew Friedman to run the team until Friedman said yes. Money is great, lots of money is better, and spending lots of money wisely is the best.
In a sport where executives chirp about cycles of success and windows to win, the combination of Walter’s spending and Friedman’s smarts has blessed the Dodgers and their fans with a decade of consistent superiority.
The Angels are expected to sell for at least $2.5 billion, more than any owner ever has paid to buy a baseball team. At that price, you ought to include a proven winner within your ownership group.
And that is why the names to watch in the Angels sweepstakes might not be the often anonymous guys with the deep pockets. The most intriguing names to watch might be Billy Beane and Theo Epstein.
After 25 years of putting together cost-effective winners in Oakland, Beane is said to be disenchanted by the wrecking ball that Athletics owner John Fisher took to the team payroll this year, with the long-promised new ballpark still years from the earliest possible reality.
The player with the highest salary on their current roster: infielder-outfielder Chad Pinder, at $2.725 million. The A’s have the worst record in the American League, on pace to lose 100 games for the first time since 1979.
Beane, 60, is best known for “Moneyball” — the book, the movie, the popular shorthand for analytical revolution — and often scorned by some baseball lifers because of all the attention lavished on a guy whose teams never advanced to the World Series.
Still, in his 25 seasons in Oakland, the A’s made the playoffs 11 times, the Angels seven.
He has rebuffed opportunities to run the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets, preferring to raise his family in the Bay Area. But he grew up in San Diego, the kids are in high school now, and over the years he has flirted with the idea of taking over a team in Southern California.
In 2002, when Beane rejected the Red Sox, the team hired Epstein as general manager. The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, for the first time since 1918, and then again in 2007.
In 2011, Epstein jumped to the Chicago Cubs. In 2016, the Cubs won the World Series, for the first time since 1908.
If Epstein could end the Curse of the Bambino and the Curse of the Billy Goat, certainly he could handle the Curse of Harry Sidhu.
In 18 years, his teams made the playoffs 11 times. When he walked away from the Cubs, he said this: “Being part of an ownership group is something that has always appealed to me, but it can seem so unattainable that I haven’t been really realistic about it yet.”
Any Angels ownership group would be fortunate to include Beane or Epstein, as the public face of the group. That would be even more true for the multiple Japanese investors — almost all of whom would be unknown to fans here — exploring whether to bid for the Angels.
Angels games are regularly televised in Japan, thanks to Shohei Ohtani, so the brand awareness is huge there, huge enough that the Angels might rate well there even if Ohtani leaves after next season. But you never know: a combination of Japanese investors and Beane or Epstein running the team might help persuade him to stay in Anaheim.
Beane or Epstein would help an investor group secure approval from Major League Baseball owners, who could rest easy that someone who has proven he can win without spending like crazy would be running a team in the second-largest market in the league.
Epstein could be particularly difficult for owners to turn down, since he has worked tirelessly as a consultant in the league office, evaluating reforms intended to make baseball more attractive and snappy to the paying customer. Among the reforms expected to be announced Friday, for the 2023 season: a pitch clock, and restrictions on defensive shifts.
For an ownership group, the financial portion of the approval process is the critical one: Does this group have the money to buy the team and run it competitively?
For fans, the most valuable player in an ownership group might be the one signing the hitters and pitchers, not the one signing the checks.
The runner-up in the Dodgers bidding, current New York Mets owner Steven Cohen, had targeted Tony La Russa to run the team. That would have been a disaster, based on La Russa’s subsequent tenure in the same position with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Instead, the Dodgers got Walter, and then they got Friedman. The Angels’ new owners, whomever they might be, would do well to get Beane or Epstein.