Albert Pujols' presence will make the Angels' rivalry with the Dodgers significant for years to come.
The New York Yankees and New York Mets just completed the first half of their annual "Subway Series" during interleague play. But the three-game sweep over the weekend confirmed that the Yankees are still the kings of New York. As fun as this season has been for the Mets thus far, they just don't measure up with the Yankees.
Monday night at Dodger Stadium, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels will meet up for the first half of their so-called "Freeway Series." No, the nickname doesn't quite have the same ring. But this annual matchup promises to be a far more compelling series this season and in years to come.
The Dodgers have the best record in baseball and the Angels have rebounded from a rough start to get back into contention for first place, but neither side can afford to lose the season series this year. Each team needs the wins. The Angels can't risk falling far behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West and the Dodgers don't want to let the San Francisco Giants get any closer to the NL West lead than they've already been.
The stakes make Dodgers-Angels a much more compelling and important series this season. But this will continue to be the case in years to come for several reasons.
The Superstar Factor
Looking at the rosters of the Yankees and Mets, there's a rather clear talent disparity. The Yankees basically have a lineup of All-Stars at every position, with players even casual baseball fans are familiar with. The Mets have David Wright, Johan Santana and seven other guys on the field. They don't have anywhere near the same star power.
Not so with the Dodgers and Angels. The Angels have paid big contracts for free-agent talent before (Vladimir Guerrero, Brian Fuentes, Torii Hunter), but took that philosophy to a whole other level when rocking baseball by adding Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to a roster of young stars like Jered Weaver and Mike Trout. And with a $3 billion TV deal, they'll keep spending.
Yes, you could say the Dodgers are Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw and seven other guys. But Kemp and Kershaw are arguably the best hitter and pitcher in the National League. Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis are also among the best at their respective positions this season.
Just wait until this coming offseason when the Dodgers' new ownership starts going after top-tier free agents. (Their pockets will also be stuffed full of TV deal cash, reported to be up to $4 billion.)They may even acquire one or two at the trade deadline, if a non-contender wants to unload a high-priced star to the Dodgers, who could then sign that player to an extension.
Neither Team is Cutting Payroll
As if things weren't already uneven enough between the Yankees and Mets, the Mets put themselves at a further competitive disadvantage by cutting $50 million from their payroll. The Yankees are spending $100 million more on player salaries this season, according to this USA Today chart.
Of course, that doesn't mean that the Mets can't win or assemble an excellent roster through smart drafting, savvy trading and sensible contracts, but $50 million can acquire a lot more talent and cover many mistakes.
There will be no such disparity between the Dodgers and Angels. OK, there is a sizable difference between the two teams' payrolls right now. Almost a $60 million gap, in fact. Maybe it will take a couple of years for the Dodgers to catch up, unless they go absolutely crazy this winter.
But as mentioned, both teams will be bursting with TV money to spend. The Dodgers won't want to be beaten for the top free agents and major headlines, especially when the Angels have already spent so extravagantly.
Angels Will Always Be Underdog
New York is always going to be a Yankees town. The Mets are always going to be the little brother.
The Dodgers are Los Angeles' baseball team, as much as Angels owner Arte Moreno has tried to stake a claim to the L.A. market. Until Moreno took over, the Angels considered Anaheim a key part of their identity.
Though the Angels won a World Series championship much more recently and the Dodgers have been the inferior team in the L.A. market for the past couple of seasons, the Halos aren't Los Angeles' baseball team.
However, it's certainly not for a lack of trying. Moreno has done everything he can to improve the experience for fans at Angel Stadium and shown he'll get the best players in an effort to win another championship. Compare that to the Dodgers, who did all they could to alienate fans under the Frank McCourt regime.
But look at how everyone in and outside of L.A. stood up at attention when the Guggenheim ownership group took over. Right away, people began imagining how Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten would rejuvenate the franchise. The Angels have been building a championship team for years, yet get shoved off the stage the moment new ownership provides hope for the Dodgers.
Neither Team Can Afford To Lose
The Mets didn't commit to a full-scale rebuilding project when slashing payroll by $50 million. However, general manager Sandy Alderson is overhauling the organization and changing the way it does business. So it's somewhat accepted that some development time is necessary as the new philosophies are implemented.
As much as Mets fans might hate taking a step back while the Yankees continue business as usual, the team is entrenched enough among New York fans that they wouldn't have become irrelevant. Look at what's happened this season. The Mets have been one of baseball's surprise teams and support has been strong. Mets fans just needed a reason to cheer again.
Would the same hold true in southern California if the Angels decided to slash payroll and change their way of building a baseball team? The front office philosophy has changed with Jerry Dipoto taking over as GM from Tony Reagins, but the Angels are still spending money.
Perhaps some cynicism or resentment will set in if the Angels don't win as expected, but Moreno seems determined to keep his team at an elite level because he knows it could become irrelevant in L.A. if they don't keep trying to win.
The Dodgers will never become irrelevant in L.A. They have the name value, the tradition, the uniforms and the ballpark (which will eventually become a newer version of itself). But they can't take those things for granted either, lest the Angels swoop in and steal the acclaim and fan affection. The Dodgers have to stay competitive or fans will turn on the new ownership like they did with McCourt.
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