Heading into the winter after their worst season in eight years, the Angels looked like they planned on being among the offseason's biggest buyers. Arte Moreno and Tony Reagins both asserted that they would do everything they could to shore up the team's obvious weaknesses. They targeted All-Star left fielder Carl Crawford, and were thought to be the favorites to sign him from day one. If there was a big free-agent name available this winter, the Angels were going to inquire on him. They were linked to all the big names, from Crawford, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, to Adrian Beltre and closer Rafael Soriano.
We're nearly three months into the offseason, most of the big names are gone and big news is already made. The Angels, with glaring issues in the bullpen, at third base and left field, would surely make a big-money splash or two in the free-agent pool. It seemed like everyone was conceding Crawford to sign on to play with his pal Torii Hunter, but the Angels' hard-line negotiating left no room for paying Crawford a dollar more than what they thought he is worth. One by one, the big contracts were signed by the impact free agents. It seemed like every team got a piece of the pie except for the Angels.
When all was said and done, the Angels' free-agent haul read like this: veteran lefties Scott Downs for three years/$15 million and Hisanori Takahashi for two years/$8 million. Ugh. The bullpen is in a little better shape now, but what about the needs in the field? It seems like the Angel brass forgot what they set out to do just a month before.
There is a lot of speculation and confusion as to what the strategy is for Reagins and Moreno. Maybe they're bad negotiators who didn't have the courage to commit to Crawford or Beltre or Soriano. More likely, I think they are playing their cards close to the vest, which has characterized recent decisions regarding personnel and acquisitions.
Here is what I think is going on: Moreno, always concerned with his balance sheet and happiness of the fanbase, is doing all he can to make good on his promise to not raise ticket and concession prices due to increased payroll. He's hoping that he will continue to accrue good will with the fans over the long term, so that they repay him in loyalty and trust in times like this offseason when frustration and confusion reign.
That's not all. I think the decision-makers are looking ahead to next winter, when (as of current contract status) names like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Robinson Cano, Brandon Phillips, Jose Reyes and Aramis Ramirez will be on the free-agent market. The current offseason of restraint and savings are just one cog in the wheel to position for a spending spree next year. Maybe they make a big run at Pujols, and why not? The Cardinals will be the only other team with the flexibility and room to compete for him.
After his struggles over the last two years, maybe Reagins thinks he can get Aramis Ramirez to fill the void at third base at a discount. Slogging through another year with a platoon at third would certainly be worth signing Ramirez, right? I think so, especially given the alternative of overpaying Beltre by $25 million this year, like Texas just did.
The point is I've seen Moreno and Reagins do curious and unconventional things before. They go against the grain. They take gambles. They wait for a big payoff while everyone else chases instant gratification. Prudence and restraint are vital in any kind of business investment. The same goes for running a baseball team.
Frustrated? Confused? Angry? Anxious? I am all of the above regarding the current Angel landscape. However, I'm glad to have Arte Moreno as my owner, and he has proven himself trustworthy as an acquirer of players over the last eight years. I trust that he and Reagins are doing something good for the team, even if it isn't quite visible on the surface or paying immediate dividends.