This is a make or break offseason for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
What the organization chooses to do during the winter months could either turn this team into World Series contenders for the next several years or send them into a downward spiral with no end in sight.
Thus far into the offseason, the Angels have managed to close the book on superstar closer Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez, not extend an exclusive offer to the (statistically) best player in the Major Leagues in Mark Teixeira, and suspend contract extension talks with future Hall of Famer, Vladimir Guerrero until after the 2009 season.
The front office is justifying their inflexibility by saying that K-Rod has been offered six different contract extensions during the 2008 season and turned down each and all of them.
This was all before Rodriguez set the single season saves record and finished third place in the American League Cy Young Award voting. The record-breaking closer is still only 26 years old and along with the saves record, he was an instrumental part of bringing the Angels their only World Series title in 2002 and will almost certainly break the career saves record set by Trevor Hoffman.
The Angels have expressed interest in Nationals closer Chad Cordero, who happens to be an Anaheim native, along with Rockies closer, Brian Fuentes. Cordero is coming off of a season shortened by severe shoulder tendinitis in which he pitched in only six games that equaled to four-and-one-third innings.
Fuentes, on the other hand, has the ability to stay healthy but has been bounced back and forth between closer and late-reliever roles, due to his inability to be consistent in closing out games.
Owner Arte Moreno and General Manager Tony Reagins could also go the internal route and promote either career set-up man Scot Shields or rookie phenom Jose Arredondo. Shields has a history of blowing saves, and American League batters could figure out Arredondo much as the did teammate Jered Weaver in his second campaign.
So here are the options Reagins and Moreno must weigh. Put up a little more money for guaranteed success, continuity in the closer role, and the possibility of a career record being broken by a man wearing your uniform, or leave the ninth inning up to either a guy coming off an injury riddled season, your choice of guys who have trouble in clutch situations or an untested sophomore.
It is understandable that the Angels were unwilling to make an offer to Mark Teixeira during their 15-day period of exclusive negotiation rights. Teixeira plans to test the water of free agency, regardless of any offer he received from Arte Moreno, and with agent Scott Borras not concerned with anything but money and playing two ends against the middle, an offer issued by Moreno could have ended the bidding war before it started.
With the New York Yankees also being an interested party in acquiring Teixeira's services, they could easily have come over the top of the Angel's offer and made it look like a pittance with their bottomless pockets. It is not hard to comprehend why the Angels are waiting, but if they wait too long, Teixeira may get the wrong idea and think that Moreno and his clan aren't interested enough to play hard ball with the Hank Steinbrenner and the pinstripers.
Assuming the monetary bout is lost by the Halos, their backup plan is Cuban defector Kendry Morales. Morales is a more than adequate replacement to former Angel first sackers like Darin Erstad, it's just a shame he arrived a few years too late.
Morales will be an exceptional player for somebody someday, but he can't be a stand in to the best player in baseball. His only future with the Angels if Teixeira re-signs is as a potential designated hitter.
The only error greater than not bringing back Mark Teixeira is failing to negotiate an extension with former Most Valuable Player, Vladimir Guererro. Vlad has lost a step or two in his older age, but is still among the elite outfielders in the league.
After his days in right field are done, he will be hands down the best designated hitter in baseball. If the Angels want their cap worn for the first time in Cooperstown, Mr. Guerrero is your man.
As for the rest of the Angel free agents, the ones that warrant the most attention are Darren Oliver and Garett Anderson. Oliver needs to be brought back simply because he is the only lefty in the Halo's bullpen, aside from being a very reliable pitcher to take on the big bat of David Ortiz among other boppers from the left hand side of the plate.
Buying out Anderson's contract was a wise and expected decision, but he should be brought back to the club for a last hurrah as he has spent his entire career in the Angel organization. Moreno owes Anderson this courtesy for all his years of service and exceptional play not only donning Moreno's red uniforms, but three uniforms before it.
If the Angels wish to lose two of the best players in baseball and a number of important pieces, they should continue going and continuing on their current path, but if they want to get serious and think about winning some hardware to go along with their 2002 title, they will open up the pocket book and reap the rewards.