What Free Agents May Come: Are the Angels Saving for the Future?


It is only late December, and already the offseason for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim feels like it’s winding down.

Most of the big fish that dominated the post-Word Series headlines have already been caught and what remains is little more than bait for future trade hooks. Two monsters still lurk the depths, but each appears to be circling one lone lure, searching for another to compare it with.

Matt Holliday and Jason Bay have received sizable offers from the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets respectively, and no team has been reported to match either.

The Angels were once targeted as a key player in the Bay sweepstakes, but chose to turn their focus on pitching, which is to say they went full bore after Roy Halladay and came up empty-handed.

As for Holliday, the closest the two sides have come to negotiations was when a fan near the on-deck circle in Anaheim asked the then-Oakland Athletic what kind of contract he wanted. Holliday told him he was looking for a six-year deal.

End of negotiations.

The wealth of this offseason seems to be just out of the Angels’ reach. According to one O.C. Register estimation, the team payroll has already reached the previous season’s mark of around $113 million, suggesting the Halos may have finished they’re holiday shopping early this year.

Sure, an after-Christmas sale might catch their eye here or there, but for all intents and purposes, the Angels seem to be content with the moves they have—and have not—made.

At least for now.

Arte Moreno may not be as reckless and carefree with his fortune as the Steinbrenner family, but he is no Donald Sterling either. Moreno puts a quality product on the field year-in and year-out, and the Angels have been competitive ever since he’s come aboard.

With that in mind, dear readers, I submit to you that our owner is not so much tightening his purse strings to save a few bucks this season as he is saving a few to spend next season.

The 2010 crop of free agents is an intriguing one, to be sure, and next offseason should prove to be an ecstasy-fueled rave compared to this year’s formal garden party.

And among the several hundred names likely to be floated around at the 2010 Winter Meetings, there are three that immediately stand out from the rest: Cliff Lee, Brandon Webb, and Carl Crawford.

Two pitchers and an outfielder—the same positions the Angels have been lobbying to fill all winter. Interesting, no?

Now, many of the players on next year’s free agent list are likely to either sign extensions with their current team, or else be traded at the July 31 deadline. Squads with big name players on the move usually don’t let them walk without some type of compensation.

Sometimes, however, they do. Just look at the aforementioned Holliday and Bay.

I believe Lee will join their ranks.

It was an utter shock to see the Seattle Mariners jump into the Lee-Halladay cluster-trade at the last second, and no one was more surprised than Lee himself. With only one year left on his current contract, he’s already told the press that he’ll likely test the free agent waters next year.

Barring any outlandish offers from the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, the Angels will certainly be in the hunt for the former Cy Young Award-winner.

Brandon Webb, another Cy-guy, was already talked about this past year as a potential trade piece come mid-season.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are the proud new owners of a young stud of a pitcher after they acquired Edwin Jackson from the Detroit Tigers last month. His youth, talent, and relative cheap price, coupled with the ace abilities of Dan Haren, could make the injury-prone Webb expendable.

Webb was limited to one start last year because of injury. He threw four innings of six-run ball on Opening Day and hasn’t touched the mound since.

Prior to 2009, Webb has never had an ERA above 3.60 for a season and threw less 200 innings just once—his rookie season.

The guy is a dyed-in-the-wool ace and if the D-Backs don’t intend to compete for his services on the open market, they will have to deal him next July. If that happens, expect the Angels to be major players.

As for Crawford, I just don’t see him staying with the Tampa Bay Rays beyond this season. He is too good and will command too much money for his current squad to even be competitive in the negotiations.

Rest assured, when he comes off the books in November, everybody will be clawing and scratching to get a piece of him. In fact, his impending freedom could be one reason the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels are all balking at giving big deals to Holliday and Bay.

Sure they have power and bring a certain intimidation to any lineup, but they are not the all-around, five-tool dynamos that Crawford has proven himself to be over the last seven seasons. And he’s only 27.

The three-time All-Star is a solid .300 hitter with surprising pop (15 home runs last year), a good glove that can adapt to any outfield position, a decent throwing arm, and speed to make Chone Figgins look like he’s standing still.

The Angels are already a bit logjammed in the outfield as it is, so in order to pick up Crawford, they’d have to do a little shuffling. Juan Rivera, for instance, could either be used in a trade—perhaps for Brandon Webb—or he and Bobby Abreu could split the designated hitter duties between them.

Whatever they choose to do, it will be worth it to bring Crawford out West. His unique skill set is far too rare to pass up and the Angels should make every effort to acquire it.

Two more interesting free agent possibilities to consider for next year: Scot Shields and Maicer Izturis. Each will be over 30 by the end of next season and may not be in the Angels’ future plans.

Shields is coming off major knee surgery and will have to compete with Fernando Rodney, Brian Fuentes, Kevin Jepsen, and Jason Bulger for significant playing time. Given his history, he should continue to be a key piece in the Angels’ bullpen, but he’ll face plenty of competition.

Izturis, meanwhile, will have an easier path to staying in Anaheim. He has proven to be an invaluable backup at shortstop, second base, and third base, and will compete for the starting job at third with the highly overrated Brandon Wood.

Although Wood will be given every chance to make it as a starter in this league, I fully expect Izzy to take over the hot corner by no later than mid-June.

So there you have it, a plethora of pleasing possibilities to ponder beyond the present. As I like to say, why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?

Moreno might look a little soft now, but he and GM Tony Reagins surely have their eyes on the future.