- Mark Saxon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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For those who think highly of the 2011 Los Angeles Angels, there is good news: They're probably not going to change much.
Even as the Angels have scratched in the dirt for runs and struggled to stay relevant in the AL West since mid-May, they've found options are scarce. That doesn't figure to change in the next few months.
Angels owner Arte Moreno has told general manager Tony Reagins not to spend any more of his money this year, according to a baseball source. That means that, for the first time in the past four seasons, the Angels might not get a midseason boost from an impact trade or two. And when the Angels reach below for help, there's not much there. The team's Triple-A club is one of the worst in the Pacific Coast League, comprised largely of players in their upper 20s and lower 30s struggling to eke out careers.
There are only three ways to get players and the Angels have been stymied in all of them. They haven't done well with free agents lately. All the impact players they chased in the winter went elsewhere. Desperate for offense, they signed veteran slugger Russell Branyan after he'd been released by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He has five hits in 31 at-bats, and they're all singles.
In 2008, Reagins landed Mark Teixeira from the Atlanta Braves. He slugged 13 home runs and hit .358 in the final two months. In 2009, the Angels got pitcher Scott Kazmir, who proved a bad acquisition in the long run and was released unconditionally Wednesday, but did have a 1.73 ERA in six Angels starts in 2009. Last year, the Angels traded for Alberto Callaspo and Dan Haren, each of whom has been a key contributor.
The chances of landing an impact player this season appear dim, if not nil. The Angels' payroll is $139 million and Moreno, who got virtually nothing this year from Kazmir for $14.5 million and has seen Vernon Wells bat .193 while making $23 million, apparently isn't in the mood for further financial exposure. Attendance is down by more than 700 people per game, according to baseball-reference.com, and the Angels will get some payroll relief at the end of the season when a number of players reach free agency and Gary Matthews Jr.'s contract comes off the books (he's owed $12.4 million in 2011).
The Angels might be active before the July 31 trade deadline, but any deal they make will have to be either cash-neutral or cash-positive. If things keep going as they have lately, the Angels could seek to unload expensive veterans. Teams figure to inquire about pitchers Joel Pineiro ($8 million) and Fernando Rodney ($5.5 million), once he gets healthy, both of whom are free agents following this season.
The Angels could save a lot of money if they move Bobby Abreu, 37, whose $9 million option for next season vests if he has another 147 plate appearances this year. The Angels also might consider offers for Howie Kendrick, who is making $3.3 million and would be in line for a hefty raise in arbitration. Torii Hunter, 35, is a free agent after the 2012 season, but he has a blanket no-trade clause, so moving him would be tricky, if not impossible.
When the Angels have considered roster moves to shake up their lethargic roster, they haven't found palatable options at Triple-A. The leading hitters at Salt Lake, which is in last place in a four-team division, include Paul McAnulty, 30, Jeff Baisley, 28, Kevin Melillo, 29, and Tyson Auer, 26.
The pitching side is even worse. The Bees' rotation is filled with pitchers who have shuttled between the minors and majors for years, guys like Matt Palmer, 32, who is 2-6 with a 7.69 ERA. The Angels have already seen what most of the relievers can do. Michael Kohn, Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger all started the season on the Angels' roster before struggling. There are no Francisco Rodriguezes this year.
Of course, there is one player in the Angels' system who could make an immediate impact, perhaps a game-changing one. But for now, the Angels have resisted promoting Mike Trout, 19, who is tearing up the Texas League for Double-A Arkansas. The team is worried about a prolonged slump denting Trout's confidence over the long run. If he's up in 2011, it likely will be for a brief look, perhaps a September call-up.
Trout might be on the move soon, but it likely will be to Salt Lake.
The Angels have fumbled for solutions to their malaise all season, but have come up empty everywhere they've grasped.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Angels aren't likely to find trade magic this season with a closed wallet.