Time for Angels to become sellers
OAKLAND -- Los Angeles Angels general manager Tony Reagins said Friday's blockbuster trade that moved Cliff Lee up three places in the AL West standings to the first-place Texas Rangers "really has no effect on what we need to do as a club."
But if Reagins is smart, it will have a big effect on what he and the Angels do. If they're savvy, they'll follow the Rangers' example. They'll trade away some of their expensive major-league veterans for young players who can help them rebuild their depleted farm system.
The Angels need to swallow hard and become sellers.
When I suggested to Reagins that he should concentrate his efforts on the future, he was righteously indignant, which is probably what most Angels fans would want him to be with 73 games left.
"No," Reagins said. "We're not even to the All-Star break. There's a ton of baseball to be played and still a lot of possibilities for this season."
It may sound a bit extreme, but it might also be the Angels' best path for long-term success. Selling high for many seasons was how Texas was able to swing a trade for a pitcher as dominant as Lee. Years of unloading players in their primes, including sluggers like Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez and pitchers like Chris Young loaded Texas up with chips that could be turned into a Cy Young-caliber pitcher when they matured.
Seattle didn't exactly get pick-pocketed. The Mariners landed high-end prospects they can rebuild with, including switch-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak and hard-throwing pitcher Blake Beavan. The Rangers didn't tap themselves out either. Their farm system is deep enough to absorb losing four useful pieces.
"We have more guys coming behind them," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said.
Texas traded exactly the kind of players the Angels don't have: high-ceiling prospects, close to major-league ready. The Angels' farm system is weak at Double-A and above. Their top pitching prospect, Trevor Reckling, got demoted from Triple-A after struggling for two months at Salt Lake. The Triple-A rotation is padded with retreads like ex-Oriole Daniel Cabrera.
Forget about the Angels trading their top prospect, outfielder Mike Trout. That isn't going to happen. But even moving a second-tier guy like pitcher Jordan Walden or outfielder Peter Bourjos would leave a hole where there's already plenty.
The Angels drastically need an infusion of young talent, not an expensive two-month rental. Nothing this team has done in 2010 suggests it is good enough to catch Texas. Now, the Rangers are the best team in the American League that has never won anything. They have the best-fielding shortstop, the hardest-throwing closer and, now, arguably the best starting pitcher in the league.
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"Their team is very good," Angels pitcher Ervin Santana admitted, then added. "It's very, very, very good."
That's three "verys." That's pretty good.
Not surprisingly, Angels players would love to see Reagins add a veteran bat, somebody like Adam Dunn, Derrek Lee or Prince Fielder. That's why good players aren't necessarily good general managers. When you're wired for heat-of-the-moment competition, the last thing you're going to do is see the big picture.
"I don't think it's a necessity, but if we wanted to, we could," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said coyly.
If you listen closely, you can hear suggestions that the Angels won't make a major deadline splash, which would mortgage the future for the present. They're not going to come right out and say that and risk alienating their impatient fans. When Reagins traded for Teixeira and Scott Kazmir in each of the past two seasons, the Angels were in better shape both at the major-league and minor-league levels.
"Our philosophy has not been to bring someone in for 2-3 months and empty the cupboard in the minor leagues to do it," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "So, the pool gets smaller as to the players you can acquire."
Reagins would help the organization more by concentrating on 2011 and beyond. The Angels are better situated to make a run after this season, when Kendry Morales' broken left ankle heals and the team could clear the books of some bad contracts. The Angels have tradable commodities that could land them decent prospects. In the process, they could save a little money to apply to the 2010 free-agent class, an attractive group headlined by a player the Angels have long coveted, Carl Crawford.
The Angels should go about aggressively shopping closer Brian Fuentes ($9 million), who picked up his 16th save Friday, Juan Rivera ($9.5 over the next two years) and Mike Napoli ($3.6 million). They should think about moving Brandon Wood for a different reason. His game might flourish in a lower-pressure atmosphere and a team might take a chance on his talent, offering a prospect in return. Wood is not getting any better sitting on the Angels' bench.
Even if you move one or more of those players, the season is far from a sham. The Angels wouldn't become the Baltimore Orioles. Strange things happen. Maybe Lee won't perform in the heat of Arlington, Texas. Maybe the Rangers will mentally wilt, as they've been known to do in the past. Maybe the Angels will make a run at it anyway. They still have the will and a pedigree of success.
"You don't give in. if I hear somebody say that, we're going to fight," Hunter said.
Instead of trading for a first baseman, let Napoli do it for a while. If he thrives, you have a tradable piece this offseason, depending on how Morales' rehabilitation is going. At least one Angels player agrees.
"I think Napoli's filled in well for Morales," Kazmir said. "To be honest with you, I think that position is filled."
The next three weeks won't just help determine the Angels' course in 2010. If they're not careful, it will be a July they'll never forget.
Offense clicksThe Angels snapped out of their offensive funk by hitting three home runs in a 6-5 win over the Oakland A's in 10 innings Friday night. Erick Aybar hit the game winner, Torii Hunter hit the 250th of his career and Bobby Abreu snapped out of his two-week funk by going deep.
The Angels scored more runs in the one game -- and had more extra-base hits -- than they did in the four-game series the Chicago White Sox swept from them before this.
"It was good to break out," Scioscia said.
Quote of the dayAybar is typically a slap hitter. He hit his home run off Andrew Bailey, one of the better closers in the league. It was Aybar's third home run and it went pretty deep into the left-field stands, stunning a lot of people. "He's a strong little kid," Scioscia said.
Looking aheadKazmir said he worked on shortening his stride in his between-starts bullpen session in an effort to get a better feel for throwing his slider. Kazmir's concern is that a shorter stride will cost him some velocity.
"You want to be able to really get after it and extend," Kazmir said.
Kazmir (7-8, 5.98 ERA) opposes Oakland right-hander Ben Sheets (3-8, 4.89), another player who could be on the move before the trade deadline of Saturday night at 6:07 p.m.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com