Angels getting most for money

The Red Sox and Yankees got all the offseason hoopla, but no team did more to upgrade than the Angels.

Originally Published: April 16, 2004
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

There weren't any national debates whether it was good for baseball.

Vladimir Guerrero
AP PhotoVladimir Guerrero has erased doubts about his durability.

No heated meetings with the players association over deferred payments. No nationally televised news conferences from Yankee Stadium. No national magazine covers. No Red Sox fans stepping onto a ledge of the Prudential Building. No phony team captaincies.

And Ben Affleck didn't have a single thing to say about it.

But make no mistake. With all due respect to the Yankees and their trade for shortstop/third baseman Alex Rodriguez, the winter acquisition that may prove to be the most important this year was Anaheim signing right fielder Vladimir Guerrero. And compared to the months of anguished hand-wringing over where A-Rod would end up, this one happened virtually overnight. In fact, the signing was so unexpected that several Angels didn't even believe it at first.

"I was watching ESPN and I saw it on the bottom ticker thing, and when I saw we had signed him, I was like, 'Aww, I don't believe that,' " Anaheim reliever Ben Weber said. "I had to go online to make sure it was true. My reaction was 'Holy s---!' Along with just about everyone else. I knew we were in the running at the beginning but then we signed Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar and I thought, 'Well, that's it for us because surely our payroll is too high now.' But it wasn't. It just goes to show you what kind of owner we have.

"Obviously he wants to win and he isn't holding any punches back."

Indeed. Forget the Red Sox and the Yankees (please). The Angels are the most improved team in the league -- and perhaps the best as well. Anaheim is off to a 6-3 start, including five wins in as many games against the Mariners (who are looking so old you expect to see the players doing commercials for Chesterfield cigarettes).

Remember, Anaheim won the World Series so recently that you can still smell the champagne on their uniforms. They may have finished in third place with a losing record last year, but Arte Moreno -- the first Hispanic owner in major league history -- is determined to rectify that. After buying the team from Disney last summer, he made an immediate mark by lowering beer prices in the stadium. That was huge, no doubt about it, but his offseason acquisitions were even bigger.

First, the Angels signed Escobar (13-9 last year). Then they signed Colon (15-13). Then they signed left fielder Jose Guillen (.311, 31 home runs). And then they signed Guerrero, the five-time All-Star and perennial MVP candidate. All the signings pushed the team payroll to $101 million, behind only New York and Boston. Moreno keeps spending so lavishly -- he just signed Garret Anderson to a $48 million contract extension -- you expect to see the Rally Monkey driving a Cadillac Escalade.

Escobar
Escobar

Colon
Colon

Of course, new owners have come in before and spent money this freely only to find that there is more to building a winning team than opening a checkbook (yes, we're talking about you, Tom Hicks). And that might happen with Moreno. But I hope not. Having a successful Hispanic owner would be a great thing for baseball, especially in that market.

The Angels certainly look very, very good right now. They have a solid rotation, and with a lineup that includes Guerrero, Anderson, Troy Glaus and Guillen, the Angels can bash with anyone (they homered 12 times in their first nine games). Just as importantly, they can also run (10 stolen bases).

"We feel we have a deep lineup but what's important is we feel we have to keep up that aggressive style of baserunning," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're not always going to win with the home run."

Although he's been in the major leagues six full seasons, the famously shy Guerrero still speaks limited English -- "We exchange conversation," Troy Percival says, "but I exchange all the words" -- and Moreno's Hispanic background was a key to signing him.

"It was quite important the way Arte approached me as a person and a player," Guerrero said through a translator. "It was an attraction because he was able to speak Spanish to me. And being in an area with a lot of Hispanics is appealing."

Playing in front of more Hispanics than French-Canadians (unless Eric Gagne has the family in for the inter-league games) is just one way life in the Big A will differ from life in the Big O for Guerrero. For one thing, the Angels actually play all their home games at home. For another, the stadium seats get used in Anaheim. And he's playing in a major media market for a team that may be the league's best, a circumstance that may finally lift Guerrero to star status.

"We played a game in Anaheim and he seemed surprised to see so many people there," catcher Jose Molina says. "But he's not scared -- he's excited about it."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com