Angels slow to address weaknesses

Los Angeles Angels deal with Scott Boras for Adrian Beltre; Mike Napoli, third baseman Alberto Callaspo and right-handed reliever Kevin Jepsen

Two days after the season ended, Angels owner Arte Moreno told the Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke that he would spend whatever it took to return the team to the postseason.

“Yes. That’s how I feel," Moreno said. "That’s what I’ll do.”

He added: “We know where our weaknesses are, we know where we are thin, we know where we have to go to the market. It’s going to cost money, but our fans need to know we’re committed to winning.”

The offseason isn’t over, not even close.

But you know how certain players look when the game is moving too fast for them? That’s the Angels thus far.

To date, the Angels have addressed only one weakness — left-handed relief — and gone overboard, signing Scott Downs for $15 million over three years and Hisanori Takahashi for $8 million over two.

They appeared to botch the negotiations for their No. 1 target, free-agent outfielder Carl Crawford, reportedly putting a deadline on their offer and allowing Crawford’s agents to leverage the Red Sox into awarding him a seven-year, $142 million contract.

Moreno, however, told the Times on Friday that the team “never made an official offer and no parameters were discussed.”


Crawford was the Angels' top priority and they never actually tried to sign him?

“We never had the chance,” Moreno said, explaining that Crawford’s agents told the Angels on the first night of the winter meetings that they already had a deal.

Moreno, who did not actually attend any of the sessions with Crawford’s agents in Orlando, referred to spending $142 million on one player as “crazy” and a seven-year investment as a “huge risk.”

No argument.

But that’s how free agency works, and if Moreno doesn’t like it, he can sell the club.

Oh, but this gets better.

If Crawford’s agents at Legacy Sports did the Angels wrong, can’t wait to hear how things turn out with Scott Boras, an agent whom Moreno prefers to shun.

Moreno must decide:

Should I keep my promise to the fans, preserve my reputation and overpay Boras’ top remaining free agent, third baseman Adrian Beltre?

Or should I again refuse to bid upward on a Boras client and pursue some other solution?

If Moreno chooses the latter, his organization had better turn awfully creative, awfully soon.

Frankly, that’s just not the Angels’ style.

They are sitting on a large number of trade chips — including catcher Mike Napoli, third baseman Alberto Callaspo and maybe even right-handed reliever Kevin Jepsen — but have yet to act upon any of them.

Meanwhile, the A’s have traded for outfielders David DeJesus and Josh Willingham and signed free-agent DH Hideki Matsui in an attempt to elevate their offense to the level of their pitching.

The Rangers, while shut out on free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee, are the defending AL champions, and viewed by many in the industry as the favorite to land Royals right-hander Zack Greinke.

Moreno said the Angels have made a “significant” offer to Beltre, but both the A’s and Rangers also have been linked to the third baseman.

If either signs him, the Angels will look that much more out of step, the third-best club in a four-team division despite carrying the highest payroll by far.

The Angels already are at $133 million for 2011, according to the projections of one rival club. That figure includes their eight arbitration cases and — gulp — an $11.4 million payment to former outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., whose ill-fated, five-year, $50 million free-agent contract finally expires after this season.

The signing of Beltre presumably would take the Angels to nearly $150 million, and to what end? Beltre is a terrific all-around talent, but this is a team that finished 80-82 last season and ranked next-to-last in the AL in on-base percentage.

Injuries were a factor, and the return of first baseman Kendry Morales from a broken leg will help immeasurably. But if Bobby Abreu is the DH, as originally planned, the Angels will have Juan Rivera in left, Peter Bourjos in center and Erick Aybar at short. Too many offensive holes.

The rotation is strong, save for left-hander Scott Kazmir, and the bullpen should be a force, even though righty Fernando Rodney is not a lock-down closer. Sign Beltre, trade for someone like Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton, and things would look different. But such a plan seems more fantasy than reality right now.

The Angels never should have allowed themselves to be cornered like this. They should have been more resolute at the winter meetings, telling Boras, “We’re aggressively pursuing Crawford. Here is our offer on Beltre. Take it, or we’re gone.”

The other option was to ignore Beltre and go all-out for Crawford. But the Angels got too cute. They reportedly offered Crawford six years, $108 million, less than what the Nationals gave free-agent outfielder Jayson Werth. It's either that or Moreno's version, which is that the Angels offered nothing at all.

Maybe the Red Sox overpaid by a wide margin. Does it even matter? The Angels also could have afforded to pay Crawford an extra $2 million to
$3 million per season. But the Red Sox got the player. The Red Sox won.

The Angels are left to negotiate with Boras with no leverage.

Have fun.

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