Carl Crawford was an ideal fit for the Los Angeles Angels. Torii Hunter saw that, and so did just about everyone else who follows the major leagues.
Hunter, the team’s highest-paid player, campaigned hard for the Angels to sign Crawford. They didn’t. In fact, owner Arte Moreno told the Los Angeles Times that the club “never made an official offer” before the left fielder signed with Boston for seven years and $142 million.
Moreno’s admission was startling, but maybe not quite so weird in retrospect. The Angels aren’t the only team that would blanch at handing out such an enormous contract. And the Angels, contrary to popular belief, have a decent outfield. They can play Hunter and Bobby Abreu in the corners and sign a veteran designated hitter. If young center fielder Peter Bourjos hits, they will be fine.
Third base is another matter.
The Angels’ roster screams for help at the hot corner. Last year, they had the lowest OPS of any team in the major leagues at the position. They learned quickly that Alberto Callaspo isn’t an everyday third baseman. They can’t afford to take yet another chance on perpetual prospect Brandon Wood. They need help.
And what’s that? Adrian Beltre just signed with the Texas Rangers?
That’s why the first Big Deal of the New Year is so significant: The Rangers looked at their longtime AL West rival, identified the one player the Angels needed most, and signed him for six years and $96 million, according to several major league sources.
Did the Rangers overspend? Maybe. But that is a discussion for another day. I’m willing to reserve judgment until I learn whether the Rangers will recoup any money by trading Michael Young.
Fans of the Seattle Mariners will tell us that Beltre’s last long-term contract didn’t work out so well. Beltre had a monster season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004 and never approached those numbers in five years with the Mariners. But Rangers Ballpark is a good place to hit, and Beltre will fit well in a dynamic Texas lineup. As a former Gold Glove winner, Beltre will save runs for a pitching staff that must find its way without Cliff Lee.
Beltre is going to help the Rangers. But he could have transformed the Angels. Moreno told the Times that he made “what we believe is a significant offer” to Beltre. That’s swell. To Beltre and agent Scott Boras, it wasn’t significant enough.
The Angels can be excused for not lavishing $142 million on Crawford. This is different. The price for Beltre was nearly $50 million less. The fit was even better. I’m beginning to wonder if O.C. stands for Oddly Comatose.
To be fair, the Angels’ off-season hasn’t been entirely listless. They upgraded the bullpen with Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi. They will benefit from the return of Kendry Morales, after last year’s freak injury. But ownership and the front office have failed to deliver – particularly in comparison to the Rangers and Oakland Athletics, who could brandish the best pitching staff in the American League this year.
The Angels must put together a more potent lineup than they did last year, when they barely produced more runs than the Kansas City Royals. Morales will help, but he can’t do it alone. And I doubt general manager Tony Reagins is enamored with the external options at third base. The remaining free agents are unexciting, and the trade market features . . . well . . . Michael Young.
For Texas, the signing of Beltre allows the franchise to further capitalize on the momentum from its first pennant. He isn’t Cliff Lee, the player who topped their wish list for weeks after the World Series. But he’s a two-way contributor who was one of the best six or seven players available on the open market this winter.
Beltre’s magnificent glovework will help the Rangers in a stadium where keeping the ball on the ground is paramount for pitchers. With Beltre at third base, pitching to contact will be a more comfortable proposition for young left-handers Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Michael Kirkman. One of them will need to be this year’s C.J. Wilson.
Young’s uncertain future could make for an uncomfortable few weeks, but there is a good chance that he will stay in Texas and switch positions. Yes, his bat looked slow in the World Series. But I don’t think it would be wise for the Rangers to deal away one of baseball’s best citizens – a man who also happened to hit .284 with 21 home runs and 91 RBIs last year.
The Rangers have more third basemen than they need, which isn’t that horrible of a predicament. I mean, look at the Angels. They have holes to fill and explaining to do and are heavy favorites no more.