Do Angels Really Intend to Land Big Bat?
By Adam Dodge - Angelswin.com Senior Writer
If new Los Angeles Angels General Manager, Tony Reagins learned anything from his mentor, Bill Stoneman it had to be that a GM in a major market with a dedicated fan base that consistently fills each of the stadium’s 44,000 or so seats had better at least pretend to try and make a big impact in the free agent or trade market if he is to avoid public scrutiny.
By all accounts, Stoneman’s run as general manager of the Angels was the most successful in team history. Yet, his inability to make impact trades or land the much needed big bat to compliment the now aging Vladimir Guerrero deflected much of the media and fan attention away from his accomplishments – a World Series championship and three Division titles – instead earning him the label of ultra conservative, even gutless when it came to making major changes to the roster. Whether the criticism is fair has been debated. What is important is that Stoneman rarely made us believe that he went down all appropriate avenues to fill needs, and never made us think he was at all creative. Ultimately, as fans we lost all faith that the Angels would ever have a chance to land a once in a lifetime type player since Guerrero fell into our laps four short years ago.
In contrast, and less than a month on the job, Tony Reagins is doing just that. The Angels are rumored to be interested in both, free agent third-baseman, Alex Rodriguez and in Florida Marlins phenom, Miguel Cabrera, who is perhaps the only right handed hitter in baseball comparable to Rodriguez. Reagins has made no effort to conceal the team’s interest, openly announcing to the world that the Angels are major players this off-season.
But, is Reagins speaking honestly? Understanding what it would take to land either player, is the man cutting the checks, Arte Moreno sincere? Is he willing to dedicate such a large percentage of the team’s payroll to Alex Rodriguez? Will the front office really gut a significant portion of the Angels’ farm system to land Cabrera? I am not convinced that Reagins public displays of affection for these targets are not just part of a ploy to lead us to believe that the Angels really truly tried this off-season when neither player is acquired.
And we likely will not know the answers to these questions until these dynamic power-hitting third-basemen are off the market. What Reagins and the Angels have done is inspire hope and spark considerable interest amongst the fan base. The Angels are nationally relevant this off-season. For the first time in a few years the hot stove is lit in Orange County.
Assuming that the Angels are serious contenders for either Rodriguez or Cabrera, let us examine the details of a potential acquisition and the pros and cons of acquiring each player.
Alex Rodriguez is perhaps the most accomplished 32 year old in Major League history, coming off of a season which saw him hit 54 homeruns, including the 500th in his already hall of fame caliber career. There’s a reason that A-Rod that opted out of a 10 year, $250 millions dollar contract with three years and $81 million remaining. He and his agent, Scott Boras are reasonably certain he can once again break the bank. Disregarding what Boras had told the Yankees, that his client sought a 10 year, $350 million deal as a complete fantasy. Of course, I’m not suggesting that Boras didn’t indeed say this, but rather that I find it at best, improbable that any team would dedicate so much money to one player. More likely, Rodriguez was not fond of playing in New York and utilized his opt out to not only add years to his deal, but to escape the unceasing scrutiny he faced in the Big Apple.
With four to six teams potentially in the bidding for Rodriguez, it’s reasonable to speculate that it will take at least an 8 year deal in the $225-$260 million range. When the dust settles and A-Rod dresses in his new team’s colors it’s quite feasible that he’ll have signed a deal in the 10 year, $300 million range if the competition heats up as Boras expects.
For the Angels, the signing of Rodriguez would pay huge dividends early. Already the favorites in the American League West, the Angels would be in line to be odds on favorites to make the post-season for the next 4-5 years without question. And with the aging David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez slowing a bit in Boston, the Angels dynamic duo of Guerrero and Rodriguez would be the most potent in all of baseball. The Angels chances in the post-season would be certain to improve as well. A-Rod would indeed get the Angels closer to winning a World Series.
Signing Alex Rodriguez to a free agent contract would cost the Angels none of their current prospects and young players. Howie Kendrick and Casey Kotchman showed the Angels and the baseball world a glimpse of what’s to come in 2007. Certain to be asked for in any blockbuster trades, signing A-Rod means the left side of the Halo infield would be in tact for the foreseeable future. This is a plus for two reasons. First, these guys can play. Kendrick can rake and Kotchman has shown enough at the plate to convince us that he’s capable of being a middle of the order guy that plays a gold-glove first base. Secondly, these players are under club control for several more seasons, allowing the Angels to be the payroll flexibility needed to commit such a large sum to A-Rod. Trading these parts away, means they’d have to be replaced and likely by higher priced veterans. Top prospects SS, Brandon Wood and SP, Nick Adenhart would also remain in place and ready to make an impact in 2009. To afford the high priced Rodriguez and the soon to be extended Guerrero, not to mention those on the starting staff in the near future, a team must have a solid group of quality youngsters under club control. The Angels have that.
Finally, signing Alex Rodriguez makes the Angels undeniably relevant, not only in the Los Angeles market, where they are competing with the Dodgers, but nationally relevant. Vladimir Guerrero is no doubt a star on the field. But the soft-spoken Dominican slugger does not transcend sports. A-Rod does. One could argue that his “baggage” is not attractive, nor is the attention it brings. But in a business sense he absolutely does. The more face time the Angels get nationally, the more important they become and the more interest they’ll garner. If Arte truly wants the Angels to be a national product, Alex Rodriguez will only help this cause in the interim, but also into the future. A-Rod is on pace to re-write the record books. To have the eventual all-time homerun king, RBI king, and possibly hit king be an Angel will only generate more attention and more revenue.
Signing Alex Rodriguez would not come without its share of issues. For arguments sake let’s assume he signs a deal in the neighborhood of $25 million per season. Let’s also assume the Angels extend Guerrero to a four year deal at $15 million. John Lackey would be next and it would be intellectually dishonest of us to think he gets any less than $15 million per season. The team is on the hook for $10 million per season for Gary Matthews Jr. The Angels will have already committed $65 million per season (half their payroll) and likely more to four players. If Moreno is consistent with his comments and actions we can’t expect the Angels’ payroll to greatly exceed $125-$130 million. This does not take into account, the slugger’s age. The Angels would be putting a lot of faith in Rodriguez and his ability to perform at higher level later in his career than the vast majority of players before him have been able to.
Mike Scioscia voiced his concerns and rightfully so on the Joe McDonnell show last week. Signing A-Rod leaves the Angels with little room for error when it comes to their pitching staff. Reagins and the front office will have to be more than creative to generate a pipeline of quality, young and inexpensive pitching into the organization. It would be doubtful that the Angels would extend Kelvim Escobar beyond 2009, when his current deal expires.
Likewise, the Angels will have to produce young talent in the field as well, something they have not been able to do in the outfield for some time.
Continuing to field a top tier major league pitching staff beyond 2009 will be the greatest challenge facing the Angels should they sign Rodriguez. Many would argue that if the Angels can win championship(s) in the first half of the A-Rod era, they’d be willing to sacrifice competitive play if the Angels find themselves hamstrung by his contract in the later years. This is a popular opinion, but given the state of the southern California sports landscape – notably, the psyche of the typical Angel fan, it’s doubtful that ownership sees it that way. Regardless of how much the Angels accomplish early in a potential A-Rod era, and it needn’t be said that winning a World Series is not at all a given, if the team fell into mediocrity shortly thereafter, we would be giving too much credit to the “fans” if we are to assume they’d continue to fill Angel Stadium. Since 2002, the Angels have consistently packed the house. But, the team has not gone more than 1 season without making the playoffs in that span. Two or three years of third or fourth place finishes and I fear we’d be back to averaging 20,000-25,000 in attendance per night.
Other potential concerns include the “cancer” factor. It’s legitimate to question how someone of A-Rod’s stature would affect the clubhouse and chemistry of the teams, or how any potential character flaws would rub off on the team’s leaders. A-Rod brings a big stick, but he also brings a big suitcase. Described as “selfish,” and “all about the money” are traits that contradict the make-up of the current squad, which is by all accounts a very no nonsense group.
In the end, Alex Rodriguez brings with him so much more promise than he does potential regret. His presence in the line-up would put the Angels on par with the League’s best talent-wise for the next few years, and would make the team all the more relevant, nationally. The excitement that a 3-4 duo of Guerrero and A-Rod presents on a nightly basis will more than make up for increased ticket prices, concessions and memorabilia.
It has been said that when you have the chance to sign the best player in your sport you do it. In this case, I have to agree. Alex Rodriguez does not guarantee the Angels a championship. He is not a lock to perform at a high level for much more than the next few years. But he could. And he might. Regardless of where the team and the player would end up, what a thrilling ride it would be.
Miguel Cabrera is essentially Alex Rodriguez of eight years ago, plus forty pounds and several percentage points of body fat. Cabrera emerged much like the Angels Francisco Rodriguez, well before his time. The then 19 year old Cabrera was one of the biggest reasons the 2003 Marlins won the World Series. He has since continued to improve on his big league resume putting up ridiculous numbers at the age when most players are looking to make a big league roster. Cabrera is one of the top five right handed sluggers in Major League Baseball along with A-Rod, Albert Pujols, Vlad Guerrero and Manny Ramirez.
One could argue that adding Cabrera’s bat to the Angel line-up would be a better move than adding Rodriguez’s. Cabrera is much younger, with a ceiling as high A-Rod’s. It could be argued that Cabrera could be expected to outperform Rodriguez as soon as four years from now.
Cabrera has never played with a talent like Vladimir Guerrero. It could be scary – the offensive numbers he could put up hitting in front or behind Vladimir Guerrero and in a line-up as loaded with quality hitters as the Angels’.
While the acquisition of Cabrera would not compare to an acquisition of A-Rod from a notoriety aspect, it would serve the same purpose on the field. The Angels would be adding a power hitting third baseman with a .930 OPS to the middle of their line-up. Offensively, the Angels would have their dynamic duo and a young player to build around when Guerrero retires.
Miguel Cabrera is fat. And getting fatter apparently. In 4+ big league seasons Cabrera has packed on an estimated 70 pounds. This has to be concern. First, the question must be asked. Is Cabrera eating himself out of the major leagues? Is this a guy dedicated to being the best he can be for himself and for his team? It would appear that Cabrera lacks the necessary drive and discipline to ensure he is at his best, physically. Fat athletes are more likely to be injured and more likely to wear down over a long season. The second concern: Is Cabrera’s rapid weight gain a product of performance enhancing drugs?
Miguel Cabrera is not a free agent, and to acquire him the Angels will have to part with several young players. Guys like Cabrera do not become available in trade often. He is available to every team in baseball and Florida is making it known that they want a lot for him. From the Angels, a package to pry Cabrera from the Marlins will likely include Howie Kendrick, Brandon Wood, Nick Adenhart and Casey Kotchman. The Angels and Reagins could certainly negotiate with the Marlins, but you get the idea. Cabrera means the Angels will lose quite a bit of young, inexpensive talent expected to contribute at a very high level in the near future.
Finally, Cabrera may not get A-Rod money when he’s a free agent in 2009, but he could be close, especially if he were to perform the way we’d expect him too. The Angels could end up paying A-Rod money in the long run for Cabrera, while also losing the flexible pieces which make the A-Rod deal doable. Or, perhaps a worst scenario sees Cabrera leave for another team when he becomes a free agent, leaving the Angels with a two year rental. If the team does not win a World Series in that time we’d be right then to ask “What was the point?”
Much like Rodriguez, Cabrera is the type of talent championship contending teams are built around. He is a beast at the plate, and may only get better. The Angels will need to consider rolling the dice and making the deal if they feel it’s the best avenue down which to improve the team.
A-Rod or Cabrera?
Considering that both players will cost a large percentage of the team’s payroll now and into the future, it would be wiser that the Angel sign the free agent, Alex Rodriguez while holding onto the young players, who look to be more than capable of impacting the major league roster.
But both players bring with them questions. Will A-Rod earn his contract, specifically in its later years? Will Miguel Cabrera dedicate himself to staying in shape? Or, will he end up a Mo Vaughn type – unable to stay on the field once he hits his 30’s?
I have more faith that Howie Kendrick, Casey Kotchman and the Angel prospects will develop into quality players and that Arte Moreno will figure a way to increase revenues and if necessary, payroll, to ensure the Angels are competitive for the entirety of the A-Rod contract, than I do that Cabrera will outperform the loss of young talent.
That being said, the Angels should roll the dice. The competition for a World Championship is too great not to. Boston and Cleveland are not going anywhere. Detroit seems motivated to field the best possible team and the Yankees are always a threat.
The Angels are good, and will likely win a fourth AL West championship in five years. But will they finally make a big splash? Or are Arte and Tony just blowing smoke?