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01/05/11 5:20 PM EST
Angels move on without marquee additions
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- It's time for Angels fans to leave Fantasyland. With Adrian Beltre accepting Texas' riches to join the American League West champion Rangers, there will be no high-profile free agents coming to Orange County in 2011 -- unless the club elects to bring back Vladimir Guerrero or sign Rafael Soriano, moves which appear unlikely. With Beltre moving in at third base and Michael Young becoming a very expensive designated hitter/utility man, the Rangers likely have moved on with regard to Guerrero, who was given so much of the credit for the club's journey to their first World Series last fall. As the Angels regroup and try to figure out what to do next, Guerrero does not appear to be part of the equation -- even though he's arguably the greatest position player in franchise history and the team clearly was much better with him than without him. Scott Podsednik, an outfielder with speed, apparently is the most likely free-agent candidate to join the Angels. He could fill the leadoff role and share left field with Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera, assuming Peter Bourjos holds down center field and Torii Hunter returns to right, where he should be much more comfortable after a two-month exposure to the new position. The return of Guerrero, who batted .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBIs for the Rangers, would deepen the Angels' lineup and win back the affections of at least some of the grumbling fan base. But the club appears to feel his best days are behind him. The Angels are highly unlikely to explore trade talks with Texas for Young, who is owed $48 million over the next three seasons. They could go into the season with what they have at third -- Maicer Izturis, Alberto Callaspo and Brandon Wood -- and see if they get enough production there. If not, they could explore the trade market. There are no other free agents who would represent a significant upgrade. As for Soriano, the premier talent left in free agency, the Angels could make a move on him to solidify the closer role and create a bullpen surplus for potential trades. They have added free-agent lefties Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi to the mix, which features an abundance of young power arms. There is one major hurdle to a Soriano signing: Scott Boras, Beltre's representative, is Soriano's agent. While Angels general manager Tony Reagins insists that he's still capable of engaging Boras in meaningful dialogue, the recent history with Boras' clients is not encouraging. One unsettling aspect of the relationship is that two of the most valuable Angels -- Jered Weaver and Kendry Morales -- are in the Boras camp. If contract extensions are as difficult to hammer out with the ace and first baseman as previous negotiations, it won't be easy retaining Weaver and Morales over the long haul. At the close of the Winter Meetings in Florida, Reagins expressed the Angels' philosophy of resisting unaffordable bidding wars with respect to high-end talent along the lines of Beltre and Carl Crawford, who left Tampa Bay for Boston. "Nothing surprises me in this business," Reagins said. "You're not going to overreact in any situation. It's part of the process. Assign your value to a player, and you move forward." The Angels' needs are focused on an offense that sputtered throughout 2010. This was due in part to the absence of Morales after May 29 with a fractured left leg, and in part because they never found an adequate replacement for the activity Chone Figgins provided as the leadoff man. Figgins signed a free-agent deal with the Mariners after the 2009 season. "We're going to be looking at our options and not be closed-minded to anything," Reagins said. "We'll look at things that make sense to help us. We're not discounting anything at this point." It would seem to be a good idea to engage the Mariners in conversation over the possibility of returning Figgins to the place where he made his reputation. Seattle has needs that the Angels could satisfy while taking on the financial commitment of Figgins' guaranteed three years and $26 million. This pales in comparison to the estimated $90 million-100 million Texas is investing in Beltre, who might be better at third than Figgins but not by that kind of margin. Figgins' return would be applauded by his former teammates, who understood his value as a guy who wanted to play nine hard innings every day. His goal each season is to play 162, and he fell one short in his debut season in Seattle while dealing with the significant challenges of a position switch to second base and a drop in the batting order behind leadoff artist Ichiro Suzuki. Figgins, who turns 33 on Jan. 22, is a year older than Beltre. The Angels' all-time leader in steals, Figgins is a .287 career hitter with a .359 on-base percentage. Numbers along those lines would enrich immeasurably an offense that sputtered without him, with a handful of athletes, starting with Erick Aybar, unable to jump-start the attack the way Figgy did. On top of that, Figgins improved season by season at third to reach the elite level at the position. If Figgins retains any hard feelings over the Angels' inability to keep him, phone calls from manager Mike Sciosica and old buddies Hunter and Abreu might smooth things over. In Callaspo and Rivera, the Angels have two everyday position players who would have to appeal to the Mariners, a club in dire need of offense. Perhaps Seattle would prefer Wood, believing a fresh start is what he needs, or young slugger Mark Trumbo. The Angels have exceptional depth in the infield and the outfield and could absorb those losses.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.