Almost a year to the date after the LA Angels lost out in embarrassing fashion the Carl Crawford free agency bidding, they’ve struck back in a big way, taking the World Series by surprise by stealing Albert Pujols from the St. Louis Cardinals and then adding C.J. Wilson as well, just because they could.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are on notice, the Angels are going for it all and pulling out all the stops to get there.
I really hope the Marlins enjoyed their few days of being the belle of the free agency ball for their unlikely cash splurge because the Angels just stole that spotlight by spending over $325 million combined to land the best starting pitcher on the market in C.J. Wilson (5 years, $77.5 million) and the best hitter alive in Albert Pujols (10 years, at least $250 million). Their expenditures dwarf what the Marlins spent and their foray into the big spending ranks came out of nowhere. Let’s not forget, Angel owner Arte Moreno is the same owner who went on a diatribe about how “crazy” the Carl Crawford contract was. And now he is the guy signing the checks on all this crazy money. Literally nobody saw this coming.
But what was the catalyst for this dramatic reversal of course for Arte and his Angels?
You can boil that answer down to one word, “winning,” if you want, but that oversimplifies matters. This is about not just winning but what it means to the franchise as well.
When Arte Moreno first purchased the Angels he stated in no uncertain terms that his intention was to turn the franchise into one of the elite ballclubs in all of baseball if not all of the world. He doesn’t just want to hold his own against the Dodgers in the Southern California market, he wants to dominate that local market and make the Halos major players in the national market as well. This is the entire reason he changed the team name from Anaheim Angels to Los Angeles Angels. It is all about the Angels becoming elite. With Pujols and Wilson, Moreno must have realized that the timing couldn’t be better to make another big move in his master plan.
Under Moreno’s ownership, the Angels have become accustomed to being perennial divisional contenders, but they have not yet been able to return to the promised land of the World Series. For a few years, that was OK. But now that the Halos have missed the post-season entirely two years running with the prospect of a a decade of domination by the young and rich Texas Rangers staring them right in the face, the Angels had to make a move now if they wanted to maintain their standard of success, much less improve upon it. The bottom line is that winning opens up new opportunities for the advancement of the franchise.
One of the big reasons the Angels felt they needed to win now is that the crosstown rival Dodgers are about as down and out as they get. Their mired in bankruptcy and about to be sold to a new owner, but not before they basically end up punting on the 2012 season. This comes on the heels of the Angels drawing more in attendance than the Dodgers for the first time in a long time. The time to take over the LA baseball market is now. And once you take LA, that is the springboard to national prominence. But being a consistent winner hadn’t been good enough, even with the McCourt mess. No, this is Hollywood we are talking about, after all. You need star power and Albert Pujols has about as much star power as one could hope for. Adding C.J. Wilson too is just like beefing up a star’s supporting cast so that he looks even better.
Even as an unabashed Angel fan myself, I can’t help but admit that this is a huge gamble for the team. There is roughly zero percent chance that they don’t end up regretting the Pujols contract by the time it is done. There is a reason nobody hands out ten year contracts.
But that contract is a necessary evil. It is the going price for the massive short-term boost that adding Pujols, and to a lesser degree Wilson, provide. The thinking has to be that adding those two pieces will propel the Angels into the national spotlight and then win enough in the next few years to keep them there for a decade. Once that Pujols boost starts to fade, they’ll have to figure out how to keep the team competitive and at the center of the national attention with his contract potentially weighing them down. That’s just a bridge they’ll have to cross when they get there. What they care about is that the contract has bought them temporary status amongst elite teams (hopefully). Figuring out how to stay there won’t be easy, but getting there in the first place is the hardest thing to do.