The MLB free agency is drawing near. This would typically be the time of year that fans should be excited to see their team dive into the free agent pool and see if they can’t come back up with a player or two that can vastly improve their team’s chances at winning the World Series next year. Most years, Angel fans would be amongst this group, but the Halos would really be better off if they just sit this off-season out.
Is this guy really worth all the money?
Now I know that isn’t what most Angel fans want to hear, but just because their are free agents available it doesn’t mean the team should go on a spending spree just for the sake of spending money. This year’s crop of free agents has almost no players that merit any large investments from Arte Moreno. It isn’t that there are no high-profile names on the free agent market, it is just that none of them represent obvious upgrades for the Angels, at least not at their lofty asking prices.
Miguel Tejada is a former MVP and could be seen as a replacement for Chone Figgins at third base, but Tejada hasn’t posted an OPS over .800 since 2006. Matt Holliday is probably the biggest name on the market, but in addition to being a Scott Boras client (whom the Angels aren’t too happy with right now), his half season foray in the American League this year has cast serious doubts on whether or not he can be an impact hitter in the AL. Plus, the Angels don’t need anymore players that are prone to making crucial fielding errors in the playoffs. Jason Bay could be the missing power bat the Angels need in the middle of the order, but he also is a strikeout machine and a brutal fielder which goes totally against Mike Scioscia’s philosophy. I’m all for the Angels upgrading the potency of their line-up, but none of the free agent hitters, even the big names, are surefire guarantees to give the Angel offense a shot in the arm. With the Angels having a limited amount of money to spend this winter, they need to be dead certain that if they go after a big fish that that player is a certain game changer for the franchise. That player simply doesn’t exist.
Tony Reagins could opt to spend his money on pitching instead of hitting, but that road is even more fraught with peril. The Halos need to find themselves a replacement for John Lackey, but no pitcher on the market looks to be as good and as reliable as Big John. Rich Harden, Erik Bedard, Ben Sheets and Brandon Webb all have ace-level talent, but they all have medical red flags the size of Montana. When you have a limited budget, dumping half of it on a pitcher who could very likely spend a majority of his fat new contract on the disabled list doesn’t strike me as the smartest of moves.
We all know that the Angel bullpen was a downright disaster last season but even the free agent options in that area are less than inspiring. Of the available free agent closer options (Jose Valverde, Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano, Billy Wagner, Fernando Rodney, Kevin Gregg), not one seems worthy of a substantial contract due either to a combination of age, injury history or general ineffectiveness. Maybe one of those closers turns out to be great, but I (and I hope Tony Reagins) am a bit gun shy about making another large investment in a new closer after the Brian Fuentes disaster. The Halos could also just focus on improving their middle relief, but even the best options in that area almost all have Type A free agent status. Sure they might be cheaper, but I don’t want to live in a world where the Angels cough up their first-round draft pick so they can get their hands on the likes of LaTroy Hawkins or Rafael Betancourt. I know it is risky, but I’d rather the Angels rely on the return of Scot Shields and the continued improvement of Kevin Jepsen, Jason Bulger and Jose Arredondo. If the Angels can get a good price on someone like Takashi Saito or Brandon Lyon, then, sure, go for it, but otherwise they are risking throwing bad money after bad money.
Yeah, free agent closers aren’t risky at all, are they?
The ultimate issue is that most of the real top free agents are guys who played for the Angels last season. John Lackey, Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu will draw plenty of interest in free agency and the Angels must decide who they will bring back and who they will let go. After that, they are better off taking what money they have left and applying it to the trade market instead. The economy still sucks and a lot of teams will be looking to dump salary. The Angels have a great opportunity to be the team that absorbs that salary while everyone else chases their tails in free agency. Let the Mets and Dodgers haggle with John Lackey, the Angels will be busy making trade pitches for Roy Halladay. While half the league enters a bidding war for Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, Tony Reagins will be on the phone trying to steal Adrian Gonzalez from the cash-strapped Padres.