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MLB Opening Week: Scioscia’s Divine Intervention Calms Angels Faithful

The first week of the 2011 Major League Baseball season is well underway. The first series are in the books, and with them, fans across the country are showing their first signs of panic.

Out in Anaheim, things are no different. At least for the fans.

Optimists draw parallels to the 2002 season, when the Angels lost 14 of their first 20 games before roaring back to a 99-win season and the franchise’s first World Series Championship.

Pessimists fear the similarities with last season, when a solid Opening Day victory lead to three straight losses to the Minnesota Twins, setting the tone for a frustrating year in every aspect.

The realists, however, understand that although the start hasn’t been pretty, no baseball season was ever won or lost before tax day. Realists can appreciate that while changes may need to be made, the year is far from over.

Realists like Mike Scioscia.

The Angels skipper, regarded as one of the game’s best, is typically a slow mover when it comes to making roster moves. Particularly this early in the season, and especially when it involves an emotional response to painful losses.

But even Scioscia couldn’t sit idly by and watch his relievers continue to destroy the good work done by the offense and starting pitching.

After suffering through their team’s first losing season in seven years, he watched his bullpen fritter away three games in what could have easily been a four-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals.

In all three losses, the Royals scored the go-ahead run in their final at-bat. Twice, the bullpen surrendered walk-off home runs, breaking both fans’ hearts and coaches’ patience.

Now, that’s not to say Angel batters couldn’t improve, and Scott Kazmir certainly didn’t do himself any favors by giving up five runs in less than two innings.

What it does suggest is things haven’t changed for some Angels from last season, and that is unacceptable in Scioscia’s eyes.

He immediately dropped a long-struggling Fernando Rodney from the closer’s role, inserted young fireballer Jordan Walden in his place, and put Kazmir on notice. One more start like he had on Sunday, and the former ace will find himself bounced from the starting rotation.

These changes are far from the panicked, knee-jerk reactions some fans have had already. They are the measured, calculated, and perfectly executed plans of a savvy dugout politician.

Scioscia knows this Angels roster has its work cut out for it in the AL West. But he is not going to let his boys go down without a fight.

Rodney and Kazmir are pitching like they’re in competition to see who can put the most men on base in the fewest innings. Allowing that to continue would be as devastating to players’ morale as it would be to their win-loss record.

Need proof? One day after Scioscia’s intervention, the Angels cruised to a 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, capped off by a 1-2-3 ninth inning from new closer Walden.

The last time that happened, Francisco Rodriguez was still on good terms with his father-in-law.

It’s time to relax, Angels fans. It’s April. There are 157 more days and nights of emotional anguish ahead. And Mike Scioscia will be there to see us through it all.

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MLB Opening Day: Breaking Down the AL West in 2011

The bleak and dreary days are over. The cheery holiday well-wishers, festive New Year celebrations, and visions of frozen landscapes are behind us now. At least, out west.

They’ve given way to overflowing stadiums of roaring fans, thunderous ovations for late-game heroics, and fields of lush green grass.

Spring Training, too, has come and gone. Like the blustery winter before it, the exhibition season has melted away to reveal an exciting new year in our nation’s oldest pastime. 

Baseball is here, in all its glory. 

You can almost feel it. That first whiff of smoky red dirt lining the base paths. That first sip of cold beer on a hot afternoon. That first bite of a classic ballpark dog. 

But before the ump gives his customary opening remark, we must first look back at the offseason that was and forecast the season that will be. 

Let’s predict ball!

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L.A. Angels: Can Kendry Morales Bounce Back From His Broken Leg?

 The next time Kendrys Morales takes the field in a game, his teammates and coaches aren’t likely to tell him to “break a leg.”

The L.A. Angels first baseman did just that late last May and hasn’t made a single appearance in a game since. Nearly a year removed from the injury that effectively killed his and the Angels’ season, Morales still isn’t quite ready for game time.

In fact, it’s only in the last couple of weeks that Morales has been allowed to perform baseball activities of any kind out on the diamond, but even that has proven too strenuous.

Last week, the Angels announced that Morales will start the season on the 15-day disabled list. The move didn’t come as a complete surprise to fans, but it was unwelcome all the same.

On Tuesday, Morales was sidelined with soreness in his foot, which the team attributed to his recent workout efforts as he continues to ease his way back into playing form.

Apparently those leaps and bounds by which he was improving were just a little too long.

But don’t let these little setbacks cloud the reality: when this guy gets healthy, he will be a monster again.

The fear, of course, is that Morales will never again frighten teams the way he did during his breakout campaign in 2009, when he slugged 34 home runs and finished fifth in the AL MVP voting.

Without his big bat anchoring the middle of the order for the majority of last season, the Angels struggled like mad to generate offense.

However, this is not the same club that took the field on Opening Day last year.

Sure, aging players like Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu failed to step up before, and table-setters like Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo found it difficult to work their way on base without a significant power threat behind them.

But now, having gone through all of that, the Angels are a little older, perhaps a bit wiser, and certainly a whole lot stronger.

Their offseason acquisition of outfielder Vernon Wells, however controversial it may have been, will do wonders for a disturbingly anemic ball club sans Morales. Wells showed he can still strike fear in the hearts of pitchers, jacking 31 big flies, driving in 88 runs, and earning his third All-Star selection.

Back in the infield, with Morales still on the mend, the Angels will turn to power-hitting rookie Mark Trumbo to man first base.

Trumbo has been lighting up scoreboards and scouting reports this spring, with nearly as many homers as the rest of the Angels starters combined. Although his major league experience is limited, he is the ideal temporary solution to the team’s Cuban missile crisis.

The Angels still need Morales back as quickly as possible, he is their star after all. But until he is fully ready to go, there is no need to rush and no need to panic. The Angels don’t need to trade for Albert Pujols, clear salary room for Prince Fielder, or declare the 2011 season over just yet.

Baseball seasons are not won or lost in the first month. Things aren’t nearly as bleak as they were last May. This time around, the Angels have enough in their revamped arsenal to hold on until Morales gets back.

And when he does, the heavens will smile on Anaheim once more.

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Adam Wainwright Out: Could Scott Kazmir Be in the Cards for St. Louis?

Albert Pujols has dominated much of the baseball news in St. Louis this offseason, but he may not hold the key to the Cardinals‘ success in 2011

One of baseball’s brightest and most underrated pitching stars, Adam Wainwright, will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery this spring, leaving a gaping hole in St. Louis’ rotation.

Wainwright, the Cardinals’ co-ace, has the game’s lowest ERA over the last two years and finished second and third in Cy Young voting during that time.

Along with Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals had arguably the best one-two punch at the top of their rotation, as good or better than that of the Phillies (Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels), Giants (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain) and Angels (Jered Weaver, Dan Haren).

Now, one of those teams might just offer the best option to fill the void left by Wainwright.

Scott Kazmir may not be Wainwright’s equal, but the once-and-future ace has a resume that includes a strikeout crown and appearances in both the All-Star game and the World Series. Since coming to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2009, however, Kazmir’s road back to stardom has been a little bumpy.

His first six appearances for the Halos were stellar. Two nightmarish postseason starts and an injury-plagued season later, Kazmir is a reclamation project with No. 5 starter written all over him.

Perfect for Dave Duncan.

The Cardinals pitching coach is to struggling hurlers what Dr. Gregory House is to dying patients, minus the limp. The acerbic wit is up for debate.

Dr. Duncan is known league-wide for his uncanny ability to diagnose and treat formerly great pitching talents, repairing any mechanical or mental issues along the way and bringing them back to a competitive level.

Just look at Angels pitcher Joel Pineiro, a guy with all the talent in the world who somehow lost his mojo and risked toiling in the minors before retiring in anonymity.

A couple seasons under Duncan and suddenly Pineiro arrives in Anaheim with new confidence and a new pitch, a sinker ball that causes frustrated batters to ground out at an alarming rate.

A guy like Kazmir, who seems to lose velocity on his fastball every season without any apparent cause, is a project begging to be worked on by Duncan. And when the rehab is done, the Cardinals will get not one, but two players to use: a stud to plug in Wainwright’s spot, and a powerful trade chip when the co-ace returns.

In his stead, the Angels could give Trevor Bell a chance to prove he belongs in the starting rotation. If not, Matt Palmer and newcomer Hisanori Takahashi will be there to provide backup.

Of course, Bell wouldn’t be the only one to benefit from the trade. The Angels have an even greater need than the Cardinals’ pitching woes: third base.

After the failure to develop Brandon Wood and the failure to sign Adrian Beltre, super utility man Maicer Izturis has been tabbed as the interim starting third baseman this season.

His graceful fielding and clutch hitting aside, though, he is not a prototypical corner infielder and cannot provide the pop still missing from Anaheim’s lineup.

Factor in his injury history and it’s no great leap to expect the Angels to be players on the trade market this year. But Kazmir and the Cardinals could help settle the issue before the season ever gets under way.

Allen Craig, a 26-year-old prospect, has shown some promise in the Cardinals system, playing the corners in both the outfield and infield. The Mission Viejo native has got a little pop as well, belting four homers and driving in 18 runs in 44 games last season.

With a good showing this spring, could work his way onto a major league bench come April. There’s no reason that bench couldn’t be in Anaheim.

The Cardinals have stated that Wainwright’s replacement will likely come from within the organization, but they may be willing to part with a decent prospect or two if it means getting someone like Kazmir, who has shown brilliant stuff in the past and is young enough to reclaim his former prowess.

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Albert Pujols to the Los Angeles Angels: Match Made in Heaven, No Chance in Hell

The Super Bowl, the greatest event in sports, is only moments away. Which means baseball, my humble submission for the greatest sport, is just around the corner.

Spring training is fast approaching, and with it, Albert Pujols’ self-imposed deadline for a contract extension with the St. Louis Cardinals. By Feb. 18, Pujols expects to be the highest paid player in baseball history, relevant to his status in the game today, or else.

The “or else” part of that is getting very interesting.

If the two sides can’t come to an agreement on a suitable contract, Pujols has threatened to ride out the remainder of his current deal and enter what would be the most highly anticipated free agency period since LeBron James’s “Decision.”

Every sports fan in the country would have one eye on ESPN’s scrolling news bar. Every baseball fan would want him on their team, whatever the cost. But of the 30 teams in major league baseball, only a small handful can take on that cost.

One of those is rumored to be the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Now before anyone gets overly emotional about this issue one way or the other, let me be the first to say, the Angels have no shot of signing Albert Pujols. No shot. None whatsoever.

It isn’t that the Angels can’t sign him, per se, or that he wouldn’t want to spend the rest of his baseball days playing in sunny Southern California. Indeed, the rich Hispanic culture makes Anaheim and its surrounding areas a comfortable fit for Latin ballplayers.

It is the unwillingness of the organization to enter protracted bidding wars with other teams and make long-term commitments to any one player.

Pujols is arguably the best player in the game today and is seeking a contract that reflects that status. With Alex Rodriguez, the former king of swing, making roughly $27 million per year and Ryan Howard in the $25 million range, Pujols can be expected to command a 10-year, $300 million deal without a second thought.

And barring some spectacular fall from grace—either through a down year, which he’s never had; or a steroid link, which he’s always denied—he will get his money.

It just won’t be from the Angels.

Owner Arte Moreno has shown the financial fortitude to pay game-changing players when it makes sense, i.e. when the money stays below $90 million and the contract length doesn’t exceed five years. And with their upcoming television providing even more annual revenue, the Angels are on the verge of becoming a key player on the free agent market, a la the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

The problem is putting together an efficient offseason plan and then executing it.

Moreno talked a big game this offseason, vowing that money would be no object when it came to doing what it took to improve the team. Management made its goals clear and its free agent targets were no secret.

But when push came to shove and other teams got involved in the bidding, the Angels quickly shied away.

Next winter, the Angels may well have the money, and potentially the interest, to sign Pujols. So will other teams.

Among them will be the AL West champion Texas Rangers, who beat the Angels in the bidding war over third baseman Adrian Beltre. The Yankees and Red Sox, though already set at the first base position, will also be lurking in the waters nearby.

The Angels are, themselves, perfectly happy with their first baseman…for now. Kendry Morales looks to be a perennial MVP candidate for years to come. Unfortunately, he’s also represented by Scott Boras, who rarely allows his superstars to negotiate big extensions without testing free agency.

Very soon, the Angels will have a decision to make: do the impossible and successfully lock up a Boras client, or plan for life after Morales.

Pujols could go a long way toward making that decision a little easier.

But the baseball landscape has changed dramatically since the days when a team like the Angels could sign a player of his caliber to a reasonable contract. The last time it happened, they signed three in one offseason.

That future MVP Vladimir Guerrero, future Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon and Jose Guillen all agreed to sign with the Angels at once was a truly a blessing and an anomaly even at that time.

Since then, the Angels have made exactly one major free agent signing, when Torii Hunter agreed to a deal at a local fast food joint. Any other meaningful additions have come via trades.

If a new deal can’t be reached with the Cardinals, Pujols could have the greatest impact on a new team of any player since Babe Ruth joined the Yankees. The Angels could certainly use that kind of impact player to help them battle back to the top of a division they once ruled.

I just don’t see it happening, whether next offseason or any thereafter.

Of course, most probably didn’t imagine the New Orleans Saints could ever call themselves defending Super Bowl champions. In sports, you never know what might happen.

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Vernon Wells: Angels Finally Make a Deal We Can ALL Be Happy About

In the midst of arguably the most disappointing offseason in franchise history, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim finally made a big move. The kind of move that could alter the course of the AL West in 2011.

So why isn’t anyone happy about it?

On Friday, the Angels sent Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera to Toronto in exchange for three-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winning, slugging center fielder Vernon Wells.

But before Wells could even step on a plane, fans on both sides took Twitter in utter shock and media members around the league exploded with incredulity.

Writers have called this deal everything from desperate to absolutely the wrong deal at the wrong time for the Angels. One outlet compared the Angels’ acquisition of Wells to the deal that Barry Zito took from the San Francisco Giants.

Really? Someone out there thinks the trade is that bad?

It is simply unbelievable that so many could lambaste Angels management for its timid approach to a critical offseason, and then decry perhaps the best move the team could have made given the options left on the board.

Wells is not the player most had in mind when owner Arte Moreno publicly announced his commitment to improving his club. With gaping holes at third base, left field, and in the bullpen, other names seemed more likely.

Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre were all but future Angels at different points this offseason, but when money and contract length climbed too high, Moreno and general manager Tony Reagins backed off.

It happened. We’re not happy about it. It’s time to get over it.

Reagins did. In fact, he went out into an anorexic market, among the fiery criticism of fans and media members, and made the best deal he could find. All he had to give up was an under-performing outfielder and an expendable catcher.

Now he faces a whole new barrage of written wrath, but this time it is entirely unfounded.

The main gripe seems to be Wells’ contract. He is owed $23 million this season, and $21 million each of the following three years. That’s an $86 million investment, nearly as much as Crawford will earn from the Red Sox over the same time period.

So why didn’t the Angels pony up the dough for the player they originally wanted? Because Crawford’s deal extends three years beyond what Wells is signed for.

Between 2015-2017, the Angels will save roughly $65 million they would have otherwise owed a player in his mid-30’s whose impact is based entirely around speed. Boston is paying Crawford for his services now, not later.

The Angels are also overpaying their new outfielder, but as Reagins said, Wells’ contract is “tolerable” given it’s comparatively shorter length.

In the meantime, the Angels get a player who produces more runs on average than either Crawford or Beltre. Last year, Wells belted 31 home runs and knocked in 88 RBI, his highest totals since 2006.

They get a player who answers the lack of power in the Angels lineup, which struggled mightily to replace Kendry Morales after a broken leg ended his season. Napoli managed to lead the team with a career high 26 homers, but guys like Rivera, Torii Hunter, and Hideki Matsui couldn’t answer the call.

They get a player who, at 32, is still younger than any of the Opening Day starting outfielders in Anaheim. Rivera, Hunter, Bobby Abreu are all entering their mid-30’s or later, and it’s starting to show. Hunter, arguably one of the best defensive center fielders of all time, fell so far he was forced into right field.

They get a player who brings both speed and experience to what could be one of the top defensive outfields in the game.

If Peter Bourjos locks down the center field job in Spring, Wells would slide to left field, where his career could improve considerably, given the shift to a natural grass surface and the diminished area he would have to cover.

And let’s not forget, Wells is considered one of the best clubhouse guys in the game today. Attitude goes a long way to improving a ball club, especially a respectful organization like the Angels, and Wells is ready to do his part to bring a winning mentality to Anaheim.

“In Toronto, you’re hoping to contend. Here, you’re expecting to win,” Wells said during his official introduction on Thursday.

The Angels have made mistakes in the past with overpaying players or taking on bad contracts. But Wells is not Gary Matthews, Jr. He’s not Scott Kazmir. He is a proven talent who brings what the Angels need to win.

Crawford’s game might’ve been a better fit in Anaheim. Beltre’s defense may have done more to prevent runs overall. But money and time blocked their admission through Anaheim’s gates.

Wells is the right player at the right time for these Angels. His contract is not for anyone but Moreno to worry about.

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Heavenly Perspective: Top 10 Reasons for Angels Fans To Keep the Faith in 2011

It’s been a brutal winter in Anaheim.

While the rest of sunny Southern California basks in bright blue skies and mild temperatures, around Angels Stadium there swirls a raging tempest of anger and frustration.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, once the big bullies of the AL West, are being pelted with icy snowballs like the schoolyard peons they’ve become. And the onslaught is coming from every angle.

Division rivals aren’t afraid to knock them to the ground with big free-agent signings and then kick them while they’re down there. Reporters from every news outlet around the league mock the Angels for their pitiful attempts to get back up or for failing to try at all.

Carl Crawford, Adrian Beltre, Jayson Werth, Ty Wigginton, Jorge de la Rosa, Cliff Lee and now Rafael Soriano—those are some big swings and misses. It’s easy to see why the Angels are getting pummeled amidst a hellish, wintry storm.

Still, it is important to remember it is always darkest before the dawn.

Like the army of naysayers forming along Katella Avenue, time marches forward. What looks bad today will surely change tomorrow, and when those storm clouds finally break, the light that shines through will reveal a vast landscape of things to be excited about this spring.

Here are the top 10 reasons not to give up on the Angels just yet.

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Angels In 2011: How the Halos’ Awful Offseason Impacts the AL West

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will have their work cut out for them in 2011. Fierce competition looms ahead, but not from the defending AL West Champion Texas Rangers or improved Oakland A’s.

This season, the Angels’ greatest challenge will be overtaking the Seattle Mariners—for third place in the division.

Hope for more optimistic aspirations dried up yesterday along with the ink from Adrian Beltre‘s signature when he finalized a six-year, $96 million deal with the Rangers. He joins Carl Crawford in a long, previously reported list of free agent failures for the Angels.

Once again, they offered a contract just big enough to feign an interest, but small enough to minimize the risk of bidding for his services.

Losing Beltre is actually a double-punch to the gut for the Angels. Not only are they left with a massive power outage at third base and no source of alternative energy to fix it, but their division rivals now shine that much brighter.

Like everything in Texas, Beltre’s offensive influence will be bigger. A lot bigger than, say, in Anaheim, where pitchers tend to have the advantage.

He wouldn’t have saved the Angels, but as the last viable third base option on the market, he could have made them competitive again.

Angels General Manager Tony Reagins already missed out on other infield options earlier this offseason while he was busy not signing Crawford, who wound up in Boston. Ty Wigginton, Edwin Encarnacion, Dan Uggla, Juan Uribe—all could have helped the Halos but none ever came close to getting the chance.

Currently, third base is a shared position between Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis, presumably to shift back and forth based on whoever has the hot glove and the fewest injuries.

Brandon Wood still looms on the horizon, but after having the worst season in 90 years among players with at least 200 at-bats, his days as a starting infielder in Anaheim appear to be over.

The Angels outfield is thin as well, but like the Rangers, another divisional foe managed to swipe the remaining options off the table before Reagins had a chance to answer the phone.

Oakland has quietly had one of the best offseasons of any team in baseball. The A’s finished ahead of the Angels last season and with a revamped lineup, they’re now poised to replace them as the Rangers’ biggest threat.

Perhaps the most overlooked move of the offseason came when the A’s stole David DeJesus away from the Kansas City Royals. Last July, DeJesus was the hottest player not named Cliff Lee on the market before a wrist injury ended his season and his trade prospects.

Now on the mend, the A’s were able to add his productive bat and speedy legs in center field for relatively little: a fifth starter and a minor league pitcher.

The Angels, meanwhile, are banking on the hope that Peter Bourjos will improve his offense enough to lock down the starting center field job. His defense is, quite honestly, unmatched, but his .204 batting average won’t be tolerated for long.

Over in left, where the Angels expected Crawford to be, they’re now looking at a platoon of Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera, two rapidly aging sluggers whose skills on offense are diminishing and on defense, were never there to begin with.

Once Crawford was off the board, Reagins should have turned his sights to the next best left field options, but it was Oakland GM Billy Beane who pulled the trigger first and landed Josh Willingham from the Washington Nationals.

While Willingham is not the type of player to lead his team offensively, he is still a solid bat in the middle of the order. He’ll also provide a fitting complement to another Oakland addition, former Angel Hideki Matsui.

Matsui belted 21 homers and drove in 84 RBI for the Halos, who have made no corresponding moves in the wake of his absence. For those keeping track, that is a 100 percent loss in offense for a team in desperate need of it.

There is still time though, about a month before pitchers and catchers report for warmups, another week or so after that until the rest of the players filter in. In around two months, Spring Training begins and one month later, the regular season finally gets underway.

That’s almost exactly three months for Reagins and the rest of the Angels’ brass to search high and low for a third baseman, an outfielder, a designated hitter. Perhaps a closer. Anything to bring them back to contention in their own division. Or at least something to bring the fans back to the stadium.

Owner Arte Moreno claims he didn’t want to spend big on free agents at the expense of raising ticket prices.

He made tickets affordable for fans, but at what cost to the team?

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Swing and a Miss: Carl Crawford Highlights a History Of Failure In Anaheim

Like so many years past, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim began the offseason with a hole in their roster and a high-profile player in line to fill it.

And like every other year, they came up short.

Carl Crawford agreed to a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Boston Red Sox this week, marking the sixth time in as many years that the Angels failed to acquire their primary offseason target.

Last year, Angels fans witnessed an epic collapse when the team failed to re-sign John Lackey and successfully trade for Roy Halladay, a deal in which the Angels were considered the front-runners to complete.

While Lackey’s usually stellar numbers dropped off in Boston, Halladay cruised to his second Cy Young Award and helped lead the Philadelphia Phillies into the playoffs.

In 2008, the Angels made Mark Teixeira a sizable offer, but angrily yanked it back when it became apparent they would have to enter a bidding war with the Red Sox and New York Yankees. Tex eventually went to New York where he won his first World Series championship.

I’m sure the Angels had a nice view of him lifting the trophy from their moral high ground.

That same year, C.C. Sabathia was also on Anaheim’s wish list, but they again lost him to New York after placing a foolish 24-hour deadline on their offer.

Before that, the Yankees outbid the Angels for another superstar infielder, inking Alex Rodriguez to a new 10-year deal. A-Rod continues to get booed in Anaheim for his decision, even though he was never close to making the trip out West.

Of course, New York isn’t the only city to beat the the Angels off the field as well as on it. Chicago teams have also swiped superstars out from under Anaheim, with Paul Konerko returning to the White Sox five years ago and Aramis Ramirez re-upping with the Cubs.

That’s six—count’em, six—players the Angels made a high priority and failed to sign. Absolutely pathetic, and there is no indication that this will be the end of the pattern.

Which target will they not sign in the future? First basemen Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder could both hit the market after next season. Maybe the Angels will excite fans with those names before crushing their hopes and dreams yet again.

What of Jered Weaver? The major league strikeout champ will be a free agent in two years, and agent Scott Boras isn’t likely to negotiate an extension. He prefers his star clients to test the free agent market while he drives up the asking price to ridiculous proportions, which often rules out teams like the Angels.

If it comes down to it, would Reagins and owner Arte Moreno be willing to compete for his services? Recent history says no.

The last offseason to see Anaheim successfully woo a good player came in 2007 when Torii Hunter reportedly agreed to a five-year, $90 million deal at a local Del Taco.

But to find the last great player, the last true superstar to don a Halo, you have to look back seven years when the Angels locked up both slugger Vladimir Guerrero and ace Bartolo Colon.

Despite never making a World Series appearance, the pair helped transform the Angels into a consistent threat in the American League. In 2004, Big Daddy Vladdy won the AL MVP; the following year, Colon earned his first Cy Young award.

Those were the good old days.

Now fans are just as likely to see their club refuse to do what it takes to bring in the talent they need to win again. Perhaps even more disturbing, in failing to reach the stars they seek, they also overlook other talented role players.

In 2010 alone, they’ve missed out on catcher/first baseman/DH Victor Martinez; infielders Ty Wigginton, Juan Uribe, and Adrian Gonzalez; and pitcher Jorge de la Rosa. All were available, and all were snatched off the market while the Angels fought against history and the AL East to land that one big fish.

This is becoming a disturbing trend. The Halos are quickly sliding down toward that tier of inconsequential clubs that make a bunch of non-impact moves.

Like the Baltimore Orioles trading for J.J. Hardy or the Kansas City Royals signing Melky Cabrera, the Angels are left with ho-hum deals that excite no one and change nothing about their current standing. The kind of deals you skim past while reading up on the day’s transactions.

Alberto Callaspo was one of those moves, a trade deadline acquisition last season that neither benefited the Angels nor the Royals; it was merely a shuffling of the Titanic’s deck chairs.

After losing out on Crawford, the Angels are expected to turn their attention to Adrian Beltre, the only high-profile free agent left even though he is a player with two good seasons and a whole host of bad ones to his name.

Boras, Beltre’s agent, is sure to demand a salary similar to the one he got from the Seattle Mariners six years ago in the hope the teams will forget he wasn’t worth the paper that contract was printed on during his tenure in Washington.

In a spacious ballpark like Anaheim, away from the hitter’s delight of Fenway Park, Beltre will doubtlessly underperform again.

Crawford, meanwhile, is not just the next stop in a continuing history of failure for the Angels, he’s also the next for fans to boo vociferously. But maybe fans should aim those boos at the sky box that houses Tony Reagins, the man who is as reluctant to sign highly valued free agents as he is to talk about them in the media.

He is, after all, a graduate of the Bill Stoneman “Take Phone Calls and Sit on Your Hands” school of business management.

Yes, Reagins has a had a couple of good pickups over the years. But he is also directly responsible for at least three of above-mentioned blown deals. He was only given a free pass on the Teixeira mishap because of the rise of Kendry Morales, not that the Angels brass had any idea he’d be this good.

The fact that they offered Tex an eight-year, $160 million deal tells you all you need to know about what they though of Morales’s future at first base.

At this point, the most anyone can say for Reagins is that there are still four months to go before Opening Day. The Angels’ fallback targets are few and far between, though, and it will take a lot of work to buck the trend of history this time.

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How Jayson Werth’s Grinch Stole a Carl Crawford Christmas in Anaheim

The 2010 MLB Winter Meetings kicked off with a bang this week when the Washington Nationals signed outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126-million deal—and ignited the baseball world in the process.

One baseball writer called the signing “irresponsible.” A general manager reportedly nearly fell out of his chair when he heard the terms of the deal.

The problem teams have is that, while no one seems particularly miffed that Werth is off the market, his new contract will set the tone for these meetings despite the fact that it was so far above what other teams would have offered.

Werth’s old team, the Philadelphia Phillies, for instance, came to him with only a three-year, $48 million offer, hoping to avoid a guaranteed fourth year.

Seems reasonable enough, right? The 31-year-old won’t likely be as productive after three or four more years, anyway. The Phillies were playing it smart, bunting the runner into scoring position instead of swinging for the fences.

But in the back-alley sandlot of contract offers, the Nationals just broke a window with their home run cut. Now every other team in the league is in trouble.

That includes, perhaps especially so, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Think Alex Rodriguez‘s 10-year, $250 million contract in Texas. The Rangers were crippled under the weight of an outlandish deal that wasn’t even in the same ballpark as A-Rod’s other offers.

Case in point, it took nearly the life of the contract just to repair the damage and make Texas competitive again.

Still, despite its devastating effects, that one contract has colored every serious contract negotiation since. Suddenly guys are asking for—nay, demanding—eight, nine, even 10 years guaranteed.

Guys like Carl Crawford.

Crawford is twice the player Werth is. He covers more ground in the field, he’s far more dangerous on the basepaths, and he’s been a more consistent producer at the plate.

Sure there’s a little gap in power, but factor in everything else he brings to a club and there is no reason Crawford won’t expect to top Werth in money and years. A 10-year, $190-million contract suddenly seems pretty reasonable, even in today’s economy.

The Angels, meanwhile, were hoping to nab the Gold Glover and perennial All-Star with an offer of five years, six at the most, with a higher per-year salary to compensate.

That deal looks pedestrian now.

What’s more, Werth’s contract isn’t the only thing the Angels have to compete against.

Boston seemed like the ideal destination for Werth a week ago. His big bat from the right side of the plate would have been a natural fit in the hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park. The short porch with the tall fence in left field also means Werth wouldn’t have to cover as much ground as he gets older and his speed diminishes.

All of that is out the window now, and despite the Red Sox acquiring another big-time slugger in Adrian Gonzalez, they’ll still want an impact player for left field.

They were already rumored to be the Angels’ main competition for Crawford’s services. Now they might be the front-runners.

For their part, the Angels have promised to do what it takes to make the club competitive again. But verbal guarantees mean nothing if they’re not backed by cash, and Boston’s wallet is historically fatter.

Crawford could still end up in Anaheim, where his speed and glove are so desperately needed, but only if he truly wants to be an Angel and is therefore willing to take a slightly less lucrative deal. And, more importantly, if the rest of the league bands together to ensure monstrous contracts like Werth’s don’t become the norm again.

Those are very big ifs, though, and the Angels can’t afford to bank on the league manning up and Crawford showing a softer side.

Owner Arte Moreno and general manager Tony Reagins certainly have their work cut out for them at this week’s Winter Meetings.

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