Friday December 17th, 2010

On his way to Orlando earlier this month for baseball's winter meetings, the annual event where a large share of the offseason's trades and free-agent signings occur, the flight Angels general manager Tony Reagins was on was delayed by mechanical troubles. Reagins didn't arrive in Florida until Monday night, nearly 12 hours after the official business had started and at least 24 after most other GMs had arrived.

The Angels have seemed late to arrive for everything this offseason. Despite Reagins' seemingly serious insistence at the winter meetings that the team had already made a splash by signing 35-year-old middle reliever Hisanori Takahashi, he of the 10-6 record and 3.61 ERA in 2010, the Angels have barely made a ripple. Thus far they have signed only two relievers, Takahashi and Scott Downs -- neither likely to be their closer -- while premium free agents in whom the team acknowledged interest, Carl Crawford and Victor Martinez, went to Boston and Detroit, respectively.

Nevertheless, Los Angeles assistant general manager Ken Forsch told this week that the Angels aren't done shopping. "We're out actively pursuing the free-agent list," said Forsch. (Reagins and his wife celebrated the birth of their third child Monday night, so Forsch spoke on his behalf.) "When we find that's not a viable thing, we're also talking with other clubs [about trades]. Whatever happens this offseason is not for lack of trying to make a deal or sign a player."

While most of the major free agents -- Crawford, Cliff Lee, Martinez and Jayson Werth -- are off the board, a pair of 2010 AL All-Stars, third baseman Adrian Beltre and closer Rafael Soriano, remain available. Both could be a fit in Anaheim, but, said Forsch, "Before we'd add any more to our 'pen, we'd look to see what we can do offensively." Beltre, then, is the perfect fit for the Angels, not only because of his sparkling glovework at third base but because he has significant pop in his bat and would address their biggest area of need: offensive production.

En route to an 80-82 record that was their first losing mark since 2003 and just the second time since 2004 that they failed to make the playoffs, the Angels scored just 681 runs, exactly 100 fewer than any of the four American League playoff teams. "We would like to add some pop to our lineup," said Forsch. "You can certainly see that [Beltre would] definitely fit in our lineup with his bat and his defensive skills. There aren't many like Beltre out there. It's no secret that he's out there and that he'd be a great fit for our club."

As noted in this space earlier this offseason, landing Beltre is such an obvious fit that it ought to have been the team's focus all along. The two sides need each other. Los Angeles desperately needs a third baseman, and Beltre's big-pocketed suitors are dwindling in number, as other clubs spend money on other options.

Last year, Beltre batted .321/.365/.553 with 28 home runs and 102 RBIs. The Angels' third basemen, meanwhile, collectively batted .223 with a .266 on-base percentage, .307 slugging percentage, eight home runs and 52 RBIs. That home run total was an AL low; the .573 OPS was the worst in the majors. The majors' best OPS at third? Why, that belonged to the Red Sox (.918), who employed Beltre all year.

Beltre is even more of a priority because, while the Angels current infielders are generally sound defensively, most of them have a pretty low ceiling offensively. Any consistent offensive threat would be better than last year's infield carousel of Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo. None had an OBP better than .321. Only Kendrick had more than five home runs, an average better than .253 or a slugging percentage that topped .363. Collectively, the infield had a .661 OPS, which ranked 27th in baseball last year. At least they should have Kendry Morales for a full season, as he returns from his broken leg to play first base.

"Kendry's return could be enough, but I think the depth portion of our offense needs to be addressed," manager Mike Scioscia said at the winter meetings. "We had a lot of guys that underperformed. I think that we do need to add offensive depth, and it might not be the one impact guy, but it definitely needs to be guys that have an idea what to do in the batter's box. . . . I think we definitely need on-base percentage."

At the very least, the Angels should find a consistent power bat to be their designated hitter. A reunion with Vladimir Guerrero, who was a fixture in the middle of the Angels lineup from 2004-2009 before spending last season with the Rangers, could be a possibility.

Another thought, albeit a potentially wild one that may be more likely for next offseason than this one, would be for the Angels to look into acquiring Milwaukee's Prince Fielder, who has averaged 40 home runs and 111 RBIs the last four seasons, to go along with a .395 OBP in that span. He has also walked at least 110 times each of the last two years. Fielder has one year left on his contract and is unlikely to re-sign long-term with the Brewers. The Angels could play Morales and Fielder in some combination at first base and DH.

One problem with that notion -- and the pursuit of Beltre -- is that both players are represented by Scott Boras. Moreno was reportedly angered by the way negotiations with Boras for Mark Teixeira went two years ago and went out of his way last year to publicly declare that his team had no interest in Boras client Matt Holliday. Also, Boras is reticent to let any of his players sign an extension before hitting the free-agent market, so it'll be difficult to trade the necessary prospects or pitching to land Fielder without the guarantee of signing him to an extension, which means a free-agent contract for the 2012 season might be more likely.

By then, the Angels may have solved some of their offensive woes in-house. Mark Trumbo, who tied for the all-levels minor league lead with 36 home runs last season, could be an option at designated hitter as soon as next year to replace the departed Hideki Matsui. Trumbo's a first baseman by trade, but with Morales ahead of him on the depth chat, he's learning to play leftfield where he could see some time while spelling Bobby Abreu. Forsch said Trumbo has "tremendous power" and that "he's got a good shot at making the club" out of spring training.

At catcher, the Angels would be wise to give SoCal product and rookie Hank Conger an expanded role. The 2010 Futures Game MVP batted .300 with 11 homers and a .385 OBP in 108 games in Triple-A last year. His defense is improving but is likely already ahead of incumbent Mike Napoli's and, even though he may never match backup Jeff Mathis' prowess defensively, he's already a vastly superior hitter to Mathis, who had a .219 OBP in 68 major-league games last year and a .265 OBP in six big-league seasons.

Speedy defensive whiz kid Peter Bourjos took over as the Angels' starting centerfielder but will need to improve upon the .204 average and .237 OBP he posted in 51 games as a rookie last season. He did have a .314 average and .364 OBP in Triple-A, so perhaps those struggles were just growing pains as he adapted to major-league pitching.

"He's got a really quick bat," Forsch said. "I feel comfortable thinking that he's definitely going to hit in the big leagues. He certainly struggled the time that he was up here last year, but I think all rookies will do that."

The arrival of prospects like Trumbo and Conger and improvements from youngsters like Bourjos and would certainly be welcome by Angels fans, but it's not exactly what they had in mind after owner Arte Moreno told the Los Angeles Times in October, "We know where our weaknesses are, we know where we are thin, we know where we have to go to market. It's going to cost money, but our fans need to know that we're committed to winning."

There's a player out there who could put Moreno's money where his mouth is. After all, everyone in L.A. knows the difference between being fashionably late to the party and not showing up at all.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.