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Angels Must Recover From Tough Offseason

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(Danny Knobler/CBS) – We get worked up over these big Winter Meetings moves.

Sometimes too worked up.

Any idea who the Giants acquired at last year’s Winter Meetings? If you guessed Steve Johnson, you’re right. Of course, if you guessed Steve Johnson, that probably means that you’re close friends with Steve Johnson, a Rule 5 draft pick who was eventually sent back to the Orioles.

Bringing Adrian Beltre back to the L.A. area could help the Angels salvage something this offseason. (AP)
Yeah, the Winter Meetings really set the Giants on course to the World Series.

How about the Rangers? They came home from Indianapolis last year with Chris Ray, Rich Harden and Clay Rapada.

You just knew they were headed for their first World Series in franchise history.

So maybe we’re being too hard on the Angels, the team that was supposed to sign Carl Crawford — and didn’t.

Maybe we should wait for the Angels to officially lose out on Cliff Lee (yeah, like they’re going to outbid the Yankees for Lee, after failing to outbid the Red Sox for Crawford). Maybe we should wait to see if they sign Adrian Beltre, and maybe Rafael Soriano, too.

“They’ll be fine,” one rival executive said Thursday morning, as the Winter Meetings broke up. “They’ll get Beltre and Soriano, and they’ll win.”

They’ll win what?

They’ll win the AL West? Maybe, although the Rangers are a bigger threat than ever, even if as expected they lose out on Lee. In fact, if the Rangers lose Lee, one fallback plan is to trade Michael Young and sign Beltre to replace him (and where would that leave the Angels?).

But even if Beltre and Soriano and a return to health from Kendry Morales are enough for the Angels to beat the Rangers and the dangerous A’s, is it really enough to make the Angels what they want to be? Is it really enough to make them one of the AL heavyweights?

The Angels want to think they are a heavyweight, and they’ve got the division titles, big market and big attendance figures to prove it. But what they also have is a long string of winter losses, which seems to be related to their long string of October losses.

Each of the past six winters, the Angels identified a top target who could help deliver a championship. Each of the past six winters, the Angels whiffed.

Carl Crawford is another winter blow to the Angels, outbid on Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia two years ago.

They weren’t able to sign Paul Konerko (2005-06). They missed out (fortunately, as it turns out) on Alfonso Soriano (2006-07). They weren’t able to trade for Miguel Cabrera (2007-08). They couldn’t sign CC Sabathia and couldn’t keep Mark Teixeira (targets 1 and 1A in 2008-09). They couldn’t trade for Roy Halladay (2009-10).

And now Crawford, who is headed to the Red Sox for seven years and $142 million, after the Angels apparently stopped at six years with a vesting option and a bunch less guaranteed money (according to the Orange County Register).

The Angels pride themselves on always having a Plan B and Plan C. They pride themselves on putting the right value on players and on being able to adjust quickly to new realities.

“We’ve moved on,” general manager Tony Reagins said Thursday. “It’s kind of like being a closer. You have to have a short memory.”

But if this winter’s failure to sign Crawford leads to another failure next fall, some memories are going to be long.

Already, the Register writer Bill Plunkett led his story on the Crawford story with, “Bridesmaids — revisited.”

The Angels under owner Arte Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia have annually been one of baseball’s better teams. They won the AL West five times in six years from 2004-09, and no doubt would have put up a better fight against the Rangers last summer if they hadn’t lost Morales in May to a season-ending injury.

They have high enough expectations that Moreno was said to be livid about their third-place 80-82 finish in 2010. Most people inside and outside the organization believed that anger would translate into action on the free-agent market this winter.

The Angels targeted Crawford early, knowing that there was no way the Rays could keep him. They put his locker next to that of Torii Hunter at July’s All-Star Game in Anaheim. Hunter kept in regular touch.

And then when it came time to compete with the Red Sox, they either couldn’t or wouldn’t.

“I think you compete through development and scouting,” Reagins said. “If you do those things well, you can compete.”

That’s true, but that’s also what you expect the general manager of the Rays or A’s to say. It’s not what you expect to hear from the GM of a team that wants to be seen as a strong rival for the AL’s best teams.

Maybe the Angels will finally make it back to the World Series next fall. Winter Meetings success, remember, is not a prerequisite. If the Giants and Rangers proved anything, it’s that you can also remake your team on the fly during the season, and that moves that seem small can turn out big.

But there’s a reason the big teams spend big on the biggest players. There’s a reason the Angels wanted Crawford, a reason they wanted Halladay last year, a reason they wanted Sabathia the year before that.

There has to be a reason they keep missing out on their top targets, year after year after year.

And if they want to know why they end up so disappointed every October, maybe they need to find that reason and do something about it.

-Danny Knobler

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