In memory of former cowboy owner Gene Autry, it’s time for the Los Angeles Angels to get back on the horse.
The scars from the Josh Hamilton, CJ Wilson and Albert Pujols signings are healed with the first two gone and Pujols’ ongoing contract – through 2021 – accepted for the on-field mistake it was always destined to be.
But partly because of Pujols’ signing, the Angels are now in a position to make some noise: Sign Bryce Harper, the best position player on the free-agent market, and Dallas Keuchel, the best remaining starting pitcher on the market.
When current owner Arte Moreno gave the green light to go big in 2011, it made the Angels one of the most attractive teams in Major League Baseball. Their new look opened the discussions to sign a massive new television contract that is paying the franchise at least $3 billion over a 20-year span.
So money is not an issue, especially with the franchise reaching a new audience after signing budding Japanese star Shohei Ohtani.
The issue, if one exists, is getting Moreno to go big game hunting again – about seven years after he did it and got no on-field return. While we haven’t heard from Moreno this winter, his general manager Billy Eppler got the fan base going in December with some not-so-carefully-constructed statements.
“We could kick a field goal if we wanted to,” Eppler said, “but let’s go for a touchdown.” He later clarified that statement, sort of, saying the team could do some “smaller things” and “things that are above smaller.”
Whatever. That doesn’t take away from the Angels’ needs, capacity to spend and a market ripe to drastically improve the team.
The franchise is in good standing with tax threshold penalties as it would technically be a first-time offender, so going over the next couple of years can be managed by a franchise estimated to be worth 1.8 billion by Forbes. With MLB’s new Fox Sports contract reported to be worth more than $5 billion, plus the ESPN deal and others, teams are cashing checks aside from selling tickets, beer and local TV rights – the Angels pulled in $334 million in revenue after the 2017 season.
Industry sources say MLB’s new rights deal w Fox Sports is a 7-yr deal covering the 2022-28 seasons and is worth about $5.1B, about a 50 percent bump from the current term.
— Eric Fisher (@EricFisherSBJ) November 15, 2018
There’s another incentive to make this team more attractive: Moreno wants Anaheim to invest in developing the surrounding area around the ballpark, which also needs renovations. A product that includes Trout and Harper with a pitching staff to back them up might go a long way in expediting those plans.
This idea makes baseball sense, too.
Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, can become a free agent after the 2020 season, and the Angels have professed that extending him beyond that is a priority. But as the roster stands, he has zero on-field incentive to commit.
That pitch from the Angels does not start in Moreno’s, Eppler’s or an agent’s office. It starts by putting up a winning team, because Trout says winning is a priority when determining his future. The Angels have to show a commitment to winning, and without much of a farm system, they’ll have to spend to bring in those assets.
That means Harper and Keuchel. That pair, with Trout and the rest of the supporting cast, is a playoff contender. On paper, they’re not as good as the Houston Astros, but plenty capable of keeping up with the Oakland A’s and competing for an American League Wild Card.
And if Matt Harvey is the bounce-back starter they need and they can make an impact trade in July, this suddenly becomes an AL power. Not just a team with countless ifs simply hoping to be relevant.
The Angels can afford this – all teams can, actually. It’s just a matter of Moreno understanding that him getting burned in the past doesn’t mean it happens in the future with Harper. There are also new trends he can lean on, like shorter contract lengths for higher average annual values and built-in opt outs that could negate the backside of those deals.
This is the offseason for Moreno to get back in the saddle, show Trout and the fans a he’s committed to winning and grab a couple more stars to make the Angels the big-market show they should be.