LA teams taking a different road this offseason
Dodgers, Angels focused on specific needs rather than superstar free agents
LOS ANGELES -- The wealth of the Dodgers and stealth of the Angels, who aren't exactly paupers, once again will have a prominent place at the annual Major League Baseball Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., convening on Dec. 9.
Enriched by increased television revenue and fueled by a shared desire to claim a World Series championship and control the nation's second-largest market, both clubs have shown no reluctance to pursue premium talent.
But there are signs emanating from both organizations that the free-spending ways of the past few years will not be matched this time around. The focus appears to have shifted to filling holes rather than dominating the headlines and airwaves with superstar free-agent additions such as Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton by the Angels and Zack Greinke by the Dodgers on the heels of the Boston blockbuster that yielded Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett.
In other words, don't expect to see Robinson Cano alighting in Southern California.
The Angels, four years removed from their three-year run as American League West kingpins, have been active in landing third baseman David Freese and reliever Fernando Salas from the Cardinals and signing free agent Joe Smith. But starting pitching remains their primary objective.
In the afterglow of a dizzying, spellbinding season, the Dodgers have made Dan Haren -- Jered Weaver's co-ace with the Angels before moving to the Nationals and saving his 2013 season with a strong second half -- their first acquisition, deepening a formidable rotation fronted by Clayton Kershaw and Greinke.
"I think, for us, it wouldn't surprise me if we went [through] the winter without a huge move -- not that it couldn't happen," said Dodgers president Stan Kasten, who had a record-setting payroll of $230 million in 2013 while winning the National League West in a cool breeze. "We are looking more at deepening the organization, to fine-tune it and get into the season and see what we need.
"Having said that, I'm not ruling anything out. But those people who attach us to every free agent out there are making it up."
The Dodgers have $172 million committed to 12 players, with Greinke, Matt Kemp, Gonzalez and Crawford each commanding $20 million or more. Kershaw, the NL Cy Young Award winner, should push that number to five through arbitration or a contract extension that could establish a new financial precedent for pitchers.
While the signals they are sending seem relatively conservative, their recent history suggests that the Angels and Dodgers will not be shy about making big splashes if the stars align favorably.
The Angels seem more mindful of the looming $189 luxury-tax threshold than the Dodgers, whose only threshold of concern is the one that had them two victories removed from a World Series last month in an NL Championship Series seized by the Cardinals.
The Angels' need is obvious. With Jason Vargas moving to Kansas City on a four-year free-agent deal, another hole has surfaced in a rotation that during the glory days was the club's shining foundation.
Free agents Bronson Arroyo, Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon -- the latter the Angels' 2005 Cy Young Award winner who has been remarkably revitalized with Oakland -- have been linked to the club as potential targets. The Angels could go back to the future with Colon and another ex-Angel, Scott Kazmir, who came back from injuries to make 29 starts for Cleveland this year.
With roughly $8 million available for 2014 before reaching the tax threshold, the Angels appear prepared to part with another proven position player. Gifted center fielder Peter Bourjos was sacrificed along with outfield prospect Randal Grichuk in the deal for Freese and Salas.
Shortstop Erick Aybar or second baseman Howard Kendrick, two of four Angels remaining from the 2009 club, could bring a much-needed infusion of youth while freeing up funds to reel in a free-agent pitcher. Andrew Romine has shown the ability to excel defensively at either position.
"We've got a talented group," general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "Our offensive players are fairly accomplished, some at a very young age. There have been a lot of inquiries on a lot of them. We've not predetermined to move any of them."
A proven power source at age 27 who has averaged 33 homers and 100 RBIs in three seasons playing in a pitcher-friendly home park, Mark Trumbo could be dealt for an established starter or several promising arms. Though there is an anticipated return to form by Pujols and Hamilton, Trumbo's loss would be felt both in the lineup and the clubhouse, where he has shown uncommon leadership skills.
"We're open-minded in how we're going to build it, whether through free agency or trade -- and we're not bare in-house," Dipoto said when asked about improving a rotation whose 4.30 ERA ranked 11th in the AL.
"We have the foundation of a rotation that we're very confident in, particularly the guys at the top. I don't know that there are many teams that wouldn't be very confident going in with Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson at the front of their rotation, and a young guy who made as much progress in the second half as Garrett Richards.
"We will continue to find ways to improve both the depth and the impact of our starting rotation. That's something we'll do year in and year out."
Neither Joe Blanton nor injury-plagued Tommy Hanson measured up in 2013, burdening a bullpen that already has been upgraded. Dependable and durable with the Indians, Smith was signed for three years and about $15 million. Salas was a late-inning factor for the 2011 champion Cardinals and Freese, who is determined to rebound from a disappointing 2013, emerged as Most Valuable Player of that year's World Series and NLCS.
The Dodgers, infused with the vast resources of their management group and a new TV contract, have raised expectations to levels approaching their payroll. They were unable to sustain their historic midseason run, falling to the Cardinals in the NLCS, but this is a club blessed with the talent to go the distance if the vital pieces remain relatively healthy.
One area of strength from which the club can deal is its loaded outfield, which houses Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Crawford and Andre Ethier.
Haren, a Southern Californian with an impressive resume, should fill the void left by No. 4 starter Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco part of a deep free-agent class that includes Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, ex-Dodger Hiroki Kuroda, Ubaldo Jimenez, Colon, Hughes and Arroyo.
Rays ace David Price reportedly could be acquired at considerable expense -- a price the Dodgers seem unlikely to pay with their internal focus on rebuilding the organizational structure. Kasten's history with the Braves and Nationals underscores his belief in keeping a franchise brimming with premium prospects.
"We're in the latter phase of Phase I and the beginning of Phase II," Kasten said. "But we're not fully into Phase II."
The Dodgers could reshape the left side of their infield by acquiring a shortstop -- Stephen Drew is at the head of the free-agent class at that position -- and moving Hanley Ramirez to a less demanding role at third base. Juan Uribe, a driving force and superb third baseman in 2013, is a free agent.
The club's latest Cuban addition, Alexander Guerrero, is a talented infielder with a shot at earning a regular job. Rock-steady second baseman Mark Ellis is a free agent, and he could be brought back if Guerrero is judged to be a viable shortstop option or not ready to play second regularly.
The bullpen figures to have a new look. Brian Wilson was brilliant in his comeback as Kenley Jansen's setup man, likely setting himself up for a big free-agent deal as a closer. Lefty J.P. Howell also is a free agent. The club needs to rebuild its bench with gamers Nick Punto (Athletics) and Skip Schumaker (Reds) having departed as free agents and Michael Young and Jerry Hairston on the market.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.