The Angels nearly made what General Manager Bill Stoneman called the “big splash,” a deal that would have fulfilled owner Arte Moreno’s guarantee the team would do something “major” this winter.
But talks with the Colorado Rockies about a trade for first baseman Todd Helton cooled considerably Wednesday, with the Angels’ concerns about the veteran slugger’s health, age and huge contract putting a deal that almost happened this week on life support.
Though the Rockies were willing to pay a portion of the $90 million (and five years) left on Helton’s nine-year, $141-million contract, it apparently wasn’t enough for the Angels to swap three players for Helton, a career .333 hitter who has averaged 31 home runs and 110 runs batted in over nine seasons.
The appeal of the deal for the Angels was that, unlike virtually every other trade they’ve discussed at baseball’s winter meetings, it probably wouldn’t cost them one of their front-line pitchers.
The Angels were believed to have offered a package of first baseman Casey Kotchman, utility player Chone Figgins and triple-A shortstop Erick Aybar.
The Red Sox, in negotiations for slugger Manny Ramirez, asked for closer Francisco Rodriguez or setup man Scot Shields, and the Braves, in talks for first baseman Adam LaRoche, wanted Shields.
“If we lose Frankie or Shields, one of our young starters, or all three, we’re going to be in the position a lot of other teams are in, desperately seeking pitching,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “We have to move very carefully, and nothing Bill has been presented with is going to make sense.”
There is some debate whether Helton, 33, would solve the Angels’ power woes -- the five-time All-Star hit .302 with only 15 home runs and 81 RBIs last season after coming back too soon from a severe intestinal ailment that hospitalized him in April.
Helton has also had back problems, and there were concerns about a drop in power before 2006 -- Helton had only 20 homers and 79 RBIs in 2005 after averaging 37 homers and 121 RBIs from 1999 to 2004. His best year was 2000, when he hit .372 with 42 homers and 147 RBIs.
Then, there is Helton’s age -- he will be 37 when he enters the final year of a contract that calls for him to make $16.6 million a year from 2007-2010 and $19.1 million in 2011. There is a $23-million club option for 2012 with a $4.6-million buyout, and Helton would have to approve a deal.
Though industry sources said the Helton deal is not dead, the Angels could refocus their efforts on LaRoche -- with the Braves acquiring reliever Rafael Soriano from Seattle on Wednesday, they may drop their demands for a pitcher for LaRoche.
The Angels could also make a run at Texas first baseman Mark Teixeira or Seattle third baseman Adrian Beltre, but it’s doubtful the Rangers or Mariners would trade within the division, and such a deal would require the Angels to part with a pitcher such as John Lackey, Ervin Santana or Jered Weaver.
Another possibility is free-agent corner infielder Aubrey Huff, who hit a combined .267 with 21 homers and 66 RBIs for Tampa Bay and Houston last season. Defense, however, is not one of Huff’s strengths.
Though Barry Bonds made a surprise visit to the winter meetings Wednesday, it was not to meet with the Angels.
Asked if he could rule out any chance of the controversial slugger playing in Anaheim, Stoneman said, “Yeah, I can.”