Angels resisting temptation

Times Staff Writer

We do have seasons in Southern California, at least on the sports calendar.

January heralds the season when USC fans worry whether Pete Carroll will leave the Trojans for the NFL. June heralds the season when Lakers fans fret more about the happiness of Kobe Bryant than that of their own families.

July, of course, heralds the season when fans wonder whether their Angels will trade for a big bat.


They won’t.

“I don’t see anyone that can come in here for two months and hand me a World Series trophy,” owner Arte Moreno said.

They won’t trade for that big bat, not under this ownership, not if picking up Matt Holliday means giving up two good young pitchers, with no guarantee Holliday would stick around very long.

“I think pitching wins,” Moreno said. “If your pitching can’t keep you in the game, I don’t think you can win a championship.”

This isn’t only a Moreno thing. The Angels have not traded a pitcher of any consequence since 1996 -- in the same month the Walt Disney Co. bought the team from the Autry family -- when they traded Lee Smith so Troy Percival could ascend to closer.

Bill Stoneman and Mike Scioscia put pitching first when they arrived in Anaheim in 1999, and Moreno embraced the philosophy when he bought the team in 2003. On the American League team that waves an L.A. banner, at least, the management is on the same page.

There is no need for the Colorado Rockies to trade Holliday, arguably the best outfielder in the National League. The Rockies are not hopelessly out of the NL West race, and they should be in position to win next year even if they do not win this year.

Holliday is signed for $9.5 million this year and $13.5 million next year, with free agency to follow. As the Rockies survey the market, gauging whether they could fill three needs by trading Holliday now, potential trade partners worry about the startling disparity between his career numbers at home and on the road.

In 329 games at Coors Field, he is batting .363, with 79 home runs. In 311 games away from Coors Field, he is batting .277, with 39 home runs.

“If I get traded, I think I’ll be all right,” Holliday said. “Everybody is more comfortable when they play at home. You play 81 games there.

“I guess I’ll hear that forever if I play at Coors Field.”

Said Colorado pitcher Aaron Cook: “I wouldn’t want to pitch to him anywhere.”

Nothing against Maicer Izturis, but the Angels’ lineup would look infinitely more frightening with Holliday batting third, ahead of Vladimir Guerrero.

The Rockies have made clear any package would start with Nick Adenhart, the Angels’ top pitching prospect. The Angels might swallow hard and say yes, but beyond Adenhart they face the same dilemma the Dodgers do: Their best young players -- their most valuable trade chips -- already are filling key roles on the major league club.

“I don’t want to disrupt this roster,” Moreno said.

However, should the Angels wish to pursue Holliday, they’ll need to dig deeper than one minor league pitcher. The Rockies are believed to be interested in completing a package with second baseman Howie Kendrick, who might hit 60 doubles in Coors Field, and one of the Angels’ All-Star starters, Ervin Santana or Joe Saunders.

That might be a starting price, but it’s a steep price, as it should be.

“They’re going to want three or four guys,” Moreno said, without providing any names. “And Holliday is a Scott Boras guy.”

A guy with Boras as his agent generally does not pass up free agency, so the Angels could count on Holliday for no more than one year and two months.

Should the Rockies opt to trade Holliday, Boras is believed to consider the Angels a fine fit.

The Angels have one of baseball’s best stables of young starting pitching, along with the San Francisco Giants, Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays, so they might be the team that could best afford to trade a pitcher and afford to sign Holliday for the long term as well.

“Everybody wants pitching,” Moreno said, speaking generally. “They want top-line pitching, and they want guys who are inexpensive.”

Santana cannot file for free agency until after the 2011 season, Saunders and Jered Weaver until after 2012.

The Angels would be hard-pressed to convince Colorado to accept a minor leaguer in place of Santana or Saunders. Beyond Adenhart, they have to dig all the way to Class A before they find another top-line pitching prospect, Jordan Walden and his 100-mph fastball.

The Angels danced this dance last winter, when they told the Florida Marlins they could have one but not two starters in a potential trade for Miguel Cabrera.

Since then, the Angels’ depth beyond their current rotation has all but evaporated, with Kelvim Escobar set for shoulder surgery and Adenhart, Nick Green and Dustin Moseley struggling at triple A.

They probably could trade one starter and still win the AL West, mixing and matching in the No. 5 spot as needed, and no team uses five starters in October.

But then the Angels face what could be a costly winter, with Jon Garland eligible for free agency, with Santana and maybe Weaver eligible for salary arbitration, and with negotiations for the contract extension that would keep ace John Lackey from entering a walk year next season.

This, ultimately, is the issue for Moreno: He would like a big bat, but he would prefer to buy one in free agency rather than get one by trading a pitcher, because he covets five good starters above all.

“Every day, we’ve got someone who has the opportunity to win,” he said. “It’s taken us a long time just to get to that point.”

This is not to say Moreno is satisfied with winning the division and packing the house, year in and year out. This is about winning in October, with a plan that has yet to succeed in October.

The Angels have the best record in the major leagues, so they’ll almost certainly have another chance to succeed this October. And then the calendar will turn to Pete Carroll, and to Kobe, and then to another big-bat season 12 months from now.