Angels’ owner Arte Moreno has his limits
In the subject field of one recent e-mail to Angels owner Arte Moreno were the words: “Cheap, cheap, cheap!” In the body of another was a plea: “If you can’t afford to play the game, sell the team and let’s get an owner who can do this.”
The Angels closed 2010 with a payroll of $121 million, seventh-highest among baseball’s 30 teams, “and now I’m cheap because I won’t spend $200 million on Mark Teixeira and $150 million on Carl Crawford?” Moreno said Friday, his voice rising with indignation.
“When do we get to the point where we’re doing a disservice to the organization [by spending so much on one player]? I’m not the Boston Red Sox. I’m not the New York Yankees.”
True, but Moreno did channel his inner George Steinbrenner after a disappointing 80-82 season in which the Angels failed to make the playoffs for the second time in seven years, when he told The Times in October he was “angry, disappointed, and would spend whatever it takes to return to the playoffs.”
That only fueled the frustration of fans who are sick of being winter bridesmaids after the Angels’ failure to land Crawford, who signed a seven-year, $142-million deal with Boston last week. It was the latest in a string of the Angels’ fruitless free-agent pursuits that includes Teixeira, CC Sabathia, John Lackey, Chone Figgins and Paul Konerko.
The landscape of free agency keeps changing, with competition for the few premium players sending prices soaring, and the seven-year, $126-million deal Jayson Werth signed with the Washington Nationals on Dec. 5 lit another inflationary torch under this winter’s free-agent class.
The Angels were willing to go eight years and $160 million on Teixeira two winters ago, and the first baseman spurned them for an eight-year, $180-million deal with the Yankees.
They were willing to go north of $100 million for Crawford, but they would not go to $142 million for an outfielder who, despite his speed and athletic ability, has not hit more than 19 home runs in any of his eight big league seasons.
The Angels still hope to upgrade their offense, and Moreno said the team has made “what we believe is a significant offer” to free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre, who will be 32 next season and is believed to be seeking a deal in the six-year, $90-million range.
But the Angels’ offer, believed to be in the five-year, $70-million range, has not been accepted, and it is not likely to be increased.
“Fans want a competitive team, a winning team, and I’m committed to doing that … but there comes a point where you just say, the number doesn’t fit,” Moreno said. “I have two choices. I either take a huge [financial] loss or start raising ticket prices.
“You look at the economic risk and the franchise risk. The reality is, can I write a check for the player? Yes. But is it smart business in the long term? I don’t think so.”
The Angels’ projected payroll for 2011, with the signings of relievers Scott Downs (three years, $15 million) and Hisanori Takahashi (two years, $8 million), is about $133 million.
Adding Crawford at $142 million for seven years would have required the Angels to boost their annual payroll to $150 million and beyond for most of the decade and to increase ticket prices significantly, Moreno said.
The Angels have an average ticket price of $18.93, lowest in the American League, according to Team Marketing Report. If the Angels draw 3 million fans a season it would take a 50% boost in average ticket prices, to about $30, to generate an additional $30 million or so in revenues.
Most of the team’s other revenues, such television rights fees, advertising and concessions, are essentially fixed.
“You commit $20 million-plus for seven years to one player, you get to a place where, automatically, you’re going to take the payroll to $150 million, and it just doesn’t give you a lot of room,” Moreno said. “We knew if we add $20 million, it was going to be red ink.”
Moreno said reports that the Angels offered Crawford six years and $108 million with a vesting option that would have pushed the deal to $126 million were not true. He also said that, contrary to reports, the Angels were not willing to match Boston’s offer.
“There were rumors out there, but we never made an official offer, and no parameters were discussed,” Moreno said. “It’s crazy. I paid [$183 million] for the team [in 2003], and now we’re talking $142 million for one player?
“Seven years on a player is a huge risk financially. [Crawford’s] greatest asset is speed, and he’s a very skilled athlete who would have fit perfectly in left field for us. But we didn’t look at him as a power hitter in our stadium.”
Moreno and General Manager Tony Reagins met with Crawford and his agents in Houston in November, and they were poised to make a significant offer to the former Tampa Bay star, “but we never had the chance,” Moreno said.
According to Moreno, Reagins then met with Crawford’s agents, Greg Genske and Brian Peters, on Dec. 6, the first night of the winter meetings in Florida. The agents told Reagins at that meeting that “they already had a deal” for Crawford, Moreno said.
Reagins was not told with whom. Two nights later, Crawford agreed to terms with the Red Sox.
“We didn’t get it done,” Moreno said. “I didn’t judge the market properly, I guess. But were you thinking Werth would get seven years, $126 million? In your wildest dreams, did you think Crawford would get seven years, $142 million?
“People make the comment that we keep coming in second, but should I just say we’re not going to bid on this guy because we really can’t afford to pay him? Should I not be in the game? One of these days, one of these guys will want to play here.”