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Angels: Investment Will Yield Return

Baseball: After another second-place finish, players want Disney to open its pocketbooks and add big-name free agents.

September 28, 1998|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Those who crunch numbers in the Walt Disney Co.'s executive offices may be satisfied with an Angel team that attracted 2.5 million fans to a renovated stadium and remained highly competitive in the American League West before finishing second to the Texas Rangers.

But that is no longer cutting it in the Angel clubhouse, where there is enough talent to compete and to keep things interesting but not enough to reach October, and nowhere near enough to reach late October.

"This act has pretty much worn thin--the song is getting a little sour," veteran pitcher Chuck Finley said. "I sense patience running out around here."

The core of this team is young, and there is reason for optimism with players such as Darin Erstad, Gary DiSarcina, Tim Salmon, Troy Percival, Jim Edmonds, Garret Anderson and Troy Glaus wearing periwinkle blue.

But the feeling among players is that if the Angels--and Disney--are really serious about winning next season, they must make a bold move this winter and do what seems oh so difficult for them: spend a good chunk of money.

They must trash their spackle-and-patch approach of signing fringe players such as Cecil Fielder and Eddie Murray and rehabilitating pitchers such as Jack McDowell and Steve Ontiveros and hoping they work out.

They need to think big.

"You're not going to win this thing with luck--that's tough to do at this level," Finley said. "And you get nowhere cheap. That's been proven. There's a reason guys like [Boston slugger] Mo Vaughn demand $10 million. You look at the end of the year and the big numbers are always there, and those numbers help you get to where you want to be."

Angel President Tony Tavares said he believes no player is worth $10 million a year, but if the Angels aren't willing to spend that kind of money this winter, Manager Terry Collins' run of five consecutive second-place finishes will continue--unless they finish third or last.

But if they are willing to loosen the purse strings. . . .

"If you get two studs here, one pitcher who is a force and one bat that will give you 30-40 home runs and 120-130 RBIs, we'll be ready to take off then," Finley said. "I guarantee you, we'd have a come-catch-me team then."

Front-office types can't discuss specific players this time of year--players don't even file for free agency until after the World Series--but it's no secret what kind of new teammates the Angels would like: Catcher Mike Piazza, who has expressed an interest in returning to Southern California, and a pitcher such as Randy Johnson or Kevin Brown.

That would be asking a lot of any team, let alone the budget-conscious Angels, but with the loss of almost $9.7 million in contracts to this year's $44-million payroll (Jim Abbott, Allen Watson, Fielder and McDowell) and raises of $4.4 million to the core group, the Angels will have $5.3 million to use toward the signing of a marquee player.

And with Salmon returning to the outfield next season and Dave Hollins available for first base, the Angels can again consider moving first baseman Erstad back to the outfield and trading Edmonds or Anderson--or even both--for a pitcher.

"Obviously it's going to take a lot of money to get one or two people who can help take us where we want to go," Finley said. "Whether that's going to be spent, I don't know.

"I would be very surprised if they pay $10 million to bring a guy like Mo Vaughn, Kevin Brown or Randy Johnson. Maybe they can trade for someone. If we had Piazza and an ace pitcher, we'd be good enough to win."

But if the Angels don't do something soon, they might be in danger of losing some of their top players. Shortstop Gary DiSarcina, who is signed through 2001, said he would have "serious reservations" about returning if he was a free agent and the Angels didn't seem committed to winning.

And even Finley, an Angel for life, is getting skeptical. "I'm in a situation where if things aren't going right next year, they can trade me for a a couple of prospects, and I can go pitch in the playoffs somewhere," he said.

Finley and Ken Hill are expected to anchor the rotation next season, and Steve Sparks, Jason Dickson, Omar Olivares, Jarrod Washburn and Pep Harris will battle for starting spots. The Angels will not offer arbitration to Watson, a major bust this season at $2.9 million.

Among other internal decisions: Whether to re-sign injury plagued Randy Velarde or go with youngster Justin Baughman at second base, and what to do about first baseman/outfielder Gregg Jefferies?

The Angels won't pick up Jefferies' $5 million option for 1999, but Jefferies has expressed an interest in renegotiating for less and returning to Anaheim in a utility role.

A change in clubhouse chemistry may also be needed. The Angels have had the same core group for four years and have not won the division, and there was grumbling last week after the Angels succumbed to the pressure of a three-game series against Texas, getting swept by the combined score of 25-3.

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