With 20 shopping days left before the trading deadline, Tim Salmon's mind drifts to 1995, the year the Angels coughed up an 11-game lead and lost a one-game playoff for the division championship.
The Toronto Blue Jays solicited bids that summer for David Cone, the defending Cy Young Award winner. The Yankees got him--for three pitching prospects, none of whom ever amounted to anything--and he went 9-2 for New York.
At the time, the Angels were weak in pitching prospects, reluctant to trade minor league catcher Todd Greene and minor league third baseman George Arias and financially handcuffed by the ownership transition from the Autry family to Disney. The Angels did trade for Jim Abbott, who stopped two nine-game losing streaks when Chuck Finley and Mark Langston could not, but to this day Salmon wonders what could have been.
"We lost by one game, and you think, 'If we would have had Cone during the stretch when we were scuffling, we wouldn't have lost five games in a row,' " Salmon said.
"That's the ultimate, when you can pick up a guy like that. You can always improve your team. The Yankees do it every year. Look what Oakland did with [out-fielder Jermaine] Dye last year."
As the Angels open the second half of the season tonight in Kansas City, they have given absolutely no indication--to their players, to the media, to scouts, or to the general managers of other teams--that they intend to make such a trade this summer.
The A's already have made one. Oakland General Manager Billy Beane traded for a starting pitcher, Ted Lilly, without sacrificing anyone from the A's major league roster. The Seattle Mariners want to trade for a starting pitcher and/or a power hitter.
The Angels trail the Mariners by three games in the American League West, even though Seattle played most of the first half without injured cleanup hitter Edgar Martinez. The Angels also trail the Boston Red Sox by 1 1/2 games in the wild-card race. The A's, closing fast from behind in both races, trail the Angels by two games, the Red Sox by 3 1/2 and the Mariners by five.
The Angels appear largely satisfied with their roster, with Shawn Wooten expected to return from the disabled list tonight to provide power off the bench, with rookie John Lackey boosting the starting rotation, and with deposed starter Scott Schoeneweis providing another left-handed arm in the bullpen. General Manager Bill Stoneman would like to acquire a veteran reliever to reinforce the shaky bridge between the starters and closer Troy Percival.
No Angel has played so outrageously above his career norm that a second-half crash appears inevitable. Some Angels, among them third baseman Troy Glaus, catcher Bengie Molina, designated hitter Brad Fullmer and starters Kevin Appier and Aaron Sele, could reasonably be expected to post better numbers. And, thus far, the Angels have dodged significant injuries.
"There's no particular position you could point to and say we have a hole there," All-Star outfielder Garret Anderson said. "The way I see it, all our holes are filled. Just pray everybody stays healthy."
So, if and when Stoneman completes a trade, he does not figure to welcome the likes of Jim Thome or Brian Giles to Anaheim. He appears much more likely to announce the acquisition of someone like Kelvim Escobar or Paul Shuey or Mark Guthrie or David Weathers or Tom Gordon or Jeff Fassero or (insert any name of a veteran reliever on a noncontending club here).
And, after last winter's acquisitions of Appier, Sele and Fullmer, the Angels appear reluctant to make a significant addition to a club-record $60-million player payroll.
Said outfielder Darin Erstad, "You used to hear talk around here like, 'If we had a couple more pitchers ... ' or, 'If we had a full-time DH ... '
"That talk is gone. You can't worry about what other teams are going to do or what our front office is going to do. I'd play with these guys straight up right now."
In 1998, the last time the Angels were in first place at the All-Star break, the Texas Rangers added pitcher Todd Stottlemyre and infielders Royce Clayton and Todd Zeile on trading-deadline day. The Angels did nothing, then watched in horror as Stottlemyre, Clayton and Zeile helped the Rangers sweep five games from them in September, lifting Texas over the Angels and into the playoffs.
Bill Bavasi, then the general manager of the Angels, apologized for not making a major trade. Stoneman appears to be betting he won't have to apologize.