Free-agent outfielder Matt Holliday, left, and ace pitcher Roy Halladay… (Photos by Paul Buck / EPA…)
When the last out of the American League Championship Series was made in October, the Angels trimmed almost $51 million from their payroll, as Vladimir Guerrero, Kelvim Escobar, John Lackey, Bobby Abreu, Chone Figgins, Darren Oliver and Robb Quinlan headed for free agency.
Knowing his 2010 budget would be roughly the same as 2009 -- the Angels finished last season with a payroll of about $113 million -- the savings would seem to have given General Manager Tony Reagins all sorts of flexibility this winter.
He could look to retain some of the Angels' highly coveted free agents such as Lackey, Abreu and Figgins. He could aggressively pursue a marquee free agent such as Matt Holliday or Jason Bay.
He could look to trade for a high-priced ace such as Toronto's Roy Halladay, who will make $15.75 million in 2010. Heck, with the kind of money he had, Reagins could add a big bat and a front-of-the-rotation starter and have some left for another move or two.
Then again, maybe not.
"There was a nice chunk that came off the 2009 payroll," Reagins said, "but when you have young players who perform well, you're going to have increases to your payroll."
Big ones, sometimes.
The Angels have eight players eligible for salary arbitration this winter -- pitchers Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders, catchers Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis, infielders Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis and Howie Kendrick and outfielder Reggie Willits -- and some were among the team's top performers in 2009.
Though the players are under club control, the considerable jumps in salaries for many of the eight probably will add $13 million to $15 million to the team's 2010 payroll.
Combined with raises to returning players such as Scott Kazmir, Ervin Santana and Juan Rivera, huge contracts of veterans such as Torii Hunter, Gary Matthews Jr. and Brian Fuentes, and the signing of Abreu to a two-year, $19-million deal in late October, and Reagins went from a GM with lots of wiggle room to one operating out of a phone booth.
A look at the team's payroll for 2010, with projections for raises to arbitration-eligible players and those with less than three years of big league service, shows that the Angels already have roughly $94 million committed to 21 players under contract or club control.
Throw in the $5.25 million the team owes released reliever Justin Speier, and salaries for another four players who will make at least the major league minimum of $400,000, and that pushes the payroll to almost $101 million.
So, instead of having $51 million to play with, Reagins has something closer to $12 million, which isn't much in baseball's financial stratosphere.
"We do have money available to be active in free agency, and there are some areas we can work with that will give us more flexibility," Reagins said. "We feel we can take on some payroll, but we're going to have to be creative."
Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti is working with similar restrictions.
The Dodgers started last season with a payroll of around $100 million, but that figure could decrease next season.
While the salaries of Jason Schmidt ($12 million), Randy Wolf ($8 million) and Orlando Hudson ($8 million) are expected to be removed from the books, a group of arbitration-eligible players that includes Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Chad Billingsley, Russell Martin, James Loney, Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill and Hong-Chih Kuo are expected to earn raises totaling some $20 million.
The soaring salaries of the Dodgers' young players will prevent Colletti from spending the kind of money he did heading into last season, when he signed Manny Ramirez to a two-year, $45-million deal and Rafael Furcal to a three-year, $30-million contract.
Several agents said they aren't expecting the Dodgers to be serious players in the free-agent market, particularly with ownership in the midst of divorce proceedings.
The Dodgers could do what they did a season ago to fill out their roster -- that is, wait until late winter or early spring and pounce on players who misread the market. The wait-and-see method landed them Wolf and Hudson at bargain prices.
Acquiring Halladay appears to be a longshot at this point, as Colletti has dismissed the idea of parting with a current member of the rotation in a trade.
The Dodgers are expected to explore the possibility of dealing fourth outfielder Juan Pierre for an overpaid back-of-the-rotation pitcher in a trade that would essentially amount to a swap of bad contracts. Pierre is owed $18.5 million over the next two seasons.
The Angels will look to trade Matthews but probably will have to eat much of the $23 million left on his contract, so a deal might not net significant savings.
A trade for Halladay probably would cost the Angels one of their three young starters -- Saunders, Weaver or Santana -- so some of Halladay's hefty 2010 salary could be offset by the departure of a pitcher.
If the Angels retain Lackey, Figgins, or both, they could try to backload their contracts, giving them some payroll relief in 2010.
Reagins also has a bit of a wild card up his sleeve: Owner Arte Moreno has often said that he is willing to go over his budget for a potential "franchise" player, so if the Angels have to push the payroll beyond $113 million to add an arm such as Halladay or a bat such as Bay, they might do it.
"We have a few different scenarios we're working with," Reagins said. "There are ways to get to where we want to be, and we're going to go through all of them. It's a challenge, but this is a fun time of year. It's exciting."