Reporting from Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — The Angels are looking more and more like the teenager who has to sit at the kids' table for the holiday meal while teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are at the grown-ups' table enjoying the feast.
They couldn't hang with the big boys again this winter, swinging and missing at their top free-agent target when outfielder Carl Crawford agreed to terms on a seven-year, $142-million deal with Boston on Wednesday.
Since the big-splash signings of Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar before 2004, the Angels have become perennial bridesmaids, coming up short in negotiations for Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, John Lackey, Chone Figgins and Paul Konerko and in trade talks for Roy Halladay and Miguel Cabrera.
Their biggest and, perhaps, only victory in recent years: A five-year, $90-million deal to acquire Torii Hunter in November 2007.
But despite a volatile marketplace in which the cost of premium free agents soars (seven years and $126 million for Jayson Werth?), General Manager Tony Reagins said, almost defiantly, that the Angels won't change how they conduct business.
"We'll probably be on this side of things in the future, like a lot of clubs who have had players go in other directions," he said before leaving the winter meetings Thursday. "It's not unique. It happens every year.
"What we do is we evaluate a player's skill set, assign a dollar value to him, both in years and average annual value, and the level [of contract offer] we're comfortable with. Once it exceeds that, we have to make a decision one way or another. Most of the time, it's a decision we're very comfortable with."
But how can the Angels expect to sign the best free agents when they seem unwilling to overpay, the way the Red Sox and Yankees often do, or the way the Washington Nationals did with Werth?
"I think it's pretty simple," Reagins said. "We're in the business of evaluating players. Just because something might change the market value of a player doesn't automatically mean you have to go do something you're not comfortable with."
Reagins wouldn't discuss details of the Crawford talks. According to a major league source, the Angels' guaranteed offer to Crawford was for six years and $108 million.
But another source familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of such talks, said the Angels added a seventh-year vesting option that would have pushed the deal closer to $126 million. The former Tampa Bay star, this source said, signed with Boston because he wanted to remain in the American League East.
That probably won't mollify fans who are venting on message boards about the Angels' failure to land the best free agents, anger that won't be assuaged by Reagins' assertion that last week's signing of reliever Hisanori Takahashi was "significant."
There is a perception that owner Arte Moreno has unlimited financial resources. And Moreno, despite a 2011 payroll that already sits at about $127 million, told The Times after a disappointing 80-82 season that he was "angry, disappointed, and would spend whatever it took to return to the playoffs."
But that only fuels the vitriol of fans after the Angels failed to sign Crawford.
"To our fans, we're committed to winning," Reagins said. "We're going to play baseball hard every day. Free agency is part of the process. Our commitment is to our fans. We're going to put a championship-caliber team on the field and keep moving forward."
That means intensifying their pursuit of free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre, who is seeking a deal in the five-year, $75-million range, and possibly closer Rafael Soriano. They are also expected to step up their efforts to lure pitcher Cliff Lee, who reportedly has a seven-year, $140-million offer from the Yankees and is being hotly pursued by the Texas Rangers.
"We've moved on," Reagins said of losing Crawford. "It's kind of like being a closer. You have to have a short memory."
But they'll probably have flashbacks when they play Boston this season. By signing Crawford and trading for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox likely will be World Series favorites.
"They've got a great team," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said of the Red Sox. "They've had two huge acquisitions. They're loading up like they always do. This is even more significant than a typical Red Sox reload, so they've done a great job so far."
Though he reportedly had dinner with Crawford and Crawford's agents in the Orlando area Tuesday night, Cashman said he never made a contract offer to the left fielder.
"It's not a need for us," Cashman said. "We need pitching. I have a certain amount of money, and I'm going to be aggressive in areas of need for us."
Reagins, meanwhile, must figure out a way to upgrade the Angels enough to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox.
"I'm optimistic we're going to improve our club," Reagins said. "Sometimes it's not the big splash everyone would like to have and hear, but there are a lot of ways to improve the club."