Pitching to the Los Angeles Angels in October isn't going to be quite as much fun anymore.
Leading the AL West by 11½ games, the Angels on Tuesday put switch-hitting slugger Mark Teixeira behind Vladimir Guerrero in their lineup and ahead of Torii Hunter, Garret Anderson, Howie Kendrick and Juan Rivera – or however manager Mike Scioscia chooses to play it – in a trade with the Atlanta Braves that cost them homegrown first baseman Casey Kotchman and a minor-league pitcher. Teixeira is expected to be in uniform for the Angels on Wednesday night in Boston.
Already possessing the best record in baseball, and already holding one of the better starting rotations in baseball, and already having wasted a handful of seasons just like it because of their unwillingness to take risks at this time of year, the Angels and first-year general manager Tony Reagins inhaled hard and traded a little bit of tomorrow for more runs today.
Since their 2002 World Series championship, the Angels have won three division titles and but a single playoff series. Twice they were swept in the division series, including last October by the Boston Red Sox. The problem has been with the offense, and in finding a hitter dangerous enough to bat effectively behind Guerrero and, in all honesty, in Guerrero himself.
In their four postseason series since the big red parade, the Angels have lost 12 of 16 games, scored 52 runs, hit 15 home runs and batted .221. Guerrero, usually swinging wildly and probably because of the pressure he felt to produce in a spongy lineup, batted .183 with one home run in those 16 games.
Teixeira, coming up on free agency and represented by Scott Boras, whose vocabulary doesn't generally include the words "contract extension," never has taken a postseason at-bat. So the Angels dealt away a rising and inexpensive young player with developing power for a better chance in October, yet with no promises for October or beyond. But seeing as this is not a self-destructive annual habit for the Angels, and seeing as the Angels certainly have the resources to compete for Teixeira on the open market, and seeing as they had little choice but to become competitive in the playoffs again, their cost was reasonable. And it could be a considerable cost. Not only is Kotchman becoming a cornerstone-type player, but Teixeira will be the only run-producing first baseman in free agency, meaning his price will be high, probably $20 million a season for at least six seasons.
While Reagins implied the Angels would approach Boras regarding an extension, Teixeira said, "We can talk about contracts after the season. … These are all hypothetical questions. I know Tony and [Angels owner] Arte Moreno have a great relationship with Scott Boras. I'm sure they'll talk in the future."
Asked if Boras and the Braves ever had talked about an extension, Teixeira said they had.
"It didn't get much farther than one phone call," he said.
The team with the best record in the game got a little better, and that slight improvement will carry for two or three months, presumably. That could be enough, both to the end result and to justify this daring decision.
"Hopefully, we're playing deep into October," Reagins said. "We're in it to win a world championship. This speaks volumes to that."
Teixeira, who had a 10-homer, 32-RBI August for the Braves after being dealt from the Texas Rangers last year, pushed it out a little further.
"A World Series, for me, would make this trade successful," he said.
The shopping of Teixeira is now an annual mid-summer's event. The Braves into the afternoon had peddled the Gold Glove first baseman to division races east and west, concentrating briefly on a perceived better match in Arizona to the exclusion of some other interested clubs, primarily the Angels and the Tampa Bay Rays. But acquiring Kotchman, who is locked up for the next three years, clearly was more appealing than getting Chad Tracy through 2009.
The Braves could barely catch a break in what has become a three-team NL East race, down Tim Hudson, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann on a roster that already lost John Smoltz for the season, Tom Glavine for significant time and, as a result, could have used a massive year from fourth-year man Jeff Francoeur. They didn't get it.
Teixeira, who turned 28 in April, was a worthy addition to the Braves a year ago and in his career has been a consistently more productive second-half hitter. Still, in parts of two seasons with Teixeira as their regular first baseman, and having paid a significant cost for him a year ago, the Braves appear resigned to a third consecutive playoff-less season.
Teixeira would have altered divisional outcomes in the NL West, where the Diamondbacks' offense deserted them after a 28-16 start, and the AL East, where the Rays' hitters have taken much of July off. Both appeared Tuesday to be in a Teixeira-or-nothing mode.
The Rays are more optimistic that Rocco Baldelli has regained the energy and game to help punch up their offense, and that left-hander David Price, who went eight innings for his fifth consecutive Southern League win Monday night, is close to big-league ready. In that case, the Rays would put Price in their rotation and move a starter to the bullpen, filling two needs. They would have loved to make a run at Colorado Rockies left-hander Brian Fuentes, a prospective free agent who was available until the Rockies got hot and advanced to within six games of Arizona.
In light of the Yankees' acquisition of outfielder Xavier Nady and reliever Damaso Marte (two players the Rays had hoped to be in on) and the Red Sox getting back David Ortiz, a significant upgrade somewhere would have served the Rays both for lineup and morale purposes. They've mostly forgotten the seven-game losing streak that chased them into the second half, but for a club that's never seen a contending second half (or first, for that matter), some front-office aggressiveness would go a long way toward stimulating stretch-drive confidence.
The Diamondbacks, meantime, have scored 42 runs in a week and are within reach of their first winning month since April. Justin Upton is expected back sometime in August and, even better, Randy Johnson looks a little more like Randy Johnson again. The news got even better for them when ever-fragile Nomar Garciaparra suffered a knee sprain, killing a little bit of a Dodgers offense that needed all hands on deck for the next couple months.
Garciaparra will never be the player he once was, but he did hit .309 for a month and was killing left-handed pitching. The shortstop market is thin, and the Dodgers, as of Tuesday, seemed more likely to hold their breath until Rafael Furcal heals, assuming he does. They are not – or were not so far – of the mind to trade for Ramirez, for many of the same reasons the Red Sox now find it necessary to shop him.
Under Bill Stoneman, the Angels refrained from the rent-a-player strategy that can thin a farm system and start a cycle of emergency trades and free-agent spending. But Reagins – who traded Orlando Cabrera for Jon Garland and signed Hunter this winter – has shown more of a gambling spirit.
That said, the Angels are in a postseason rut. Guerrero, around whom the offense turns, has been particularly vulnerable, in part because there has not been a ferocious presence behind him. Teixeira is that presence. He has to be.
The Angels are having their best offensive month, during which they extended their AL West lead by eight games, so the urgency of a bat had diminished somewhat. At least until October.