Downs dealt, but bigger deals may have to wait
Place in race, desire to avoid luxury tax will curtail wheeling and dealing
The Angels dropped three of four to the A's in Oakland, are 13 games out of first place and probably won't have Albert Pujols (partial tear in his left plantar fascia) for the rest of the season.
Time to sell?
The Angels don't expect to be very active before Wednesday's non-waiver 1 p.m. PT Trade Deadline, sources with the team continue to say. But they'll listen. They dangled lefty reliever Scott Downs in hopes they could spin him for a more long-term piece. And if teams are willing to offer cost-controlled starting pitching in exchange for a position player -- Yahoo! Sports reported late Sunday afternoon that middle infielders Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar have been made available -- they'll certainly explore it.
Most likely, though, the latter may have to wait until the offseason, when time permits and more teams can get involved.
"I know that everybody essentially wants to turn us into buyers or sellers, but I don't believe in that," said Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, who didn't want to go into specifics on the team's Deadline strategy. "Everybody's a buyer and everybody's a seller at the right time. We're constantly looking for ways to get better, and our goal is to go out and win games in 2013. [Our desire is] also to put ourselves in a position to win as much as we can in 2014. And we'll do everything we can to address both of those things."
Downs was in fact sent to Atlanta on Monday in exchange for Minor League right-hander Cory Rasmus.
Downs is having a very solid season (1.84 ERA, 1.26 WHIP). He's affordable (owed the pro-rated share of a $5 million salary for 2013). He's got a great track record (a 2.30 ERA while averaging 63 appearances from 2007-12).
"I've been through this before," Downs said before the trade was announced. "I can't control what's going on on the other side. The only thing I can control is what I do out on the field to help this team win. That's the only thing I want to do. That's the only thing I'm going to worry about."
Jason Vargas would've been another trade candidate, but he's been recovering from surgery to remove a blood clot since late June and will still be on the disabled list when Wednesday's Trade Deadline comes and goes.
The Angels figure to express interest in signing the Southern California-raised Vargas to an extension this offseason. But that wouldn't prevent them from putting him through waivers and trying to find a trade partner for him in August. That's down the road, though.
For now, here are two things to keep in mind about the Angels:
1. With Pujols and Josh Hamilton on their payroll, making a combined $196 million from 2014-17, they have no choice but to keep trying to tinker with the roster in hopes of contending for a championship. Basically, they're not clearing the decks and starting over.
2. They need better starting-pitching depth. It's evident to the fans, as well as the front office -- which will likely dedicate the entire offseason to finding creative ways to bolster the rotation without taking on significantly more payroll.
That last part is where things could get interesting.
The potential free-agent market isn't necessarily flush with starting-pitching talent. Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, A.J. Burnett, Bronson Arroyo, Matt Garza and Vargas are the only names that really stick out -- and the Angels already have more than $131 million in salary commitments for 2014. That includes $18.6 million owed to the Yankees for Vernon Wells and does not include the potential arbitration cases for Jerome Williams, Kevin Jepsen, Mark Trumbo, Ernesto Frieri and Peter Bourjos.
The Angels' best chance of improving their rotation is to trade for pitching. Given the state of their farm system, their best assets to accomplish that come in the form of talented offensive players not named Hamilton or Pujols or Mike Trout.
For that to come before the winter, though, someone would have to blow them away in the next couple of days.
"If we're able to address a situation that makes us better, we'll try to take advantage of that," Dipoto said. "If not, we'll be satisfied to move forward with what we have, and we'll continue to try to get better every day."