Angels sit out Tanaka sweepstakes
Dipoto seeks more cost-efficient options on free-agent market
ANAHEIM -- In the end, landing Masahiro Tanaka was merely a pipe dream for the Angels.
Signing the Japanese sensation to any contract exceeding $100 million meant going over the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, which is essentially the Angels' spending limit. So when Tanaka was in Los Angeles visiting with teams a couple of weeks ago, the Halos didn't even bother with a face-to-face meeting. When it was time to submit offers, they declined.
And when Tanaka ultimately agreed to a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees on Wednesday, it became very clear just how much of a long shot acquiring the 25-year-old right-hander actually was.
There would be no third straight offseason splash in Anaheim.
"The simple truth is we weren't very involved; we never made a formal offer," general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "We like the player; we believe he's very good. I'm sure the Yankees are very excited for their addition. But we had to make decisions that were right for the Angels in the big picture. We had a lot of needs on our roster [at the start of the offseason] that couldn't be answered by one starting pitcher."
The Angels addressed those needs by trading for David Freese to shore up third base, signing reliever Joe Smith to lock up the eighth inning and trading first baseman Mark Trumbo in order to acquire a couple of cost-controlled starting pitchers in Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs.
With less than $15 million of wiggle room remaining before surpassing $189 million, the Halos' plan remains simple: They'll either try to fit starting pitcher Matt Garza into their budget, or turn to the lower tier of free agents for a potential bargain.
But Dipoto -- who has declined to comment on specific free agents -- continues to stress that the Angels don't need to add another starting pitcher, and would be comfortable with a projected rotation of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Garrett Richards, Santiago and Skaggs.
"We're keeping an eye on the pitchers on the market that we feel like make sense for us and maintaining a rhetoric with those guys," Dipoto said. "If opportunity knocks, we'll be there, and if it doesn't, we're very happy moving forward with the group we have."
Tanaka comes with plenty of uncertainty, because of the typically tough transition to the U.S. and the significant workload he's already taken on, but the Halos' concerns lie mainly within their own budget.
Albert Pujols' contract calls for an average annual value of $24 million over the next eight years and Josh Hamilton's is at $25 million for four more seasons. Then there's Weaver ($17 million for three more years) and Wilson ($15.5 million for three more years). That's $81.5 million toward the Collective Balance Tax payroll -- about 43 percent of the luxury-tax threshold -- tied to four players through 2016, at which time the current Collective Bargaining Agreement will expire.
And then there's Mike Trout, whom the Angels would love to sign to an extension before he hits arbitration for the first time next offseason.
Vernon Wells' contract finally comes off the books after this season, but the Halos can't sign Tanaka to a nine-figure contract, extend Trout and stay below a tax threshold owner Arte Moreno has always had trepidations about exceeding. Not only would they incur the 17.5-percent overage tax for first-time offenders, but they'd likely put themselves in a position to be over it for several years to come -- with the tax being 30 percent the second time, 40 percent the third time and 50 percent the fourth time.
"I don't think we were in a position when the offseason began to take a shot at one high-end starting pitcher," Dipoto said. "That's not the position we were in as an organization."
The Angels have targeted Garza ever since Jason Vargas signed with the Royals in late November.
Tanaka's contract isn't expected to affect Garza's price; they're on two different stratospheres. But one potential ripple effect is that the D-backs have liked Garza for a while and have money to burn after not being able to sign Tanaka or Shin-Soo Choo, two free agents they were heavily linked to.
Chances are, the Angels will add someone within the next three weeks, with Bronson Arroyo, Chris Capuano and Paul Maholm being potential secondary options. But they'll wait for a fair price -- with reasonable confidence that prices will come down as Spring Training draws closer -- and are still not expected to give up a Draft pick in order to obtain Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.
"We came into the offseason with a very clear game plan of what we wanted to accomplish, and I feel like for the most part we've done those things," Dipoto said. "As we sit here today, we still have a desire to add to our pitching staff to create more depth and potentially more impact, and there's still time left in the offseason to do that. We also aren't restricted to the offseason to do that."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.