The Angels are finally looking to sell (but why?)

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Generally, I’m a grump about a team looking to sell, for “the devil you know” reasons. There are exceptions, of course. The Wilpons relinquishing the Mets… well, it was going to be difficult to find owners as troublesome as that family to replace them (though, Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez did attempt to buy the team, and as enjoyable as the dysfunction of their breakup would have been as it played out in the sports world, A-Rod’s weird pro-owner leanings wouldn’t be as good for the players as Steve Cohen doing his thing, getting a new tax level named after him in the process). The Angels feel like they fit similar territory to the Mets: it’s been clear for a long time now that the thing holding the organization back is the man in charge of it, so the possibility that a new owner could mean the end of their futility is a realistic one. And according to the Angels themselves, they’re now exploring the idea of selling.

The Angels have paid the luxury tax exactly one time, in 2004, and that was for going less than $1 million over. They’re never shy about spending money or handing out a big contract in a vacuum, but they’ve never been willing to take things that extra step in order to win: if the Angels can’t win within the confines of the luxury tax threshold, then they just aren’t going to win. And it’s pretty safe to say at this point that the team that’s been to the postseason exactly one time during the era of Mike Trout, which was last there otherwise in 2009, can’t win within the confines of the luxury tax threshold.

Moreno doesn’t mind loosening the purse strings for an Albert Pujols or an Anthony Rendon or to keep Trout around, but continuing to spend and spend to fill out the roster? That’s another story entirely. If money was spent, it would be on targets that you didn’t need hindsight to question — Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson, etc. — and it can’t be forgotten just how lucky the Angels were to have Shohei Ohtani want to play there, given the low cost of bidding on him under current posting rules, and that he was set to be paid on a standard MLB contract and not as a free agent, like Masahiro Tanaka or Daisuke Matsuzaka or Hideki Matsui were. And since the farm can’t seem to develop any talent consistently — or at all — and there has been little to trade in order to get help from elsewhere, spending was the only way to fix what ailed the Angels. And they just wouldn’t do it: as reticent as the Yankees and Red Sox and others are to cross the luxury tax threshold, they’ll do it sometimes when they think it’s worth it to briefly do so, but the Angels just refuse. So they’re in the top 10 for payroll pretty regularly, but the last time they were in the top five was nearly a decade ago now.

Maybe Moreno is exploring selling the Angels because he’s just not going to spend above the luxury tax threshold, and is tired of seeing the same failures play out again and again. Considering his net worth and the Angels’ valuations keep climbing, though, that seems unlikely: losing isn’t costing him anything, and he hasn’t been much for acting on wounded pride to this point. Maybe he’s vulnerable, though, after noticing that Pujols — who Moreno brought on board not just for what would be the rest of his playing career, but with a 10-year “personal service contract” agreement tacked onto the end to keep him around in some capacity — is having his best season since the last time he was in a Cardinals’ uniform, after washing the Angels off of him this past winter.

Or, more realistically, Moreno knows they aren’t going to retain Ohtani, and is looking to make that someone else’s problem before it happens. As I wrote just over one year ago, when the question of locking up Ohtani was covered by Buster Olney:

Angels’ owner Arte Moreno might be averse to crossing the luxury tax threshold once again, but if Ohtani is the team’s second-best or best player come free agency time, then they kind of have to do it if that’s the financial situation they find themselves in. Ohtani is a star pitcher and a star hitter, in the form of a single roster spot and paycheck. Signing Ohtani the hitter and Ohtani the pitcher as separate entities would use up two roster spots and cost more than the $40 million or whatever the single man will pull in. He is even more of a bargain than every other star, even if he ends up being more expensive than the rest of them, simply because he is two players in one. In a game obsessed with efficiency, you don’t get much more efficient than one person being two.

And Moreno can afford it, even if it does push his team over the tax threshold. Let’s say they do keep Rendon: he’s only around through 2026, anyway, two years into whatever new deal Ohtani signs. Maybe there are just two years where the team is over the luxury tax. Maybe signing the extra pitching needed to actually successfully do something with having Trout and Ohtani on the same team keeps them over the threshold even longer. Why should that matter? Moreno is worth $3.5 billion. The Angels are valued at around $2 billion. Are you going to tell me that local revenues will go up if they let Ohtani walk in order to save money? That the Angels won’t make back what they have to spend to cross the tax threshold, and their penalties for doing so, in postseason revenues alone?

He doesn’t want to do it! He’ll have to, but he doesn’t want to. And he especially doesn’t want to if the Angels aren’t going to be in their new ballpark, which, you know. The FBI put a stop to that. That corrupt land deal isn’t happening anymore, and as Moreno is probably upset about not being able to steal land right out from under the city of Anaheim, he’s looking to sell. It’s perfectly acceptable if the city the Angels play in pays a $96 million fine to the state of California for ignoring affordable housing regulations in order to secure land for a baseball stadium, land sold at a wildly team-friendly discount that also costs the city significantly, but paying the luxury tax? An abhorrent thought.

I don’t know, maybe it is just the Pujols thing. Moreno is a real weirdo, you know.

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