Angels' off-season spending spree can't buy success

The American League West champion hasn't been crowned just yet, though that could happen at some point next weekend at Rangers Ballpark.

It won't be the Los Angeles Angels sipping champagne. That seemed unfathomable to many 10 months ago and even as recently as seven weeks ago.

But the champions of the winter meetings and the July 31 trade deadline are almost certainly headed toward a third straight season without a playoff appearance.

And the Angels might have to watch the Rangers celebrate a title that owner Arte Moreno thought he had bought.

The autopsy of the 2012 Angels is already under way, even though there are ways they can sneak into the playoffs.

Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, the prized off-season acquisitions, haven't performed up to expectations, and even the untouchable Mike Scioscia has had to answer questions about his job security.

But most fingers should point to a bullpen that has coughed up game after game, including a turning-point game Aug. 1 against the Rangers, and the dismal seasons turned in by right-handers Ervin Santana and Dan Haren.

Wilson hasn't been great, not $77.5 million great and especially not against his old team. In five games against the Rangers, Wilson is 0-2 with a 7.65 ERA.

Pujols slumped until mid-May and got hitting coach Mickey Hatcher fired but has been one of the league's top run producers in the second half of the season.

His numbers, though, will end up being among the worst of his career, and will fall well short of the $240 million investment sunk into him in December.

And the Angels will fall short of the expectations that they would be hoisting some October hardware.

Triple Crown fever

Miguel Cabrera, with an assist from the eye/nose/throat-plagued Josh Hamilton, has moved within reach of the coveted Triple Crown.

No player has led his league in batting average, home runs and RBIs since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967. Cabrera is the leader in all three after a homer Saturday moved him into a tie for first with Hamilton at 42.

The bigger debate, though, was if a Triple Crown for Cabrera would lift him past Angles rookie Mike Trout, the runaway leader in the almighty WAR stat, for the MVP.

History shows that a Triple Crown doesn't automatically lead to an MVP, as Lou Gehrig, Chuck Klein and Ted Williams all learned back when WAR meant those players might actually have to defend the country.

Hamilton, who entered Saturday with a one-homer edge on Cabrera, wouldn't mind losing out on the homer and RBI titles if it meant a Triple Crown for one of his favorite players.

"By God, maybe I'm getting sick and can't play for a reason," Hamilton joked, probably. "Maybe it's his time to get a Triple Crown. You ever think about that?

"Miggy, he's a good dude. He's played well and consistently well for a long time. There's no one I'd rather see get it than him."

Not so easy

Joe Mauer is a great player on a lousy team that would do itself some good by packaging its one true star for some quality major-league-ready prospects and maybe even a young pitcher already in a big-league rotation.

But trading Mauer isn't the layup the Rangers faced when they dealt Mark Teixeira.

Mauer isn't approaching free agency, as Teixeira was a season and half from when he was dealt. Mauer is the complete opposite, with six years and $136 million left on the mega deal he signed in 2010.

He's also a home boy, raised in St. Paul and the first overall pick of the 2001 draft. The Twins would be facing a P.R. obstacle by trading the locally grown best player of a franchise that only a few years ago was a playoff regular.

The thought has crossed the minds of Twins brass, though. They acquired trade waivers on Mauer last month to get a feel for what he might fetch in a trade.

Only a handful of teams could land him, and the Rangers become one if Hamilton and Mike Napoli head elsewhere this off-season.

The Rangers are paying those two $23.15 million this season, and Mauer would help replace what the lineup would lose in Hamilton while also upgrading the defense at catcher.

That's probably crazy talk, especially because it will be so hard for Minnesota to unload the face of its franchise.

Seattle Smoak screen

The piece the Rangers needed to include to acquire Cliff Lee in 2010 was Justin Smoak, who moved quickly through the farm system and showed some of his potential as a major-league rookie.

It wasn't easy for general manager Jon Daniels to include Smoak in the deal. Looking back, it seems like it should have been a no-brainer.

Smoak has never hit, and the thought is that he never will. He's unpopular in the Seattle fan base, and the belief is that the Mariners need to move away from him in the off-season to send a message to the fans that they are serious about improving.

Smoak is an easy target, and not just because he's so slow on the bases. But it's not like he's a disappointing hitter in the best lineup in baseball.

The Mariners are last in the AL in most major offensive categories. Their home ballpark, the cavernous Safeco Field, doesn't help matters, though Seattle pitchers aren't complaining.

And no good free-agent hitter is going to want sign up for 81 games there, even if the Mariners try to money-whip another as they did Adrian Beltre.

How did that work out for him?

Smoak, though, isn't working out, and the Mariners might be prepared to leave him behind.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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