Angels aiming at 'moving targets'

ANAHEIM -- Hideki Matsui and Mike Scioscia stood there side-by-side, holding up a red No. 55 Angels jersey, smiles frozen on their faces, while the cameras clicked away.

The snapping shutters, dozens of them all at once, created a noise like one of those old movie cameras grinding through a reel.

Loudly, the Los Angeles Angels ushered in a new era last week, welcoming Matsui, who not only will sextuple their traveling media group, but will help them sell jerseys thousands of miles across the Pacific.

Quietly, if not silently, another era came to an end on the same day.

The Angels said goodbye to Vladimir Guerrero by phoning one of his agents and informing him that Matsui, another aging star with creaky knees, would be filling the team's designated hitter spot in 2010.

The Angels offered Guerrero fond wishes, but they didn't offer him another contract. Arguably the best hitter ever to wear an Angels uniform was shown the door without a face-to-face meeting or even a direct phone call. That's kind of status quo in baseball nowadays.

"He's going to go out and obviously continue his career, which is going to be Hall of Fame-caliber by the time he's done," said Scioscia, entering his 11th season as Angels manager. "We're looking to move ahead."

Less than two months earlier, in the quiet of the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium after the Angels were eliminated from the American League Championship Series, one of Guerrero's teammates couldn't imagine going into spring training without him.

"We have to keep our minds positive and, hopefully, we see him, because we need him," pitcher Ervin Santana said. "He's one of the great hitters, and he's a good person off the field. We just need him, you know?"

The Matsui Show -- a Dec. 16 news conference that filled with Japanese media members 30 minutes before it started -- might be the biggest clamor the Angels make this offseason.

After failing to retain ace John Lackey and leadoff man Chone Figgins and falling short in attempts to trade for Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, the Angels recalibrated and focused on a short-term deal with Matsui.

"There are a lot of moving targets," Angels general manager Tony Reagins said. "You have to put those pieces together, and sometimes they don't come out like you want them to."

Not only have the Angels missed most of their targets, but some of them have turned around and taken aim at them. Figgins, Cliff Lee and Milton Bradley landed in Seattle. Rich Harden, who sometimes gave the Angels fits when he was in Oakland, returned to the division by signing with Texas.

The Angels finally ended their postseason hex in Boston this October, then watched Lackey join the Red Sox.

Matsui is a player Scioscia has admired from across the country for years, but after signing a one-year, $6.5 million contract, he's not likely to be a long-term difference-maker. The Angels pulled out of the Matt Holliday discussion early and they've shown middling interest in Jason Bay.

It's fair to say they didn't view any of the free-agent bats out there as franchise cornerstones.

"From the offensive side, we think we've filled our needs," Reagins said.

The Angels likely will sign or trade for a starter (they're rumored to be focused on Atlanta's Javier Vazquez) -- and maybe a bullpen arm, but don't look for them to be players for the big names still floating around.

It's becoming a pattern. The Angels have tended to take smaller and smaller bites in free agency in recent seasons.

Since the winter six years ago when owner Arte Moreno made noise in the American League by signing four of the best players available, including Guerrero and Bartolo Colon, relatively quiet offseasons have outnumbered loud ones.

With the exception of Torii Hunter's five-year, $90 million deal two years ago, the Angels have not been major shoppers. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though the fan reaction in Southern California has been chillier than the weather this winter.

A year ago, the Angels were outbid for Mark Teixeira by the New York Yankees, but they used some of the money to sign middle-of-the-order hitters Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera, as well as closer Brian Fuentes.

It looks like a similar pattern has developed going into 2010.

Reagins expects the payroll to remain steady at about $119 million and, while the Angels save about $30 million in salary to Lackey, Figgins and Guerrero, nearly half of that has already been eaten up by new contracts for Abreu and Matsui. The rest will go to raises for players such as arbitration-eligible Jered Weaver and to whatever free-agent pitcher the Angels can land.

The list of pitchers still unsigned is long, though it's not necessarily distinguished.

Meanwhile, the Angels swapped a 34-year-old DH for a 35-year-old DH. They might have also swapped the quietest superstar for one who will add a circus atmosphere to their clubhouse. Guerrero rarely granted interviews and little of what he said made for splashy headlines, so reporters mostly left him alone.

Matsui comes with his own interpreter, his own press agent and dozens of Japanese media members charting his every move.

"To me, this is the beginning of a new journey," Matsui said through that interpreter, Roger Kahlon.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPN Los Angeles.