ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Don't be fooled by Wednesday's 12-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, which seemed to be played in a parallel universe. The final five weeks of the Los Angeles Angels' season are very much about 2011 and beyond.
Gradually, with a roster move here and a roster move there, the Angels have invited young guys up from Triple-A for tryouts. There have been mixed, but generally positive signs from center fielder Peter Bourjos and relievers Michael Kohn and Jordan Walden. Those guys look as though they could be nice incremental additions, but how solid will the foundation be next spring?
Remember, without doing anything other than wait, the Angels will land one of the most dangerous hitters in the American League, Kendry Morales. He's expected to get into the heavy-duty portion of his rehab work from a broken ankle sometime in December.
Even so, how close are the Angels to regaining the form that allowed them to lock down the AL West for most of a decade? The Texas Rangers should be different after getting a taste of the postseason this fall, the Oakland A's could be a team on the rise.
The Angels' fortunes could swing on how willing they are to shatter the team record for payroll, set this season (believe it or not), when they entered Opening Day with $121 million of salary obligations. Already, the Angels have more than $90 million committed to players for next season and a handful of guys -- Jered Weaver among them -- are due for serious bumps in their second seasons of arbitration.
It's going to take serious financial muscle to pull in the one player that could -- by himself -- put the Angels back into the driver's seat.
That guy, Carl Crawford, just left town with the Rays and will be a free agent this fall. Don't fool yourself. He won't be cheap. He'll probably get a deal that makes Torii Hunter's five-year, $90 million contract seem cautious by comparison. With the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves all rumored to be circling in the water, waiting for Crawford to fall in, many people expect him to make well more than $100 million spread over six or seven years. He just turned 29, so that seems to be a reasonable estimate.
The Angels might even have to pay a slight premium since Crawford is a Texas native who is said to prefer playing on the East Coast.
Angels pitcher Scott Kazmir has been friends with Crawford for five years. They were teammates in Tampa and they work out together in the offseason in Houston. Kazmir said he would be happy to reach out to the four-time All-Star this winter if the Angels ask him.
"If they're really serious about him, yeah," Kazmir said. "I'd love to have him on the team. I don't think there's anyone in the league who has the skills he has, who brings so much to the table. He creates stuff, he's an excellent outfielder and he has power. He pretty much has it all. I think everyone would love to have him."
That last part is the problem, of course. But with the Angels buried in the standings -- and still struggling to get their head above .500 -- this is a good time to daydream. Plug Crawford into left field and the Angels might have the most impermeable outfield in the majors, presuming Bourjos hits well enough to stick.
Plug him into the No. 3 hole in the Angels' lineup -- protected by Morales and Torii Hunter -- and the Angels could have a lineup as fierce as any team west of the Hudson. He injects new dimensions into this offense: Crawford is a .295 lifetime hitter who averages 54 steals and 13 home runs a season. Kazmir said he's as good in the clubhouse as anyone he has ever been around. He works tirelessly and forces everyone around him to play with as much intensity as he brings.
Of course, everywhere Crawford goes, somebody asks him about playing there. Recently, somebody asked him about playing for the Oakland A's, a team that has about as much chance of coming up with his asking price as the Newark Bears do. Crawford politely answers.
"[Oakland] does have good pitching," Crawford told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I'll weigh a lot of things, but obviously I want to go somewhere where the team can win."
Crawford has had some good moments in three trips to Anaheim this year. He made a catch for the ages to rob Hunter of extra bases in April, then returned for the All-Star game. In July, he spoke highly of Angel Stadium when I asked him about it. Considering Crawford has played his entire career on artificial turf in Tropicana Field, you can't blame him.
"The weather's great. The grass is really soft. It's one of the best places in the big leagues," Crawford said of Anaheim. And he'd be playing opposite one of his best friends in the game, Hunter.
"You said it, not me," Crawford said.
Key to the game
It was a terrible game to be a starting pitcher. The first-pitch temperature was 91 degrees and it got hotter as the game progressed. Eventually, clouds moved in and it got more humid, too.
The conditions made Dan Haren grateful to be wearing cutoff jerseys, the first time he had ever worn them while playing baseball. He said he considered going sleeveless before laboring through six innings with four walks, but just one run -- a home run to lead off the game.
"I thought about it, but I didn't want to embarrass anybody," Haren said. "It was hot. It seemed like on the mound, too, there was like a spotlight. It was really draining. I remember that at-bat against [Carlos] Pena. I looked down and sweat was just pouring down."
Quote of the day
"Ask me in two weeks." -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia on whether the offensive outburst could ignite the offense.
The Angels have Thursday off before opening a three-game series with the Baltimore Orioles. The pitching matchups are Trevor Bell (1-3, 4.48) vs. Brad Bergesen (5-9, 5.84); Kazmir (8-11, 6.33) vs. Kevin Millwood (2-14, 5.63); and Weaver (11-9, 3.21 ERA) vs. Jeremy Guthrie (7-13, 4.13).
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.