Claiming the spotlight

LOS ANGELES -- You couldn't help but notice the contrast. Neither could Arte Moreno, we can now safely assume.
The day after the Los Angeles Dodgers staged an elaborate news conference so co-owner Magic Johnson could introduce their newest acquisition, 2009 Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, the Los Angeles Angels sent out a media invite to show off their newest arms.

It was a four-for-one, a meet-and-greet with Joe Blanton, Ryan Madson, Tommy Hanson and Sean Burnett all rolled into one luncheon at the ESPN Zone near Disneyland.

No offense to those pitchers, but perception-wise, it hasn't exactly been a glorious winter for the Angels and their owner. It was as if the teams traded Blanton and Greinke straight up, and who do you think got the better end of that one?

Moreno made his fortune in outdoor advertising. He's keenly mindful of how you get people interested and keep them hooked. Now people in Southern California can look forward to billboards on practically every freeway and every other street corner.
Maybe it will be of Josh Hamilton's massive left-handed swing all by itself. Maybe it will be a montage of Hamilton, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, muscles bulging out of their jersey tops.
Whatever it is, it will be a grabber.

For the second year in a row, Moreno jumped into the fray with the boldest acquisition of the winter. For the second year in a row, he landed the most powerful hitter on the market. This wasn't a general manager move, and neither was the Pujols signing. It was all about Moreno, the marketing guy.

The difference between the signing of Hamilton (reportedly for five years and $125 million) and last December's signing of Albert Pujols is the competition. Not in the AL West -- in the Far West.

It's hard to outspend the Dodgers lately for anything. They've poured more than $600 million into locking up or acquiring players since last spring. They've spent more than $100 million improving their stadium. A year ago, they were still owned by Frank McCourt, slogging through bankruptcy. A year ago, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was sifting through the clearance bin of free agency, scrounging up a Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang.

The business relationship between the Dodgers and Angels has always been blurry. The teams play 30 miles apart, but it's a tough drive and fan mobility isn't particularly fluid. With more than 3 million people in Orange County and nearly 10 million in Los Angeles County, there's plenty of baseball fandom to keep both teams happy.

It's just that Moreno has always loved sneaking into the Dodgers' backyard barbecues and trying to lure people over the fence. You might remember, before he bought the team, they were the Anaheim Angels.

If you don't think the Angels are fixated on the Dodgers, you didn't see the way they basked in it when they finally passed them in attendance in 2010. The Angels have always had to play from behind here, and when they finally nudged in front even for a span of months, it had to feel all the sweeter.

Now, there's this exciting slugfest going on, the Dodgers and Angels bringing baseball's spending war 3,000 miles west, from the Interstate 95 corridor of Boston and New York to the I-5 corridor between L.A. and Anaheim. Everybody knows what it's about: TV money, ridiculous amounts. The Angels got theirs about a year ago, for $3 billion over 20 years from Fox. The Dodgers are in the process of hammering theirs out now and, according to some reports, they could land double what the Angels got.
Moneyball was so 2002, so Bay Area.

This is MONEYBALL: old-timey Hollywood, marquees, movie stars and competing spotlights scraping the night sky.

If you're a serious fan of either team, you probably root for the homegrown guys a little bit harder. Everybody who loves the game recognizes it's a little bit purer when players stay with the teams that first spotted them. It's maybe a tiny bit sad that the Angels and Dodgers have become these conglomerations of corporate mercenary talent.

You probably didn't see Greinke's major-league debut for Kansas City, but you may have watched Clayton Kershaw's for the Dodgers. You probably weren't there for Albert Pujols' first swing for the St. Louis Cardinals, but you might have been in the building for Mike Trout's first, nervous hack.

But, what the heck, it's about enjoyment, right? Why make ourselves miserable over the details.

If you root for the Dodgers, you can go into next April with reasonable belief that your team is the best in baseball. If you root for the Angels, you can feel the same way and, even if they don't win, they'll be a blast to watch hit. The Angels look like they're returning to an old-school American League look, just mashing teams into submission.

The Angels found out last season that you don't win the World Series in December. The Dodgers found out last summer that you don't win it by writing checks. The fun part will be April through October.

But the winters are a lot less sleepy around here lately.