Commentary

Greinke pushes Angels forward

Dipoto's move for premium pitcher shows players his commitment to winning now

Updated: July 28, 2012, 1:38 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When the Los Angeles Angels woke up on July 31 last year, they were two games behind the Texas Rangers.

They left Comerica Park that afternoon knowing that not only had they not helped themselves at the trade deadline, but that the team they were chasing, the Texas Rangers, had built arguably the toughest bullpen in the game with the additions of Mike Adams and Koji Uehara.

[+] EnlargeZack Greinke
Eric Hartline/US PresswireThe acquisition of Zack Greinke was key for the Angels on many fronts, including the fact that the Rangers didn't get him.

Less than three weeks later, the Angels were seven games out.

The moves at this time of year typically do more for Internet traffic than for the teams that make them. Half the players acquired don't provide what they were intended to provide. Sometimes, trades that look good now prove regrettable, maybe even disastrous, in a few years.

But if you're a general manager of a team fighting through aches and pains, digging hard for a playoff spot, it's the day you tell your team what you think of it.

It's the day you tell the rest of the league what you think of it.

Angels GM Jerry Dipoto traded for the best available pitcher Friday afternoon, adding 2009 Cy Young winner Zack Greinke to a rotation that very well could include 2012 Cy Young winner Jered Weaver. As a guy who spent eight seasons as a major league player, Dipoto knew as well as anybody how that would go over downstairs.

Reports of the trade broke as the Angels were just beginning to stretch for batting practice. As they came off the Angel Stadium field about an hour later, they knew something was up, because about 15 media members were waiting by the dugout to talk to Dipoto.

Someone told Mike Trout what was going on.

"We got Zack Greinke?" he marveled.

Mark Trumbo tried to feign indifference, joking, "Is he a pitcher?" before he grinned and took off down the tunnel.

Not only do the Angels get a little dog-days bounce from Friday's trade, but the Rangers have to hear about it every time they turn on "SportsCenter." They have to hear it tonight, after the trade was made; Saturday, when Greinke arrives in Anaheim; and Sunday, when he figures to make his first Angels start.

Texas, by the way, needs starting pitching just as badly, maybe even more than the Angels. Last year, both teams needed relief help, and the team that got it reached the World Series. The Angels finished 10 games out. Again.

Whether Greinke wins 12 games or two in the next two months, those are games he won't have won for the Rangers.

Asked what it would have meant if the Rangers had landed Greinke -- and one report indicated they would have if they had been willing to include third-base prospect Mike Olt -- Torii Hunter paused.

"It wouldn't have been good," he said. "It's not about the Rangers at all, but when you think about it, it kind of takes him away from them, and he's one of the best pitchers out there."

Did the Angels give up too much -- shortstop Jean Segura and Double-A pitchers John Hellweg and Ariel Pena -- for a player they might have for only two months or so? Probably. Segura looks like a sure bet to be an everyday major league player, whether it's at shortstop or second base. Hellweg has a massive arm; Pena certainly has a shot at the majors. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, the Angels won't get even a draft pick if they lose Greinke to free agency.

But does anyone really want to hear from a GM whining about the asking price? With a commodity this precious, elite starting pitching, you're not in the game if you don't overpay.

The Angels' rotation was fraying at the edges. Now, this looks like a team without an obvious flaw, much like Texas did a year ago. Segura had nowhere to play after the Angels signed both Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick to four-year extensions in the past six months.

Albert Pujols is 32. Weaver, Greinke, Dan Haren and C.J. Wilson all are in their primes. When you spend $330 million one offseason, it's always about the now.

Dipoto said he didn't go into this deadline figuring he was playing chess against Texas GM Jon Daniels, but he clearly wasn't going to wait around to see whether Texas could tempt Milwaukee with a richer offer.

"All I know is we made our effort. We went in and were aggressive," Dipoto said. "We made the deal today with players, quite frankly, that are going to be painful to lose. I said before that we were going to conduct our business as we saw fit and we weren't going to worry about what anyone else was doing."

And now let's take a step into the unknown. Let's contemplate the future, even if we can't predict it. Greinke, who missed some playing time when he was younger because of a social anxiety disorder, told Dipoto he was comfortable pitching in Southern California.

To keep Greinke beyond this season, it probably will take closer to the $144 million Cole Hamels just got than the $85 million Weaver took last August or the $77.5 million Wilson took in December. Weaver and Wilson both grew up within 60 miles of Angel Stadium. Greinke is from Orlando, Fla.

But maybe Dipoto had a pretty good inkling he'll have money to spend next winter. The Angels figure to let Ervin Santana walk. They'll have a tough decision to make on Haren's $15.5 million option.

At the very least, the next couple of months are a trial run for Greinke to see how it feels to pitch for the Angels.

"For me, I think he's going to love it here," Hunter said. "Once a guy gets here and he sees what it's like here in Angel Country, I think he falls in love with it."

And when he walks into the Angels' clubhouse Saturday afternoon, the feeling will be mutual.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.