Angels will target top free-agent hitters

Angels will target top free-agent hitters

On one of his visits to Angel Stadium this season, Rays left fielder Carl Crawford was raving about the burger he was devouring from a popular restaurant found only in the western states, with 201 locations in California.

In the seasons ahead, as one of the most desirable commodities about to land in the free-agent market, Crawford likely will have the opportunity to make In-N-Out Burger a part of his daily routine.

Hungry for offense after a distressing season of inadequate support for their superb rotation, the Angels appear committed to adding some meat, along with some speed, to their batting order for 2011.

Crawford, more than anyone on the menu, provides both in ample supply -- but he'll be about as costly as a dozen burger franchises, from all indications.

Swift and versatile, with the gifts to hit anywhere in the lineup, Crawford is the brightest light, but there are other imminent free agents who figure to draw major interest if they're not reunited with the clubs they graced in 2010.

Third baseman Adrian Beltre of the Red Sox, Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth and first baseman-outfielder Adam Dunn of the Nationals are the biggest names after Crawford. All would have appeal to the Angels, along with anybody else looking for an injection of offense.

Beltre and Werth, like Crawford, also are superb defensive players, while Dunn is known primarily for his ability to launch balls into locations few others can reach.

Crawford will turn 30 next Aug. 5 and is believed to be seeking at least five years in the $100 million neighborhood -- roughly what the Angels invested in Torii Hunter, Carl's good buddy, after the 2007 season, when the former Twins center fielder was 32.

Hunter, the nine-time Rawlings Gold Glove winner who signed for five years and $90 million, made a midseason shift to right field. This was done to accommodate the promotion of fleet and athletic Peter Bourjos, whose play in center was nothing less than sensational.

Crawford, a career .296 hitter with a .444 slugging and .337 on-base marks, has batted .300 or better in five of the past six seasons. He is the youngest player in history, by three years, to have at least 100 homers, 100 triples and 400 steals.

Given how the Angels struggled this past season with runners in scoring position, Crawford's .359 average in those situations -- second only to the Rangers' Josh Hamilton (.372) in the American League -- would be a major bonus.

Defensively, an outfield of Crawford, Bourjos and Hunter would be among the swiftest and best ever assembled, sure to excite every Angels pitcher.

This would leave Bobby Abreu as the club's primary designated hitter, assuming the role that went to Hideki Matsui in 2010. Abreu would spell Crawford and Hunter at the corners. In a crowded outfield, Juan Rivera, entering the third and final year of his contract, would become a potential trade chip.

Beltre, who turns 32 on April 7, had his second mammoth offensive season in 2010, coinciding with his impending free agency. Hitting .321 and slugging .553 with a .365 on-base percentage for Boston, he far exceeded his career numbers of .275, .462 and .328, respectively.

A four-time Gold Glove winner with few defensive equals, Beltre is expected to draw significant interest with a price tag in the $45 million range for three years, according to most guesstimates. The Red Sox have Kevin Youkilis as a fallback at third base, which could factor into their thinking with respect to Beltre.

Boston is among the clubs believed to have high interest in Crawford.

Werth, who will be 32 on May 20, would be a fine consolation prize in the Crawford sweepstakes. He can handle all three outfield positions and, in a remarkable mid-career surge, has shown a rare combination of power and speed in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park the past three seasons.

Werth has averaged 29 homers, 84 RBIs and 18 steals during the Phillies' rise to prominence since 2008.

Dunn, who will be 31 on Nov. 9, has been as consistent a power source as the game has to offer. Using 162-game averages, the left-handed tower from Houston has averaged 40 homers, 98 RBIs and 111 walks over 10 seasons. When he hits one on the sweet spot, it leaves any park, including Yellowstone.

The order of preference, from the Angels' viewpoint, would seem to be Crawford, Beltre, Werth and Dunn. How it all plays out, of course, hinges on a variety of variables, starting with how high the bidding goes. It's also possible one or more of the quartet will not become available, preferring to stay put.

In any event, the Angels' brass appears confident, with an aggressive mindset, that it can lasso a high-end talent. This should make for another intriguing winter in Disneyland.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.