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Anthony Castrovince

Angels put 'win' in Winter Meetings

Castrovince: Angels put 'win' in Winter Meetings

Angels put 'win' in Winter Meetings
DALLAS -- The first thing that must be understood about the Winter Meetings is that you don't win the Winter Meetings. There are long-term implications to just about every deal that gets done in that heated and much-hyped environment, and the club that looks like a winner today could very easily look quite the opposite in the near or not-so-near future.

"You have to keep in mind what your club is going to look like two or three years down the road," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "That's the danger teams get into when they get into this free-agency thing. I'm surprised that this stuff isn't written more -- the teams that get into free agency are the teams that are all in trouble."

So make no mistake: Declaring a "winner" in the wake of the deals that went down in Big D is a declaration that is as impermanent as it is subjective.

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With all that said, we can clearly point out two clubs who made the most of the free-agent opportunities available at this year's Winter Meetings and completely reshaped their outlooks for 2012, in particular.

Those two teams, of course, are the Angels and the Marlins, who have committed to spend an ungodly sum of money -- more than $500 million combined -- on some of the game's top talent.

And if a "winner" must be declared among the two, I'm taking the Angels all the way. My MLB.com colleague Richard Justice argues otherwise, but I think the Halos improved their competitive chances more than the Fish.

The reason is not that I think Albert Pujols is going to be worth $254 million over 10 years. In fact, I can't even imagine a scenario in which that contract doesn't look like a beast of burden by the end of the decade. Pujols is a legend, and he's still in his prime. But math is math and age is age. His performance won't outpace his paycheck for the full decade.

Albert Pujols
Angels sign Pujols, Wilson

Same goes for hometown product C.J. Wilson. We can't count on him being worth five years and $77.5 million. Not when he only has 427 1/3 starters' innings under his belt, and not when his postseason pedigree is still very much in question.

Pujols, however, is the real deal in the here and now. And in a loaded Angels rotation, Wilson won't have to be miscast as an ace. Jered Weaver will take care of that title, and Wilson can slot in as an extremely solid No. 2 or 3 behind Dan Haren.

The long-term outlook? Shaky. Free-agent history proves it. But it's not as if the Angels don't have the financial might to take on big contracts. They now find themselves among the Yankees and Red Sox of the world, and that's not a poor fit for a club that draws from the nation's second-largest market.

Besides, if the simplest goal of the Winter Meetings is to make the moves that will make you a true World Series contender, then the Angels did just that. They needed a big bat to adequately address their offense on a pitching-rich team in a pitching-rich division. They responded by landing the biggest bat of all.

And, oh yeah, they improved what was one of the best rotations in baseball, too.

This was the Angels' daring and dazzling response to the two-year trauma of watching the Rangers not only rise to the top rank in the AL West but also capture the AL flag. This was an opportunistic effort at a time when the postseason field is getting ready to expand. And the Wilson move, in particular, cuts two ways, as it robs the Rangers of their No. 1 arm.

The point, simply put, is that the Angels were right on the cusp in 2011, and they've acted aggressively in an attempt to put themselves over the top in 2012. This can go horribly wrong, as the Red Sox's eventual collapse after a big winter demonstrated, but at present and on paper, the Angels look like a force.

I'm not sure you can say the same about the Marlins. Not yet, anyway. Their spending spree might not yet be complete. They were spurned by both Pujols and Wilson, and it remains to be seen if they'll turn their attention to any other top targets.

What we do know for sure about the Marlins is that the revenues they are projected to receive from their new ballpark have compelled them to spend in a way they've never spent before, and it's been fun to watch that process play out.

How long will the fun last? Well, that depends on the Miami market. Will Marlins fans continue to pack the stands after the novelty of the home park wears off, or, worse yet, if the team doesn't live up to expectations? The answer to that question will have a big bearing on how this spending spree is ultimately judged.

When making this comparison between the Marlins and Angels, you also have to keep in mind that the Fish are working off the canvas of a club that lost 90 games last season. Granted, there is great upside in that team, especially as Mike Stanton evolves and Josh Johnson comes back healthy, but you can't say for certain that a crafty lefty in Mark Buehrle, an oft-injured but exciting shortstop in Jose Reyes and a capable closer in Heath Bell are going to be enough of an augmentation to that core to contend with the likes of the Phillies and Braves.

We shall see. And the picture is particularly unclear if the Marlins still have money to burn.

For now, with a whirlwind Winter Meetings freshly in the rearview, I'd say the Angels did the most to improve their chances of claiming a crown this week. I'm not going to fall into the trap of believing any of the above investments by the Angels and Marlins are enough to anoint either a favorite in their division. All of these contracts are fraught with risk. Melvin's quote was money, in that regard.

But the Angels, in a big and bold way, addressed holes on a club that was close. That's why I'll give them the edge in this highly subjective struggle.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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