Angels could exceed luxury tax if it puts them 'over the top'

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Angels owner Arte Moreno discusses the team's payroll, the future of Mike Trout and the ongoing lease negotiations with the city of Anaheim.

Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno says that his team could exceed the $189 million luxury tax if it puts the club "over the top," via an interview with Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com.

The Angels' 2014 payroll is currently just shy of $150 million, but they may not be done spending yet. They are still on the lookout for more pitching, and reportedly made an offer to free agent Matt Garza before he signed with the Brewers in January. However, while Los Angeles is still $40 million under the tax threshold, many of its big salaries are tied up for a few more years; the team has $110 million earmarked for six players in 2016, including Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Jered Weaver.

Despite their ample spending, though, the Angels have missed the playoffs in each of the last four seasons. Their payroll has ranged from $121 million to $151 million from 2010-2013, but the team has failed to win 90 games in any of those campaigns. In light of the inability to turn expensive acquisitions into postseason berths, Moreno noted that the club will be careful with future spending: "We'd rather wait and make sure our investment is really going to substantially enhance the team."

One player who is likely to push Los Angeles closer to the luxury tax is Mike Trout. The 22-year-old finished as the runner-up for the American League MVP award in each of his first two seasons and will be eligible for arbitration after 2014. Given his gaudy numbers and his young age, Trout will begin to get expensive quickly in the coming years; he has a chance to exceed Ryan Howard's record of $10 million for a first-time arbitration-eligible player and could easily score a nine-figure contract by time he is eligible for free agency after the 2017 season. Moreno addressed Trout's future in his interview with Gonzalez, stating that there is mutual interest in a deal on both sides but pointing out that, "the reality is it always gets down to the number."

Moreno also suggested that the current group can do better in 2014 as is, saying that the bullpen is stronger and that "we have some pitchers that we need to step up." General manager Jerry DiPoto bolstered the relief corps this winter by signing free agent Joe Smith and acquiring Fernando Salas from the Cardinals, and added depth to the rotation by picking up young starters Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago in a deal for slugger Mark Trumbo. On paper, the pitching staff should be much better than it was last year (4.23 ERA, 24th in MLB), but the Angels have had trouble translating talent into results in recent years. As Moreno said, the pitchers will need to "step up," whether that refers to veterans like Weaver staying healthy, youngsters like Skaggs and Santiago developing into reliable starters or the revamped bullpen improving on its 4.12 ERA from 2013 (26th in MLB).

One other issue addressed by Moreno on Friday was the team's ongoing lease negotiation with the city of Anaheim, which the owner described as being at a "stalemate." The club wishes to extend its lease at Angel Stadium through either 2036 or 2057, according to Ballpark Digest, but the sticking point has been the cost of a large swath of land next to the park that the city wants the Angels to develop with an entertainment complex. The current offer includes an annul rent of one dollar for the adjoining land in addition to a promise that the Angels will develop the area, but many residents believe that to be a raw deal for the city. However, haggling too hard could lead the team to explore the option of moving to another local community or to Los Angeles proper. Regarding a potential move, Moreno claimed that "we haven't crossed that bridge yet" but did mention the Braves' recent decision to move from Atlanta to nearby Cobb County when they became unhappy with their current situation. One other aspect of the Angels' lease negotiation involves dropping the suffix "of Anaheim" from the team's name, though that has not been a source of contention from the city.

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