But from the time owner Arte Moreno stepped forward and introduced Albert Pujols last December, it's been clear that this is the year the Angels are all in. They got their regional television deal, and Pujols was their Letterman. They know there is a Dodgers mega-group rising, and jumped in while general manager Ned Colletti and the Dodgers are still feeling the depth void created by former owner Frank McCourt's departure from the franchise's once-great international and national scouting budgets.
The Angels look across the plains to the nation's fourth-largest market in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and see one of the most creative, aggressive rivals in the sport, one that has won the last two American League pennants.
Hey, they look north and there are the Athletics with nearly 10 rookies, a completely retooled roster, the best statistical pitching in the league -- pitching soon to be bolstered by a kid named Dan Straily, who with a 0.96 ERA at Triple-A Sacramento is performing like one of the best pitchers in the Minors -- and the divisional programming can promote the possibility of three AL West teams in the playoffs.
It's been a wild nine months. Pujols. At the age of 20, Mike Trout playing role of Joe DiMaggio. Jered Weaver is 13-1. Mark Trumbo has 27 homers, improving his plate discipline to reinforce his power.
And yet on Saturday morning, after the White Sox had their way with Yu Darvish and, significantly, Dan Haren was masterful, the Angels still trailed the Rangers by four games. Even with all of Texas' pitching injuries, even with Josh Hamilton hitting .145 in July, Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Mike Scioscia appreciate how good the Rangers are and probably will be the last two months of the season, and thus they took what some consider the chance by trading for Greinke.
The Angels can figure out before Thanksgiving whether Greinke fits in Orange County, how his stuff still plays in the American League and what it's going to cost to retain him. With their intense, high-stakes rivalries with the Rangers and the Dodgers, the Angels need to win in 2012. And while Ervin Santana's history is dotted with strong finishes, the fact remains that Santana and Jerome Williams are 10-17 combined. Now, with Haren's back apparently healed and two strong starts behind him, they roll out Weaver, Greinke, Haren and C.J. Wilson to protect what Trout, Trumbo, Pujols, Torii Hunter et al create.
Sure, there are concerns about Greinke, less in Anaheim than, say, New York or Boston. But when asked how he could reject $100 million from the Brewers in a city he likes and in which he has performed, one Brewers official said, "Zack is a different guy, but not as different as I thought before I got to know him. It sounds like a cliché, but it isn't the money, or what someone else got. He's fascinated by the free agent process and wants to experience it. He gets fascinated by aspects of the game. Before the Draft, he would spend hours studying video of pitchers in the Draft and sit in on our Draft meetings."
Well, if Greinke is really that fascinated by aspects of the game -- and friends of his on Friday night insisted that is who he is -- then he will bond with Scioscia. Maybe even more so, he will bond with Dipoto, whose passion for baseball was evident to everyone around him as a player.
Dipoto is bold, and he is creative. When he worked for Josh Byrnes in Arizona, he had a strong hand in the drafting of Jarrod Parker, now one of the best young pitchers in the AL. When Byrnes was dismissed, Dipoto and Peter Woodfork assumed the GM duties until Kevin Towers was hired, and in need of moving some payroll, Dipoto and Woodfork recognized what scouting director Eddie Bane had built in Anaheim and traded Haren for Joe Saunders and two outstanding left-handed pitching prospects -- Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs -- who could end up being key figures for the D-backs when and if they make their run in the National League West this season.
Dipoto reacted quickly to the Angels' bullpen problems and snuck Ernesto Frieri up the coast from San Diego in a trade. Now, he's moved three more good prospects and moved them for a former AL Cy Young Award winner.
Dipoto helped insure that Trout and Trumbo play -- now. At Cooperstown, Whitey Herzog made the point that "not only is Trout a great player, but this is a case where a kid is helping take the pressure off a big-name veteran like Pujols, who obviously puts a lot of pressure on himself. That's a great thing."
With the new ownership, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Andre Ethier et al, the Dodgers are once again a star attraction, and the Angels can now match anyone for stars. The Rangers have been the best team in the AL for 2 1/2 years now, and the Angels can seemingly run with them.
Did the Rangers do the right thing by trading for Cliff Lee, even though he left as a free agent? Of course. They won their first pennant and legitimized a great franchise.
So the Angels did the right thing. They perused the sellers' market menu, selected the best pitcher on it and paid the price to be The Boss.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.