The Big A: Buyer Beware

A look back at some big signings that weren't meant to be.

The Angel rumor mill is buzzing, as baseball pundits continually mention Orange County as a possible destination for some big name free agents.

Perhaps C.C. Sabathia will round out what would easily be baseball's best rotation. Then again, the dreadlocked duo of Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero would be a very potent 1-2 punch batting order. Maybe the team spares local retailers from having to hang Mark Teixeira's jersey on the clearance rack with the holidays approaching.

All of those scenarios seem exciting indeed, but even the most dependable players carry an inherent risk. Expensive does not always equal successful, or even mediocre, these days as some of game's best -- think Andruw Jones or Barry Zito -- have wilted fast under the weight of a big contract.

Should the Angels go gaga at the big names available now, or hope what they have is good enough to stay at the top of a division they have dominated? Perhaps history can better answer some of these questions, as it's time to dust the cobwebs off the archives and take a look at some signings that were just not meant to be, but happened anyway.

Mo Vaughn

Ten years ago, then-franchise owner Disney, buoyed by a renovated stadium, contending team and the game's McGwire/Sosa-fueled resurgence, loosed their normally-tight baseball purse strings.

In signing Mo Vaughn to the largest contract in baseball history at that time -- a six-year, $80 million pact -- Angel brass were convinced they found the clutch-hitting, locker room leader needed to take the team deep into October.

The signing was accompanied by an optimistic outburst from the media, who quickly anointed the Angels the heavy AL West favorite; and the fan base, who forked over $25 for shirts bearing the slugger's image with the mantra, "The Beginning of a New Mo-lennium."

Life was good -- then the 1999 season actually started.

Before even recording his first at-bat as an Angel, Vaughn was damaged goods. Chasing a foul pop-up, the burly first baseman tumbled down the steps of the visitor's dugout, spraining his left ankle en route to a DL stint to begin the season. And it didn't get much better from there.

While he would return later that month and post respectable power totals, Vaughn missed the moxie that made him perennial MVP candidate with the Boston Red Sox.

Even worse, the field general Angel brass coveted was replaced by a surly loner, no longer playing Kevin Costner to Pedro Martinez's Whitney Houston. Vaughn abandoned his teammates during a bench-clearing brawl, according to teammate Troy Percival, which led to some players telling then-manager Terry Collins they would not play if he was in the lineup the following day. The first baseman was also implicated in bashing Collins to upper management; the manager resigned a month shy of the eventual 92-loss, last-place finish.

The slugger kept a relatively low profile during a solid 2000 campaign, which would be his last in So Cal, as a ruptured bicep tendon in his left arm left him out of action for the entire 2001 season.

On a Boston radio show in late 2001, Vaughn said he missed the intense culture of East Coast baseball and said he'd like to be traded back to the Red Sox. Furious Angel brass obliged somewhat, trading Vaughn (and eating a hefty chunk of his salary) to the New York Mets for Kevin Appier shortly thereafter.

But the fun wasn't over yet.

Upon hearing a jab from ex-teammate Percival through the media during the spring of 2002, an enraged Vaughn said of the Angels, "Ain't none of them done a damn thing in this damn game, bottom line. They ain't got no flags hanging at friggin' Edison Field, so the hell with them."

And in what might have been the greatest example of addition by subtraction ever, a scrappy Angel franchise jelled after a 4-14 start to win their first World Series, finally getting a flag to hang at friggin' Edison Field.

Vaughn, who retired in 2004 after two injury-plagued seasons with the Mets, told the LA Times in 2007 that his desire to return to the East Coast in 2001 was out of a longing to be closer to his family after the 9/11 attacks.

Said Vaughn, "I go out to L.A., I fall into the dugout and my career takes a downward spiral from that day forward. But, hell, things happen."

Jim Abbott

For the record, Jim Abbott's contributions to the game of baseball are priceless.

The pitcher, who was born with only one hand, cemented a legacy that included a gold medal, a Yankee Stadium no-hitter and a decade in the big leagues that inspired millions.

The lefty pitched respectably after returning to the Angels via an in-season 1995 trade with the Chicago White Sox. Finishing with an 11-8 record in 30 games pitched that year, Angel brass inked the fan favorite to a three-year, $7.8 million deal.

Oops.

Abbott, in 1996, endured one of the worst seasons in major league history, to the tune of a 2-18 record a 7.48 ERA. His velocity had dropped to ineffective levels and teammate Mark Langston suggested the losing streak had severely dented the lefty's confidence.

"As hard as I tried, it would just get worse," Abbott said on his Web site. "All I could do was to keep on trying."

The low point came when Abbott -- the 15th player in MLB history to professionally debut at the major league game -- was optioned to the minors.

After an equally brutal spring (13.50 ERA), the team gave Abbott the choice of going to the minors, or granting him an outright release. On the eve of the 1997 season, Abbott took the latter, saying he didn't want to be a distraction for the organization.

"[I] cleaned out my locker in front of my friends and drove home alone through the Arizona desert," Abbott said on his Web site. "My whole world was upside down." 

The gutsy southpaw would eventually reclaim some of his old form, pitching for the White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers -- where he collected his two major league hits -- before retiring in 1999. He now works as a motivational speaker.

Bruce Kison

Poor Bruce Kison makes the list as a victim of circumstance. He's only guilty by association for being a signing the team didn't make that changed their path, and not for the better.

In January 1979, the team was coming to a crossroads with Nolan Ryan, the nascent Hall of Farmer with the triple-digit fastball and a cool nickname. By then, "The Express" had established a legacy in his seven seasons the Angels, having racked up four no-hitters and winning 22 games for a last-place 1974 team that won 68 games. Playing for some very mediocre Angel teams that provided meager run support, Ryan's career record to that point would be 138-121, a tidbit that comes into play later on.

Fans routinely filled the stands during Ryan's starts, knowing there was always a reasonable chance of witnessing history. And then-owner Gene Autry, loyal to a fault, loved the kid from Texas and knew he had something special.

Negotiating through attorney Richard Moss, Ryan asked for a four-year contract worth a total of $2,200,000. His desired salary -- at $550,000 a year -- was worth about five times the league average of $113,558 in 1979. To put it in perspective, last year, Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez's $28 million salary was more than nine times the league average of $3.15 million.

Ryan didn't want the contract to become an-in season distraction and would either resign before the season or become a free agent. Bavasi never bothered with a counteroffer, citing lingering doubts about Ryan's health after injuries impacted his 1978 season, Moss said.

After Ryan posted a stellar 1979 season, going 16-14 with 223 strikeouts, Bavasi, Moss said, offered Ryan the exact same contract they had previously wanted, a four-year, $2.2 million deal.

"He has to win in negotiations, he has to beat people," Moss said of Bavasi, adding that the GM's low-balling tactics were antiquated.

Instead, Ryan opted to play closer to home and get paid twice as much, accepting the Houston Astros, offer of a four-year, $4.4 million deal.

Bavasi responded, "All I have to do is find two pitchers capable of going 8-7 each."

Ryan's replacement Ryan's defection was Bruce Kison, a solid -- albeit injury-prone -- veteran right-hander who spent the prior 10 years of his career pitching for Pittsburgh. The cost? Five years for a total $2.5 million, or $300,000 more than the figure he didn't even bother responding to Ryan about.

In that 5-year span, Ryan would rack up 64 wins with his usual strikeout totals, and a no-hitter for good measure. Kison won 29-22 games in five injury-plagued years before retiring in 1986 with Boston, hence his presence on the list.

Ryan, who entered the Hall of Fame in 1999 donning a Rangers cap, said if had not Bavasi been so difficult during the process, he would have likely remained an Angel for the rest of his career, which lasted 14 years.

Said Ryan: "What Buzzie did was make it possible for me for me to move on and make a lot more money."

At least Bavasi would publicly admit his wrongdoings, sending Ryan a telegram after a sixth no-hitter in 1990 that read, "Nolan, some time ago I made it public that I made a mistake. You don't have to rub it in."

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