Angels owner Arte Moreno surprised the baseball world in January when he announced that his family was ending its exploratory steps towards selling the franchise. Five months earlier, Moreno announced that he was looking into the possibility of selling the Angels, and it seemed as though the sale process was going rather smoothly before Moreno somewhat suddenly reversed course.
“When you got right down to it, I didn’t want to go,” Moreno told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci as part of a wide-ranging interview. “I just had the whole personal talk with myself. You know, you have a lot of time to think about it. I’m walking these [bidders] around the stadium. We’re on the field, looking around the stadium and I’m thinking, ’How many guys ever get a chance to do this?’ “
Moreno said he received three bids from MLB-vetted potential buyers, and all of those bids were at least $2.62 billion in price. This would have been a new record high for a Major League franchise, topping the $2.42 billion that Steve Cohen spent to buy the Mets in 2020. However, Moreno said the finances didn’t outweigh his desire to keep the team, and he related an anecdote about how even one of the potential buyers said “I see in your eyes that you don’t look like you’re ready to sell” when Moreno and this unnamed buyer were touring Angel Stadium. If a sale had gone through, Moreno said he was planning to retain a minority share of the Angels, “five to ten percent is what I was thinking.”
As to his initial decision to consider a sale, Moreno didn’t specifically state a reason, other than “it was more circumstantial than it was a change of heart” about his love for baseball. In May 2022, the Anaheim City Council voted against a proposal to sell 150 acres of land around Angel Stadium to Moreno’s management company, and the deal became shrouded in scandal when the FBI launched an investigation into former Anaheim mayor Harry Sidhu on allegations of corruption and insider information related to the sale.
With the assumption of a sale hanging over the Angels as the offseason began, the club still had a very active winter, spending over $78MM in free agent signings. $37MM of that money went onto the 2023 books, the Angels are on pace for a notable payroll increase — after finishing the 2022 season with roughly $180MM in spending, Los Angeles is projected to spend roughly $212.2MM on player salaries in 2023.
While the team’s winter may have been lacking in true headline signings, Moreno said that he had interest in trying to land free agent Trea Turner. However, with GM Perry Minasian noting the Angels’ several needs beyond just the shortstop position, Moreno said the offseason became “about the distribution of money. Is it one player who makes a splash? Or is it, ‘Hey, we can spend this money on two or three players.’ ”
To this end, Moreno disagrees with criticism that the Angels aren’t willing to invest in their payroll, noting that the club is regularly among the top 10 payrolls in the league. “I can’t tell you we’ve always spent the money right, but we spent money,” Moreno said. “So, if anybody that criticizes me that I’m not committed to winning, well, I am committed to winning.”
As Moreno himself noted, the allocation of that money has often backfired on the Angels, contributing to the club’s run of five consecutive losing seasons and only one postseason appearance in the last 13 seasons. But, while spending isn’t itself an issue, Anaheim fans have often argued that Moreno hasn’t spent enough, since the team has only once exceeded the luxury tax threshold since the owner bought the team in 2003. Roster Resource estimates that the Angels’ current Competitive Balance Tax number is roughly $226.75MM, which is under the $233MM threshold.
The CBT appears to be a matter of principle for Moreno, to the point that he was one of four owners who voted against raising the tax thresholds in the most recent set of collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Moreno doesn’t begrudge teams like the Mets or Dodgers for their big spending, saying “I like the fact that people want to win. But I just would like everybody to have a chance. Like if somebody came to my house [for a card game] and everybody is putting a thousand dollars in and one guy puts in a hundred, I mean, how many hands can he play? It’s just no fun. So, if you want to spend four hundred [million], then you should be taxed. It is taxed, but to me it’s just not enough. Clearly, it’s not enough.”
Such financial matters loom large given that Shohei Ohtani will be a free agent following the 2023 season, and there is an expectation that the two-way star will command a record-setting contract (perhaps even surpassing $500MM). Moreno told Jon Heyman of the New York Post last month that he hoped to keep Ohtani in an Angels uniform, but money aside, Moreno said to both Heyman and Verducci that Anaheim’s chances of keeping Ohtani could hinge on whether or not the team can be competitive.
Moreno personally vetoed the idea of trading Ohtani at last year’s trade deadline, and he told Verducci that “we had five real offers for” the superstar. But, beyond the team’s desire to retain Ohtani beyond 20223, Moreno felt there was more of a bigger-picture aspect to hanging onto such a unique player. “People ask me, ’Shouldn’t you get something?’ But we get to see him every day. That’s not nothing. These people get to come and watch the best players. They’re going to tell their grandkids, ’I saw Ohtani play.’ ”
The owner’s trade veto seems to still be in effect for now, as Moreno stated that “I will say it on the record, we will not trade Ohtani while we are contending for a playoff spot.” As to whether or not the Angels would entertain offers if they were out of contention, Moreno didn’t consider the possibility, saying “we expect to be a playoff contender. Everything in our plans putting this team together is about getting to the playoffs. So, I’m not going to sit here and wonder what happens in an outcome we’re not planning for. That would be like a fighter going into the ring and thinking, ’What if I lose?’ If he does that, he will lose.”