Trade shifts balance of power to AL West-leading Angels

“I think we know what caused the earthquake.”

That was the message my friend Richard sent me as I was celebrating the biggest trade of the season, pulled off by the Los Angeles Angels Tuesday.

Already sporting Major League Baseball’s best record, the Angels (66-40) traded first baseman Casey Kotchman and minor league pitcher Stephen Marek to the Atlanta Braves for slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira to earn the unofficial title as the best team in baseball.

This is the bat many fans and analysts have said the Angels were lacking to protect free-swinging Vladimir Guerrero in the lineup.

Teixeira, who the Angels tried to acquire at last season’s trade deadline, is a switch-hitting home run threat that has produced similar or better numbers in the Triple Crown categories (.283 batting average, 20 homers, 78 RBIs) than Kotchman (.287 average, 12 homers, 54 RBIs), this season.

For years, the Angels have been criticized for relying on their dominant starting pitching and bullpen to carry them past the likes of the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox in the playoffs.

First-year general manager Tony Reagins, like former GM Bill Stoneman before him, has heard about how he needs to start trading away some of the young pitching talent and top minor league prospects to obtain the power bat. Instead, Reagins actually came away with a bargain.

Without having to give up All-Star pitchers Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders, or highly-touted prospect Nick Adenhart, the Angels were able to entice the Braves with Kotchman, whose contract doesn’t allow him to become a free-agent until 2011, and a virtual no-name in Marek.

Not to mention, none of the other everyday position players were involved in the deal. Why the Braves gave away Teixeira Two words: Scott Boras. The agent famously known for making Alex Rodriguez the highest-paid player in baseball is rumored to be demanding a 10-year, $230 million contract when Teixeira becomes a free-agent after the season.

Instead of losing Teixeira for nothing, the Braves replaced the two-time Gold Glover with a blossoming first baseman who has the potential to win a few Gold Glove awards himself before his career is over.

While the power numbers will most certainly not be replaced, Kotchman is also widely-regarded as an emerging hitter who could potentially hit above .300, consistently. The big questions for the Halos Is this the year the bats wake up in October?

While being swept by the Red Sox in the first round of the American League playoffs last season, the Angels bats went silent, just like they were against the Red Sox in 2004 and once more against the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 AL Championship Series.

This year, the Angels, who securely hold an 11 1/2-game lead in the AL West and can coast to the postseason, are being tabbed as the odds-on favorites to win the franchise’s second World Series title.

They’ve even managed to win more than just a game against the Red Sox. Heading into Wednesday’s series finale in Boston — Teixeira’s Angel debut — the Angels were 7-1 against the Red Sox and going for the second sweep of their playoff nemesis in less than two weeks.

There will be no pressure at all for Teixeira to perform in the regular season and all the time in the world for the former Texas Ranger to get re-acquainted with AL pitching. The only other question fans have is, “Will the Angels be able to sign him beyond this season?”

Unlike the Braves, Angels owner Arte Moreno has the resources available to sign Teixeira, and he’s dealt with a Boras client before — former Long Beach State star pitcher Jered Weaver, who didn’t sign until a whole year after he was drafted in 2004.

But simply handing out $200+ million won’t be as easy as it sounds, with teams like the free-spending New York Yankees likely to drive up the price. All that matters right now is 2008, though.

It’s the World Series or bust. The trade for Teixeira could be remembered as the earthquake that swallowed the rest of the Majors.

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