Angels will make cost-conscious tweaks
Catcher, third base are possible targets for upgrades
ANAHEIM -- Finishing 10 games off Texas' pace in the American League West despite operating with the Major Leagues' fourth-highest payroll, the Angels enter the offseason with needs to fill -- within fiscal reason.
The offense clearly could use a productive bat or two, ideally at catcher and third base. Two rotation spots are open. A dominant bullpen arm would relieve the pressure on young closer Jordan Walden.
The Angels figure to be at about $116 million in 2012 payroll heading into the winter -- with $98.95 million committed to nine players under contract for 2012 and arbitration cases to be resolved with six more players, assuming they're tendered contracts.
That doesn't factor in the salaries of players ineligible for arbitration, such as Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos and Walden. This substantial group adds perhaps another $10-12 million to the payroll.
FREE AGENT PREVIEWS
The Angels have three veteran free agents in Joel Pineiro, Fernando Rodney and Russell Branyan. The club will shed roughly $14 million in payroll if those three players depart, as expected.
Scott Kazmir and Gary Matthews Jr., who cost the club a combined $23 million in 2011, also come off the books. The Angels are exercising Kazmir's buyout for $2.5 million.
The team, in the midst of a search for a general manager to replace Tony Reagins, has had mixed results in free agency in recent seasons.
Matthews and Justin Speier did not play out the duration of their contracts in Anaheim. The club struck gold with Torii Hunter after the 2007 season, while Bobby Abreu was a highly-productive addition the following winter.
Brian Fuentes was signed to replace closer Francisco Rodriguez after the '08 season, and the lefty delivered value for a season and a half before he was dealt to Minnesota.
Two more lefties -- Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi -- arrived via free agency last winter, and both had exemplary debut seasons.
After missing out on Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre last winter, the Angels swung a deal for Vernon Wells, a three-time All-Star who did not approach his past performances. The departure of Mike Napoli in the swap has become an albatross, giving bloggers and talking heads an unending supply of material now that he's a featured performer for the Rangers.
To say the fan base is restless would be an understatement. Two years out of the postseason seems like an eternity to fans accustomed to winning -- after the club claimed five AL West titles in six seasons (2004-09).
Free agents: Joel Pineiro, RHP; Fernando Rodney, RHP; Russell Branyan, 1B-DH
Eligible for arbitration: Howard Kendrick, 2B; Maicer Izturis, INF; Alberto Callaspo, 3B; Kendrys Morales, 1B-DH; Jeff Mathis, C; Jerome Williams, RHP
Non-tender possibilities: Mathis
AREAS OF NEED
Catcher: Substandard offensive production from the trio of Mathis, Bobby Wilson and Hank Conger was underscored by the club's inconsistent production in other lineup spots. Bringing in a veteran, such as Ramon Hernandez, from a weak free-agent group would upgrade the offense. But manager Mike Scioscia values defense more highly at this position than disgruntled fans, and might be reluctant to part with Mathis and/or Wilson. Acquiring a top-flight catcher in a trade would be prohibitive in terms of talent surrendered.
Third base: Callaspo makes contact and plays solid defense, but he's not the prototypical third baseman -- in terms of power -- and does not add much in the way of speed. Aramis Ramirez, who would add a dangerous bat to the heart of the order, could be an expensive free-agent option. With such a premium on quality at this position, a deal for an established star would require the inclusion of premium young talent the Angels do not want to sacrifice.
Starter: The Angels feel Jered Weaver, Dan Haren or Ervin Santana match up with any three starters on one staff in the Majors. Williams made a strong case for the No. 4 spot with his stout late-season work, and Tyler Chatwood, Garrett Richards and Trevor Bell have the stuff to be successful starters, too. C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle and Hiroki Kuroda are potentially enticing free-agent additions.
Bullpen: In just his second season as a reliever, converted starter Walden made the All-Star team and showed dominant stuff. His command issues cost him at times (10 blown saves in 42 opportunities), and there is some sentiment to bring in a veteran free-agent closer (such as Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell or Ryan Madson) to push Walden back to the less-stressful setup role.
Owner Arte Moreno marches to his own beat. One can only speculate that he'll try to keep the team's payroll figure at roughly the $141.8 million devoted to the 2011 payroll, surpassed only by the Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox. That would leave him, perhaps, $20 million to spend on imports.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.