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Angels' course for '13 starts with Greinke decision

ANAHEIM -- The Angels have a pretty set core and are in no way rebuilding.

But on the heels of a disappointing season, which saw them miss the playoffs for a third straight year despite putting the payroll at a franchise-record $159 million, crucial decisions loom.

"We came up short, that's for certain," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "Now we have to go figure out how to not be short the next time."

To do that, Dipoto will spend the offseason looking to fix a bullpen that blew 22 saves and ranked in the bottom third of the American League in ERA, fill up a rotation that only has two starters guaranteed to return and find a way to solve the jigsaw puzzle that resides in his outfield.

Priority No. 1: re-signing Zack Greinke.

"It's something we'd like to explore," Dipoto said. "Contact will be made fairly soon."

Greinke, acquired from the Brewers in late July, figures to command a nine-figure salary that would be greater than the team-friendly five-year, $85 million extension ace Jered Weaver signed in August 2011. And the desire to sign him over the offseason -- more specifically, the money required to do so -- may impact decisions on the upcoming club options for Dan Haren ($15.5 million) and Ervin Santana ($13 million), both of whom are coming off rough seasons.

Catcher Chris Iannetta, who has a $5 million mutual option, is likely to return.

Infielder Maicer Izturis and veteran relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen are likely to depart.

Torii Hunter?

He really wants to come back, and may do so for about half his 2012 salary ($18 million) on a one- or two-year deal. But his return will hinge on whether Dipoto is able to shed Vernon Wells, who's owed $21 million over the next two seasons, and what he decides with regard to the young, high-upside Peter Bourjos.

Given the success Hunter had at age 37, the Angels may have stiff competition from the likes of the Rangers and Yankees for his services.

"Torii, as a human being, is a priority the moment you wake up in the morning," Dipoto said. "A lot of what we do with our position players is going to be predicated on what we do with creating that pitching depth that we're talking about. As I've said all along, we love Torii, we have tremendous interest in bringing Torii back, but that decision will be made in conjunction with how it fits with the remainder of our offseason plan."

The Angels have a lot of money coming off the books and, without going into detail, Dipoto said he has "quite a bit" of financial flexibility this offseason. But the Angels also have a lot of money committed already.

The Angels already have about $88 million committed to Wells, Weaver, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Scott Downs.

If they decline the options for Haren and Santana, and bring back Iannetta, that puts them at about $97 million. When you add in the potential arbitration cases of Kendrys Morales, Alberto Callaspo, Jerome Williams, Kevin Jepsen and Bobby Wilson, you're looking at about $115 million. And remember, Pujols' salary jumps to $23 million in 2014.

Then there's Greinke (if he chooses to re-sign), Hunter (if the two sides can come to a fair agreement) and any other additions Dipoto feels are necessary to getting over the hump in 2013.

Below is a position-by-position look at where the Angels stand:

Catcher: It seems the Angels have finally found the right mix of offense and defense behind the plate in Iannetta, who gets on base consistently and works well with the pitching staff. Iannetta missed nearly three months with wrist surgery and a forearm strain but put his value on display in the season's final two months. Now, he has a $5 million mutual option for 2013 -- but there's strong mutual interest in a return.

First base: Despite the slow start, Pujols had a good year, even by his own lofty standards, notching 30 homers, 50 doubles and 105 RBIs while hitting .285. But the 32-year-old's numbers have now dropped each of the last three years, making that 10-year, $240 million contract he signed last December even scarier.

Second base: Kendrick, signed through 2015, didn't pan out as that ideal No. 2 hitter the Angels envisioned going into the year. But he found comfort hitting lower in the lineup and produced quietly. Had he tested the free-agent market this offseason, he could've landed something larger than the four-year, $33.5 million extension he signed in January. So, consider it another hometown discount.

Third base: Callaspo doesn't produce like your typical third baseman and he certainly isn't heralded among the elite at the hot corner. But at a position that's awfully thin league-wide, Callaspo has made himself serviceable on this team by providing solid defense and plate discipline. The Angels get their power elsewhere.

Shortstop: Aybar started off the season really slowly, but was among baseball's best second-half hitters, and by the end of the year, he showed why the Angels were right to lock him up to a four-year, $35 million deal before he hit free agency this offseason.

Outfield: Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, pre-arbitration players performing well above their pay grade, will return. The rest is complicated. First there's Hunter, the veteran right fielder who had a fantastic 2012 season and is in many ways the heart and soul of this team. Hunter wants to return, but it's not that simple. The Angels have Bourjos, who hardly played this season but is supremely talented and relatively cheap, waiting in the wings. And they have Wells, owed $21 million each of the next two seasons, who they're still trying to unload.

Designated hitter: Morales is heading into his final year of arbitration, which would probably net him something in the ballpark of $6 million. He'll probably depart as a free agent after the 2013 season, considering Scott Boras is his agent and Morales doesn't want to be a DH for the rest of his career. But he provides a crucial left-handed presence to the middle of the Angels' lineup and may only improve on his bounce-back 2012 season, so it's likely that he stays.

Rotation: The Angels have Weaver, Wilson and the young Garrett Richards set for the 2013 rotation. The rest is up in the air and will hinge on Greinke, the free-agent starter who will probably command a nine-figure contract and the Angels will try desperately to re-sign. Haren ($15.5 million) and Santana ($13 million) each have club options the Angels must make a decision on during the exclusive negotiating window that immediately follows the World Series. Their pursuit of Greinke could play a major factor in those decisions. Jerome Williams, Barry Enright and Brad Mills are also there, but provide little more than pitching depth. The Angels will need another starter even if Greinke does re-sign.

Bullpen: The Angels didn't spend big money on a reliever last offseason, and didn't acquire one in July and August. That led to a thin bullpen in 2012, which led the AL with 22 blown saves. But Dipoto is hesitant to allocate a lot of money to the bullpen for two reasons: The year-to-year uncertainty with relievers makes it a riskier proposition than in any other department (see: Heath Bell); when you're spending big on position players and starters, you have to save somewhere. Still, look for the Angels to somehow try to add to a group that includes Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs, Jepsen and Jordan Walden, who needs to bounce back from a rather disappointing season. The trade market may be their best option.

Los Angeles Angels