I ran into general manager Jerry Dipoto at a Starbucks recently. It was the first Monday of the Angels' offseason, a little after 8 a.m. PT, and Dipoto, as usual, was walking with purpose.
"What do you do now?" I asked. "Ah, work," he responded. "Trying to piece this thing together."
We may be midway through the postseason, still more than a couple of weeks away from free agency, but the Angels' front office is already hard at work addressing their many lingering questions. What do they do if Zack Greinke doesn't re-sign? How do they solve the jigsaw puzzle in their outfield? Where do they turn for bullpen help?
With that in mind, here's the offseason's first Inbox ...
What are the chances of re-signing Torii Hunter?
-- Bill G., Fountain Valley, Calif.
If I had to pick a side here, I'd lean slightly toward him coming back, but in no way would I be shocked if he goes elsewhere. A number of teams -- including the Yankees and Rangers -- will express interest in Hunter this offseason, thus driving up his price and making it more difficult for the Angels to justify bringing him back.
But Hunter has continually said he'll give the Angels first priority this offseason, and he's not looking to break the bank.
"I just want what's fair," Hunter said.
My educated guess on what it will take to bring Hunter back: A one- or two-year deal at about $9 million annually (half of his 2012 salary). But would the Angels be willing to cough that up, given the presence of Peter Bourjos, the desire to re-sign Greinke and the holes in the bullpen?
Here's what Dipoto said about Hunter toward the end of the season: "A lot of what we do with our position-player club is going to be predicated by what we do with creating that pitching depth that we talked 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."
What are the Angels' payroll obligations, and how much flexibility will they have this offseason?
-- James L., Tucson, Ariz.
With Bobby Abreu's $9 million salary gone, Hunter's five-year, $90 million contract expiring, and Maicer Izturis ($3.8 million in 2012) and LaTroy Hawkins ($3 million) heading for free agency, the Angels have a lot of money coming off the books. And if they decline the options for Dan Haren ($15.5 million) and Ervin Santana ($13 million), that's even more.
But they also have a lot of commitments.
The Angels owe over $96 million to eight players (Vernon Wells, Jered Weaver, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Chris Iannetta and Scott Downs). If they decline the options for both Haren and Santana, that puts them at close to $101 million with the buyouts. And if you factor in the potential arbitration cases for Alberto Callaspo, Kendrys Morales, Jerome Williams, Kevin Jepsen and Bobby Wilson, that's roughly $118 million.
"We've never been short of resources," Dipoto said.
But will the payroll be at $159 million again? Highly unlikely. I'd put it at $10 to $15 million less.
I'm watching Alex Rodriguez struggle in the playoffs and can't help but think of Pujols. Do you think A-Rod is a cautionary tale for Albert? Can you see his career plummeting as drastically as A-Rod's?
-- Sean B., Anaheim, Calif.
The similarities have long been unmistakable. The July after he signed his 10-year, $275 million extension with the Yankees, A-Rod turned 33; the January after he signed his 10-year, $240 contract with the Angels, Pujols turned 32.
In the 12 seasons leading up his deal, A-Rod posted a .308/.392/.585 slash line and won three American League MVPs; in the 11 seasons leading up to his deal, Pujols posted a .328/.420/.617 slash line and won three National League MVPs. Both have an unmatched work ethic; both have been widely considered the best of their generation.
Angels owner Arte Moreno figured he'd be overpaying at the back end of Pujols' contract, and he wouldn't have done it if he wasn't certain he could afford it. The hope here is that Pujols' decline isn't as drastic as A-Rod's appears to be.
Rodriguez's OPS has dropped each of the last five years, from 1.067 in 2007 to .783 in 2012, and he's totaled -- totaled! -- 34 homers and 119 RBIs the last two seasons. Now, with five years and $114 million still owed to him, the 37-year-old is getting benched in playoff games and being pinch-hit for in critical spots.
Meanwhile, warning signs are already starting to manifest for Pujols, who has seen his OPS drop each of the last four years -- from an absurd 1.114 in '08 to .859 in 2012 -- and seems a step or two slower.
You can never project when Father Time will make his presence felt, though. Stan Musial finished second in MVP voting at age 36; Hank Aaron averaged 41 homers from ages 35-to-39; Babe Ruth finished his season at age 39 with a .985 OPS. If Pujols produces like that, the Angels would probably be thrilled.
Three things that may point to Pujols having longer sustainability than A-Rod: He's mentally stronger, hasn't spent half his career at shortstop and has never been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
But it's hard to compare the effects of aging. Everybody's different -- regardless of how similar their situations may seem.
Who can we sign in free agency to help the bullpen?
-- Jane M., Huntingon Beach, Calif.
If it's an established, big-name closer they seek, the Angels would probably be better off in the trade market. There's Ryan Madson, who missed his entire 2012 season with the Reds due to Tommy John surgery. There's Rafael Soriano, if he opts out of his $14 million salary with the Yankees for next season, but that would require a hefty contract. There's Brett Myers, if the White Sox buy out his $10 million option. And there's Jose Valverde, but ... well, if you've been watching the playoffs, you're a little hesitant.
So, not many closers. But there are several other solid righties, with a couple of intriguing lefties mixed in. I think it's in the Angels' best interest to add another lefty. Downs really struggled in the second half, and it would probably be best to keep Nick Maronde starting in the Minors to preserve that pitching depth.
Here are some of the intriguing free-agent, non-closer relievers out there:
Righties:Mike Adams, Luis Ayala ($1 million club option for 2013), Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps ($6 million club option), Octavio Dotel ($3.5 million club option), Brandon League, Joel Peralta.
Lefties: Jeremy Affeldt, Sean Burnett ($3.5 million mutual option), Randy Choate, Darren Oliver ($3 million club option).
There have been rumors that the Braves are looking for a center fielder if Michael Bourn leaves. Do you think the Angels could trade Peter Bourjos to them? What about a deal involving Bourjos and pitcher Julio Teheran?
-- Matthew C., Newport Beach, Calif.
Several teams will be looking for a center fielder this offseason, and you can bet every one of them will give Dipoto a call, given Bourjos is under club control for another four years, is only 25 and still has plenty of upside. But those are also reasons why Dipoto values him so much, regardless of how diminished his role became in 2012.
Here are some of the teams that seem to have a center field need this offseason: Braves (Bourn, as you mentioned, is a free agent), Nationals (unless they feel Bryce Harper is the long-term solution), Phillies (GM Ruben Amaro Jr. acknowledged it's "something that we have to address"), Marlins (holes everywhere), Rays (B.J. Upton is a free agent -- though Desmond Jennings can play there) and Giants (Angel Pagan and the suspended Melky Cabrera are free agents).
The solidified spots of Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout, the presence of Bourjos and Vernon Wells, and the mutual desire to bring back Hunter make the Angels' outfield awfully difficult to project this offseason. There are so many possible scenarios.
Bourjos' future may hinge on Hunter. If they don't bring him back, Bourjos is probably the everyday center fielder. If they do, he may be expendable.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez.