It's no secret that the Angels will do everything in their power to re-sign Zack Greinke.
But they may be held hostage by it.
The thing is, Greinke's free agency isn't expected to have a quick resolution. Not when you consider how much better he is than any other available starting pitcher or the amount of teams that will express heavy interest in his services.
In a perfect world, the Angels would already know where Greinke stands, allowing them to have a clearer picture of the other important decisions that loom -- like how to shape the rest of their rotation, how much they can afford to offer Torii Hunter, or perhaps even how aggressive they'll be with their bullpen.
But his situation could take well into the winter.
"I think that's fair to say," general manager Jerry Dipoto admitted.
That, coupled with the situation of Dan Haren, could really cloud things for the Angels.
They've already traded Ervin Santana, dealing him to the Royals along with $1 million for lefty reliever Brandon Sisk. They were unable to do the same with Haren, who had a $15.5 million club option the Angels declined on Friday, buying him out for $3.5 million and setting him off into the free-agent market.
That means if Greinke departs, the Angels will have some serious holes to fill in their rotation, and there aren't any front-line starters as solid as Greinke available in the free-agent market. The question is, who will be left by the time he makes his decision?
The holding pattern begins.
Free agents: Greinke, Haren, Hunter, INF Maicer Izturis, RP LaTroy Hawkins, RP Jason Isringhausen.
Arbitration-eligible: DH Kendrys Morales (third-year), 3B Alberto Callaspo (third-year), SP Jerome Williams (second-year), RP Kevin Jepsen (first-year).
Resolved: Santana (traded with cash to Royals for LHP Sisk), C Chris Iannetta (three-year, $15.55 million extension; voids $5 million mutual option for 2013), C Bobby Wilson (claimed off waivers by Blue Jays; was arbitration-eligible for the first time).
Areas of need
Starting rotation: Only two members of the 2012 staff are guaranteed to return: Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. A third member probably will be the young Garrett Richards, who showed flashes of dominance as a starter and will resume that role after serving as a reliever down the stretch. Who fills out the rotation? That remains to be seen.
The Angels will be among the top bidders for Greinke, but it's no lock he returns given the competition they'll face. After Greinke, there's a pretty big drop-off in the free-agent market, with guys like Edwin Jackson, Ryan Dempster, Kyle Lohse, Hiroki Kuroda and Anibal Sanchez, along with Haren, making up the next tier. With Santana gone, and Haren likely to follow, it's crucial that the Angels find a way to bring Greinke back.
Bullpen: Dipoto badly wants to improve a relief corps that was tied for first in the American League with 22 blown saves and was the biggest reason the Angels fell short of the playoffs. But don't look for him to add an established closer. First, there aren't many options in the free-agent market. Second, the Angels can't afford to spend money on an established closer considering what they have allocated elsewhere -- and their desire to re-sign Greinke. The trade market may be their best bet.
Outfield: OK, so this was actually an area of excess in 2012, but Angels fans everywhere tell you they need to re-sign Hunter. In order to do that, they must clear room by trading young center fielder Peter Bourjos or expensive left fielder Vernon Wells -- or both. The Angels will exhaust every option to somehow rid themselves of Wells, who's owed $42 million over the next two seasons. Bourjos figures to be a starting outfielder if Hunter leaves, but he's expendable if Hunter re-signs. Will he? That's the big question.
Hunter has repeatedly said he's willing to give the Angels a sizable discount, but what he sees as fair and what the Angels deem fair, considering their other priorities, isn't very close right now. The Angels are not expected to tender Hunter a qualifying offer of $13 million -- the requirement to obtain Draft picks if he signs elsewhere -- because the belief is that they can bring him back for less.
Don't expect the Angels to once again be at $159 million, which was a club record, ranked fourth in the Majors and was a bloated figure due to the offseason signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and the July acquisition of Greinke.
A rough estimate for next season is somewhere between $145 million to $150 million.
The Angels have lots of money coming off the books, with Bobby Abreu's $9 million salary gone, Hunter's five-year, $90 million contract expiring, and Izturis ($3.8 million in 2012) and Hawkins ($3 million) heading for free agency.
But they owe more than $96 million to eight players (Wells, Weaver, Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Iannetta and Scott Downs). Factoring in the buyouts for Santana and Haren puts them at close to $101 million. And if you factor in the potential arbitration cases for Callaspo, Morales, Williams and Jepsen, that's roughly $116 million, leaving about $30 million to address the pitching staff and, perhaps, bring back Hunter.
Keep in mind, though, that is a rough estimation.