The Angels made some major progress with their pitching staff in the week leading up to the Winter Meetings, signing potential closer Ryan Madson to an incentive-laden one-year contract, then filling one of two spots in their rotation by sending reliever Jordan Walden to the Braves for young starter Tommy Hanson.
But Zack Greinke still lurks, and the Angels, a source said, are still in play.
The Angels have made Greinke their No. 1 priority, competing against the Rangers, Dodgers and Nationals for his long-term services. And according to ESPNLA.com, the free-agent starter is slated to meet with the Angels on Saturday, one day after meeting with the Dodgers.
The Angels, however, are not expected to sign Greinke if his price tag reaches $150 million, as has been reported. So they're keeping their options open. The trade market isn't a beneficial avenue for them, with the farm system barren and the position-player roster set, but they still have money to spend and flexibility on their minds.
"We're not isolated on Zack Greinke as a stand-alone," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said earlier in the offseason, and that statement seems to hold truer by the day. "There are a lot of pitchers out there on the open market right now, and there are a lot of pitchers that can be accessed in different ways. We'll keep an open mind to all of them."
With the usually eventful Winter Meetings now days away, taking place Monday through Thursday in Nashville, Tenn., here's a look at where the Angels stand in their offseason quest to improve the pitching staff.
Starting pitching: Hanson joins a rotation that has ace Jered Weaver and lefty C.J. Wilson returning, with the young Garrett Richards an option in the back end and the likes of Jerome Williams and Barry Enright providing depth.
They need one more.
The Angels' top priority all along has been to bring back Greinke, but it's highly unlikely that they will pay him $150 million. If Greinke commands that kind of money, the Angels could turn towards Kyle Lohse or Anibal Sanchez. Or they could go even cheaper (think Ryan Dempster) and use their remaining funds to add another upper-tier reliever.
Relief pitching: The Angels seemingly fortified their bullpen with the recent signing of Madson, who could re-emerge as one of baseball's best closers if he bounces back from Tommy John surgery. But when asked if the 'pen is pretty much set, Dipoto said: "I don't think we're done with that by any stretch." What he does with the bullpen will hinge on which starter he signs. And now that Walden is gone, a spot is open.
If the Angels don't spend as much on their final remaining rotation piece, then a guy like Kyuji Fujikawa, the Japanese closer who met with Dipoto recently and likes the Angels, could be an option. So could guys like Joakim Soria, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara. If Madson takes over the ninth, the Angels currently have Ernesto Frieri for the eighth, Kevin Jepsen for the seventh and Scott Downs as a floater.
Who they can or need to trade
OF Vernon Wells: The Angels would gladly part ways with Wells if they can find someone willing to take a reasonable portion of the $42 million owed to him over the next two seasons. That hasn't happened yet, and it doesn't look promising. With a .222/.258/.409 slash line the last two years, nobody really sees the 33-year-old as an everyday player anymore.
C Hank Conger: The Angels locked up Chris Iannetta to a three-year, $15.55 million contract shortly after the regular season ended. He'll be their everyday catcher, so you can forget about the switch-hitting Conger platooning. Conger, 24, still has some upside, but he's been mainly a Triple-A catcher the last three years, and won't be an everyday guy with the Angels for at least three more. The club has talked about easing him into an eventual starting role, serving as Iannetta's backup in the meantime. But they'd probably pull the trigger on a deal if another team wants him bad enough.
Partly due to an assortment of prospects reaching the big leagues, no picks in either of the first two rounds last season and several recent trades (Alexi Amarista for Frieri; Jean Segura, John Hellweg and Ariel Pena for Greinke), the Angels' system is quite barren. The jewel of the organization is Kaleb Cowart, a switch-hitting third baseman who will play his first season of Double-A ball next year.
Lefty Nick Maronde, outfielder Kole Calhoun and infielder Andrew Romine are all listed among the Angels' Top 10 prospects by MLB.com, but they could each open up the season on the big league roster. First baseman C.J. Cron, the reigning Cal League Rookie of the Year, has plenty of upside as a power hitter. And right-handers Cam Bedrosian, Nick Mutz and Daniel Tillman are among the best pitchers in the organization. But it's easy to see that the Angels don't have much trade value in their system right now.
Rule 5 Draft
The Angels recently protected right-handed reliever Ryan Brasier, left-handed reliever Brandon Sisk and center fielder Travis Witherspoon by adding them to the 40-man roster, which now sits at 36 after claiming shortstop Thomas Field off waivers from the Twins. The most intriguing prospects exposed to the Rule 5 Draft include first baseman Efren Navarro, outfielder Matt Long, reliever Ryan Chaffee, catcher Carlos Ramirez and starter Matt Shoemaker. But the club would be surprised if anyone was selected.
Designated hitter Kendrys Morales, third baseman Alberto Callaspo, and right-handers Jerome Williams, Kevin Jepsen and the recently acquired Hanson make up the Angels' arbitration-eligible players. Morales and Callaspo are one year away from free agency and are heading into what's likely to be their final season in Anaheim, but the Angels seem OK with keeping them now and letting them walk later because of what they provide in 2013. Williams is arbitration-eligible for the second time, while Jepsen and Hanson are in their first year of the process.
The Angels owe about $100 million to nine players in 2013 -- Albert Pujols, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Downs, Iannetta, Madson, Wells, Weaver and Wilson -- plus $4.5 million for buying out Dan Haren's contract and trading Ervin Santana.
Factoring in MLBTradeRumors.com's arbitration projections for Morales ($4.8 million), Callaspo ($4.2 million), Hanson ($4 million), Williams ($1.9 million) and Jepsen ($1.1 million), that puts them at roughly $121 million -- not including all those who will be making close to the minimum. The Angels' payroll won't be $159 million again next season. It could be at least $10 to $15 million less.