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Meetings on horizon, Angels seeking starting pitching

General manager Dipoto aims to use free agency and/or trades to bolster rotation

ANAHEIM -- No, Jerry Dipoto has not forgotten about the starting pitching. It's just, well, complicated. Prices for free-agent hurlers haven't really gone down and trade partners aren't readily available, so in the meantime, the Angels' general manager has addressed the bullpen and third base, scratching off the easier stuff in order to clear a path for the offseason's most complex scenario.

Now, with the Winter Meetings kicking off from Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in less than a week, the Angels' offseason strategy seems quite clear: Sign one free-agent starting pitcher and trade for another.

That statement comes with the understanding that the Halos' past two offseasons have been all about doing the unexpected, signing Albert Pujols in December 2011 and adding Josh Hamilton in December 2012. But there doesn't seem to be any chance of another big-splash signing, with very little wiggle room in their payroll and more than one hole to fill in their rotation.

Dipoto still needs at least two starters to supplement a staff that currently only includes Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards.

The chances of acquiring a front-of-the-rotation arm -- the type good enough to push Weaver or Wilson back a spot -- appears slim. What Dipoto hopes for are a couple of solid pieces that can fit in the middle of a playoff-caliber staff. What he wants is someone like Jason Vargas, who bolted for the Royals because the Angels -- quite prudently -- weren't willing to offer a fourth guaranteed year.

Asked about his rotation plans after Vargas slipped from his grasp, Dipoto said: "We're open-minded in how we're going to build it -- whether it be through free agency or trade -- and we're not bare in-house."

But coming off the Thanksgiving weekend, Dipoto has far less resources at his disposal.

In order to acquire third baseman David Freese from the Cardinals, Dipoto used up a valuable trade chip in center fielder Peter Bourjos and added about $4 million to the 2014 payroll. Then there's the additional $5.25 million tacked on as part of a three-year, $15.75 million deal for setup man Joe Smith.

Factor those deals with the players already on the books, Monday's non-tenders and projected arbitration salaries, and the Halos have roughly $15 million of wiggle room before their Collective Balance Tax payroll hits $189 million.

The question is: Can they land any of the few top-tier arms still available before having to venture into the depths of a very weak free-agent class?

So far, the market isn't really cooperating.

Ricky Nolasco (four years, $49 million from the Twins), Vargas (four years, $32 million from the Royals), Phil Hughes (three years, $24 million from the Twins), Tim Hudson (two years, $23 million from the Giants), Scott Kazmir (two years, $22 million from the A's), Dan Haren (one year, $10 million from the Dodgers) and Josh Johnson (one year, $8 million from the Padres) have all received average annual values of at least $8 million, potentially driving up the prices of the remaining free-agent starters.

Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Hiroki Kuroda -- the three starting pitchers tied to Draft-pick compensation -- seem too steep for the Angels. But now, Bronson Arroyo and Matt Garza have reason to demand more money. And once you get past those two -- and A.J. Burnett, who has always had trepidations about pitching on the West Coast -- you're left with an unimpressive potpourri of arms, with Scott Feldman, Jason Hammel, Mike Pelfrey, Chris Capuano and Paul Maholm likely the safest among them.

The Halos, a source said, have no interest in former Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon, who's 40 years old and has a history with performance-enhancing substances.

In the end, it may come down to finding the right combination between the free-agent signing and the trade. The two have to work in concert, balancing each other out in terms of talent level and price point, even though the likelihood that both get done at around the same time is very remote.

Second baseman Howie Kendrick -- his no-trade list whittled from 14 teams to six -- is by far the most likely player to be dealt next. Dipoto is hesitant about parting ways with shortstop Erick Aybar and designated hitter Mark Trumbo, but a dearth of available arms may change that.

In six days, the four-day Winter Meetings should bring a lot more clarity.

"There's still a lot of offseason left for us to address the other issues we feel are out there for us," Dipoto said. "Clearly, we're headed into the Winter Meetings with a need to improve our starting pitching, and we'll keep an eye toward that. There's no rush. There's a lot of days left."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim