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Inbox: Richards the ace of the future?

Beat reporter Alden Gonzalez answers questions from Angels' fans

The Rangers lost their second straight game on Thursday, putting the Angels three games back of the second American League Wild Card spot with 23 to play. The two teams end the season with a four-game series in Arlington, but the Angels still have some work to do if they hope to make that compelling.

On Friday, the Angels begin a critical three-game series in Anaheim against the first-place Astros. On Thursday, they were off, so I tried my best to answer some of your lingering questions.

So next year, do the Angels believe they have a true No. 1 in Garrett Richards, or do they explore free agency/trade?
-- @Cptflashman

Flashman (can I call you Flashman?), I think you may have hit on the most intriguing topic of the forthcoming offseason. At first blush, it's easy to say that the Angels won't be in the market for a high-priced, free-agent starting pitcher this winter. They currently have up to eight starters who can factor into their rotation next season, have built a respectable amount of starting-pitching depth in a once-depleted farm system and need to use their resources to address a multitude of potential holes in their lineup.

But Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos taught us a very important lesson on July 28, when he added Troy Tulowitzki to an offense that was already rich with right-handed power: Sometimes you just have to take what the market offers you.

And this offseason, it's starting pitching.

David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann and Scott Kazmir -- perhaps also Zack Greinke, if he opts out -- will all be free agents after the World Series, as will a middle-tier group that includes Jeff Samardzija, Hisashi Iwakuma, Wei-Yin Chen, Mark Buehrle and old friend John Lackey. The Angels, with a GM to be named later, could try to add a top-of-the-rotation starter via free agency, which would make it easier to dangle their cost-controlled arms for offense.

Former GM Jerry Dipoto collected controllable starting pitchers with every intention of growing with them. He envisioned it like a cycle, the farm system continually replenishing as players matriculated to free agency. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are only a year away from that. But Richards (three years left of control), Matt Shoemaker (five), Andrew Heaney (five), Hector Santiago (two), Tyler Skaggs (four) and Nick Tropeano (five) are all controllable for a while.

But there are some within the Angels who believe that Richards would fit best as their No. 2 starter, and that they need an established ace like Price to become a force again, more so than any free-agent position player available. We shall see.

Is there any chance Yoenis Cespedes lands with the Angels?
-- @hallofan

If they don't go the aforementioned route, Cespedes could become an important name to monitor for the Angels this offseason. He has a strong admiration for Albert Pujols and I've been told by a handful of people that he'd love to play left field for the Angels. But he'll be expensive -- Joel Sherman of the New York Post has him commanding at least $130 million -- and the Angels don't have a lot of room below the luxury-tax threshold.

Eight players (Pujols, Weaver, Wilson, Mike Trout, Huston Street, Erick Aybar, Joe Smith and, yes, Josh Hamilton) are already accounting for nearly $130 million next season, with teams taxed if they exceed $189 million. Then there are the big arbitration bumps for Richards, Santiago and Kole Calhoun.

But perhaps in an effort to capitalize on Pujols' shrinking window and Trout's superstardom, Angels owner Arte Moreno will decide to blow past the threshold and pay the tax.

Speaking during Spring Training, Moreno said his biggest concern isn't necessarily exceeding the threshold one year, which results in a 17.5-percent tax on the overage. It's putting himself in a situation where he's going over the threshold multiple years, paying escalating taxes of 30 percent, 40 percent and, for fourth-time offenders, 50 percent.

But Weaver and Wilson are off the books after 2016, saving the Angels a combined $32.5 million toward their Competitive Balance Tax payroll. The Collective Bargaining Agreement also expires that year, and the threshold is expected to go up for '17 and beyond. So multiple offenses can be avoided.

OK, I went a little long on those first two, so here's some rapid fire …

Is Pujols' foot still bothering him? He ran pretty well from first to third [Wednesday].
-- Steven P., Costa Mesa, Calif.

Pujols, after Wednesday's 3-2 win over the Dodgers: "If it was a lot better, I think I would've beaten the infield hit in my second at-bat. I told you guys, I'm going to do the best I can to help this ballclub win. It's bothering me, but they're going to have to chop my leg off for me not to play."

Will the new GM be given authority to bring in a new manager?
-- @ethanalvidrez

I don't think so. Mike Scioscia can opt out of his contract after this season, but I'd be shocked if he did. More likely, he'll stay through 2018 and the Angels' brass will seek a GM who can best work with him, without the autonomy to make a change. This is a big reason why I think they'll end up landing a first-year GM, like Billy Eppler or Thad Levine.

How hurt is Trout's wrist?
-- @defib4life

Trout says his left wrist hasn't been an issue since he returned on July 30, and all you can do is take his word for it. Interestingly enough, Trout's exit velocity has dropped below league average for the first time this month. It was 86 mph over this last week; league average was 89.6 mph. Small sample size, though.

What are the chances Carlos Perez is our primary catcher next season?
-- @Angelstatman

I think ideally he'd be a backup who gets 40 to 50 starts a year.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and listen to his podcast.
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