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Angels exploring rotation options without Vargas

Halos in search of a quality No. 3 starter to slot behind Weaver and Wilson

ANAHEIM -- It's nearly impossible, perhaps even a little feeble-minded, to approach baseball's offseason with one definitive plan. Things are too fluid, too unpredictable this time of year. And adjustments, often several, are inevitable.

Take the Angels, for example.

Their initial plan was as follows: Re-sign Jason Vargas, giving them a four-man staff they were comfortable with heading into 2014, then supplement the rest of the rotation via trade.

Then the Royals kicked in a fourth year for Vargas.

And now the Angels' pursuit of pitching gets quite interesting.

On Thursday, Kansas City shocked many in the industry by signing Vargas to a four-year contract worth $32 million. The average annual value of $8 million was very reasonable. But it's that fourth guaranteed year that trumped the Angels' final offer -- of three years for about $25 million, according to a source -- and ultimately swayed Vargas, the 30-year-old left-hander who prioritized length of contract over average annual value.

"We had interest in bringing Jason back," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said Thursday night, opting not to go into further detail on the Vargas negotiations. "We pursued it, and now we'll focus on our 2014 club and continue moving forward."

On Friday morning, the Angels completed a trade that sent Peter Bourjos and outfield prospect Randal Grichuk to the Cardinals in exchange for third baseman David Freese and righty reliever Fernando Salas. In the deal, the Angels plucked from an area of depth to fill an area of need, but they also took on about an extra $4 million in salary commitments without really addressing their pitching needs.

The Angels now project to have roughly $11 million to spend before reaching the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million this offseason, and several needs remain: two starting pitchers, at least one reliever and depth everywhere.

For the back end of their bullpen, the Angels have expressed interest in Joe Smith, Edward Mujica, J.P. Howell and Joaquin Benoit, according to sources.

When it comes to free-agent starters, though, there's a lot less clarity.

Now, with Vargas gone, is when the pool opens up and the options become hazy. The Angels can't really go the Padres' route and dedicate significant dollars to a big reclamation project -- $8 million for Josh Johnson -- because they don't have the Minor League system to make up for the chance of underperformance. And Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana, who will command large contracts and Draft-pick compensation, are expected to be out of their price range.

What the Angels are still realistically hopeful of attaining via trade and free agency, are guys similar to the one who just slipped from their fingers: Durable, proven arms they feel comfortable sliding behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, and in front of the young Garrett Richards.

One ideal fit would be Bronson Arroyo, who the Angels briefly checked in on, but his price tag would have to come down significantly. The next tier down -- and two tiers below Ricky Nolasco and Matt Garza -- are guys like Dan Haren, Scott Kazmir, Phil Hughes, Bartolo Colon, Scott Feldman and Jake Westbrook, among others.

But the trade market continues to be a critical avenue for the Angels, who are dangling Peter Bourjos, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Mark Trumbo.

"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," Dipoto said of a rotation that ranked 11th in the American League in ERA last year. "We have the foundation of a rotation that we're very confident in, particularly the guys at the top. I don't know that there are many teams that wouldn't be very confident going in with Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson at the front of their rotation, and a young guy who made as much progress in the second half as Garrett Richards. We will continue to find ways to improve both the depth and the impact of our starting rotation, and that's something we'll do year-in and year-out."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez.
Read More: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Dan Haren, Jason Vargas, Phil Hughes, C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver, Garrett Richards, Bronson Arroyo, Scott Kazmir