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It's all about pitching for Angels at Winter Meetings

The Angels stole the show at last year's Winter Meetings, signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson practically minutes apart from one another on the morning of the final day. No chance, you'd think, that this year's congregation can be anywhere near as monumental for Jerry Dipoto, who's in his second offseason as general manager.

But the possibility will probably exist once again.

The Winter Meetings are now less than a week away -- running Dec. 3-6 in Nashville, Tenn. -- and the Angels still have money to spend and players to acquire: at least two starters, and however many relievers it'll take to make the bullpen a strength.

It's no secret that the Angels' priority is Zack Greinke, who was as advertised in his two-month stint in Anaheim and is by far the best pitcher available.

The big question is: How long can they wait?

One executive said he'd be "shocked" if Greinke signed before next week's Winter Meetings, and his courtship could last even longer given the money he'll command (his price tag has reportedly been as high as $150 million on a six-year contract). That's why the Angels, who will no doubt face stiff competition from the Rangers and Dodgers, have several backup plans.

They'd hate to rule themselves out on Greinke before he signs, but they're trying hard not to be handcuffed by his decision.

"We're not isolated on Zack Greinke as a stand-alone," Dipoto said recently. "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."

Greinke may be the only true ace available, but the likes of Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson and Ryan Dempster represent a host of intriguing alternatives for an Angels team that has only Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson returning from its 2012 staff (though the young Garrett Richards will probably join them).

Their hope is that the Greinke situation is resolved soon, one way or the other, so they can have a clearer direction this winter.

But at what point can they move on?

"I don't know," a team source said, "but I can tell you we're not going to be waiting around until Jan. 1."

Besides Rafael Soriano -- out of the Angels' price range, given their starting-pitching needs -- the free-agent market is deprived of sure-shot closers. But like the starting-pitching market, the likes of Mike Adams, Joakim Soria, Randy Choate, Koji Uehara and Ryan Madson -- whose Tommy John recovery may not have him ready by Opening Day -- are interesting consolation prizes.

Dipoto, who met face-to-face with Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa and has been linked directly to Madson, isn't particularly concerned with the last three outs; more so the last nine, and providing more back-end options in addition to Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs and Kevin Jepsen.

"I don't want to get locked into the idea that there's one guy that pitches the ninth," Dipoto said. "It's a combination of guys that get the last nine outs."

The Angels don't have many intriguing trade chips, but they do have money to spend on free agency.

They finished 2012 with a fourth-ranked $159 million payroll. But by choosing not to re-sign fan favorite Torii Hunter, who got $26 million on a two-year deal with the Tigers, buying out Dan Haren for $3.5 million and sending more than 90 percent of Ervin Santana's 2013 contract to Kansas City, the Angels are down to $96 million for eight players and four pending arbitration-eligibles (Alberto Callaspo, Kendrys Morales, Jerome Williams and Kevin Jepsen).

Two observations can be made about the pitching market thus far:

1. It's moving slowly, and it'll probably stay that way until Greinke chooses his destination (the same can probably be said about Josh Hamilton's effect on position players). The only free-agent starter to switch teams has been Scott Baker, who missed 2012 after Tommy John surgery and got a $5.5 million contract with the Cubs.

2. It may be more expensive than anticipated, when you consider the contracts signed by Jeremy Affeldt (three years, $18 million to stay with the Giants), Brandon League (three years, $22.5 million to stay with the Dodgers) and Jeremy Guthrie (three years, $25 million to stay with the Royals).

But early deals are usually favorable to the player. That's why they sign them so early.

The true barometer, as usual, may come via the Winter Meetings.

Los Angeles Angels, Zack Greinke