11/29/11 12:01 AM EST
Dipoto looking for ways to stretch payroll
New GM weighing alternatives ahead of Winter Meetings
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
Feeling the need for what he called "fresh ideas" in the personnel department, Angels owner Arte Moreno completely remodeled his baseball administration, bringing in Jerry Dipoto as the new general manager to preside over the operation.
As he prepares to lead his staff to Dallas for the Winter Meetings from Dec. 5-8, Dipoto is mapping out a strategy with a variety of potential avenues designed to improve the club without stretching the payroll beyond reasonable limits.
"I don't think there's anything in the way of wholesale moves that need to be made," Dipoto said. "This team won 86 games. It has a number of high-end, All-Star players."
Dipoto clearly would like to strengthen the club with another right-handed arm for the back of the bullpen, a starting pitcher, an offensive upgrade at catcher and perhaps a third baseman with muscle.
Rumors have been swirling in recent days connecting the Angels to the likes of free-agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez, catchers Ryan Hanigan of the Reds and the Rockies' Chris Iannetta and Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie. A wide range of free-agent relievers and starters are on the club's radar.
Moreno said he would like to keep his payroll "in the 130, 140 million [dollar] range." The Angels had the Majors' fourth-highest payroll ($141.8 million) last season, behind the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies.
This seemingly removes the Angels from contention for the Princes (Fielder) and Kings (Albert Pujols) in the free-agent marketplace. But Ramirez has surfaced as a possibility at third according to his agent, Paul Kinzer, who told the Los Angeles Times that the Angels are among "four or five" clubs showing "serious" interest in the 33-year-old power hitter.
The Angels have met personally with southpaw C.J. Wilson, the most coveted starting pitcher in the market. The numbers the Texas ace reportedly is shooting for -- in the neighborhood of $100 million -- would seem highly unlikely on the heels of $85 million across five seasons the Angels invested in their own ace, Jered Weaver.
Manager Mike Scioscia would love to add another starter in support of top dogs Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. It can be done without using up the entire remaining budget -- somewhere between $10 million and $20 million -- available for upgrades.
There is no shortage of experienced arms in free agency capable of moving into the back of the rotation alongside presumed fourth starter Jerome Williams.
"To me, if you aren't in the business of being creative and looking for unique ways to do that," Dipito said, "then you're probably not doing your job very well."
Unless they can swing a deal shedding some existing payroll, improving in multiple areas might take them out of the running for one of the premium closers left on the market.
Heath Bell, Ryan Madson, Francisco Cordero, Matt Capps and Francisco Rodriguez are among the Type A free agents not requiring the signing club to forfeit a top Draft pick as compensation under terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Among others in that category are setup men Octavio Dotel and Darren Oliver, catcher Ramon Hernandez, versatile Michael Cuddyer, second baseman Kelly Johnson and outfielder Josh Willingham. Also available without compensation are outfielder Carlos Beltran, starter Roy Oswalt and reliever Takashi Saito.
If they don't land one of the closers, the Angels could focus on a less costly option such as Scott Linebrink, who excelled as Trevor Hoffman's setup man in San Diego from 2004 through 2007.
Linebrink is 35, but his fastball averaged 93.2 mph in 2011 for Atlanta, and he complements it with a wicked splitter. He could slide into a setup role alongside Scott Downs.
The Angels have $99 million committed in salaries to nine players under contract with an estimated $25-30 million targeted for raises to arbitration-eligible players and those on the roster not yet eligible for arbitration.
"Flexibility with the payroll sometimes is as easy as taking one piece and reallocating it, so that gives you infinite possibilities," Dipoto said.
While admitting his preference for the trade route rather than free agency in "impact" moves, Dipoto realizes that athletes other clubs will be seeking in exchange for quality merchandise are bricks in the Angels' future foundation.
"Everybody's most tradeable assets are their youngest players," he said. "I'm always reluctant to part with young talent. That being said, if there is the opportunity to upgrade at the Major League level, you always have to pay attention."
The wheels never stop turning and churning this time of the year.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.