9/27/2013 1:22 A.M. ET
Starting pitching key to Angels' offseason strategy
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- General manager Jerry Dipoto and his front-office team are in Texas this weekend, meeting with manager Mike Scioscia and his coaching staff as the Angels finish out their season. Looming, and ever-present, is the potential decision by owner Arte Moreno, who's expected to decide soon whether Dipoto or Scioscia -- or both, or neither -- will return in 2014.
"I'm not going to get into it," Dipoto said of his uncertain job status. "I really don't want to have this conversation."
Dipoto will continue to approach the job as if he'll be there to try to steer the Angels back into contention in the offseason.
That pursuit will come down to one word: Pitching. OK, maybe two: Starting pitching.
The Angels are "certainly interested" in resigning lefty starter Jason Vargas at the right price, but they don't want to stop there. Asked if they'd still need to address the rotation if Vargas returns, joining Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and the upstart Garrett Richards, Dipoto said: "We definitely still need starting pitching."
"Really what we need," Dipoto added, "is organizational starting pitching. We need starting-pitching depth; we need options from within. We need young, controllable starting pitching. Essentially guys that when something goes wrong at the Major League level -- inevitably an injury will occur, somebody's going to struggle for a period of time -- guys that can step in and guys that you can build toward. It's gold in the game."
So is payroll flexibility. And the Angels don't have much of that, either.
They already have $126.5 million in payroll commitments for 2014, a figure that includes the $18.6 million they owe the Yankees for Vernon Wells and doesn't include the arbitration cases for eight players (center fielder Peter Bourjos, starters Jerome Williams and Tommy Hanson, relievers Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen and Juan Gutierrez, and infielders Mark Trumbo and Chris Nelson ).
The Collective Balance Tax threshold will increase from $178 million to $189 million in 2014, buying the Angels a little extra wiggle room. But since the CBT payroll is calculated based on the average annual value of contracts for every player on the 40-man roster -- plus benefits -- they'll enter the offseason dangerously close to that figure, particularly because of the back-loaded nature of deals for Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
So close, in fact, that they probably won't offer Vargas the qualifying offer to receive Draft-pick compensation if he signs elsewhere -- a figure that's close to $14 million for 2014 -- because they'd basically already be over-budget if he accepts it.
The Angels' best bet to acquire starting pitching is by trading away offensive pieces, with outfield (particularly Trumbo and Bourjos) and second base (Howie Kendrick ) providing the most flexibility.
"We're looking for all sorts of options for how we build it," said Dipoto, who wouldn't comment on specifics. "We're also looking at how do we keep this group on the field and accent it to be as good as we thought they were coming into this season?"
Richards, who has a 3.58 ERA in 12 starts since rejoining the rotation, "is going to get every opportunity to walk out there and throw every fifth day" in 2014, Dipoto said. Hanson is expected to be non-tendered, and Williams may be, too, though Dipoto won't comment on that decision.
As for Blanton, who's owed another $8.5 million on his two-year deal?
"He's on our roster," Dipoto said. "Obviously, he did not have a good year, but he's had success at the Major League level. He had a rough year, but we're not deep enough on the pitching mound to not consider every option. He has been a good Major League pitcher before. There are no promises. He's not in our rotation now. We'll have to make a determination."
Hamilton to put weight back on during offseason
ARLINGTON -- Don't expect Josh Hamilton to come into Spring Training light again.
Last offseason, he started a natural-juice diet -- or "lifestyle change," as he calls it -- and entered at an estimated 227 pounds, roughly 20 pounds lighter than normal. For next year, he's scrapping that.
His goal is to enter at his traditional 245 pounds again.
"I'm going to try to put some weight on, but do it the right way -- by doing a lot of the things I'm doing now, but adding more calories, things like that," Hamilton said. "Because this year, I haven't been weaker than I have -- I'm just as strong in the weight room as I've ever been -- but I think there's something to say about having a little extra butt on you."
Throughout the course of the season, Hamilton has lost about 10 pounds. He used to lose about 20 to 25 pounds when playing in Texas' warmer climate -- and is at about 215 pounds now. Next year, he'd like to finish no lighter than 230.
Hamilton has often said that his body feels great, but the weight loss may have impacted his power. He entered Thursday's contest against the Rangers with 21 homers. And even as he's turned it around at the plate lately, his power hasn't really emerged. Hamilton is batting .329 over his last 41 games, but he only has five home runs during that stretch.
Asked if his new weight impacted his power, Hamilton said: "It's hard to answer, because if I would've been hitting well, then you really would've found out. You know what I mean? But there was never really consistency throughout the year, of getting hot and staying hot for a while, so I really can't answer the question."
Shuck, Trumbo escape serious injuries
ARLINGTON -- J.B. Shuck sprained his right ankle while rounding third base in the second inning Thursday night and came out three frames later, but was fine postgame.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the ankle was "a little tender," but Shuck -- replaced by Collin Cowgill for the bottom of the fifth -- expects to play again this weekend.
"It'll be all right," Shuck said after Thursday's 6-5 walk-off loss at Rangers Ballpark.
In the top of the ninth, Mark Trumbo experienced a scare while standing in the on-deck circle when Kole Calhoun's liner grazed him on the right cheek. Trumbo momentarily walked into the dugout to get checked out, but was deemed fine and promptly went back out for his next plate appearance -- eventually striking out to end the inning and cap a 3-for-5 night.
"It was close to my mouth; I didn't want to lose my teeth," Trumbo said. "No blood, no foul."
• Dipoto said third base "is something we're going to look at" this offseason. Luis Jimenez, Nelson and Andrew Romine are the current options, with Grant Green a project and Kaleb Cowart returning to Double-A in 2014 after a rough season.
"We'll try to put together a good -- I don't want to call it a platoon -- but a good timeshare at third base that works," Dipoto said.
• Trumbo was dropped to seventh in the batting order for Thursday night's game against the Rangers. The first baseman entered in an 0-for-24 slump, sitting on 34 homers and 99 RBIs, but then went 3-for-5 and drove in his 100th run in a 6-5 walk-off loss.
"This guy works so hard at it, and he's so accountable," Scioscia said. "He'll say when he's bad and try to get better. He's been in a little bit of a downturn, but it takes one good swing."
• Mike Trout reached base safely three times on Thursday and has reached base 304 times this season, passing Rickey Henderson (301 in 1980) for most times reaching base in a player's age-21 or younger season.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.