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Angels seeking final pieces of puzzle

Angels seeking final pieces of puzzle

Angels seeking final pieces of puzzle
ANAHEIM -- Having made his first significant move as Angels general manager with the addition of catcher Chris Iannetta in a deal with the Rockies, Jerry Dipoto will lead the newly designed front office into Dallas for the Winter Meetings hoping to make a move or two while laying groundwork for improvements down the road.

With a top-heavy payroll -- $99 million committed to nine players -- and the likelihood of raises pushing the total to about $125 million, it will be a challenge for the new staff to remain within owner Arte Moreno's budget if he elects to keep it, as he has projected, in the $130 million to $140 million range.

Having landed Iannetta to inject offense into manager Mike Scioscia's catching unit, Dipoto will try to be creative in shopping for a starter, a reliever and perhaps some offensive help. A third baseman with power is a possible target.

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"Just as we've said all along," Dipoto said, "we are focused on finding the balance and stability to add behind [Jered] Weaver, [Dan] Haren and [Ervin] Santana in our rotation. I believe there a lot of different ways to get to that. [It] could be via trade or through free agency. That's something that's been a focus since day one.

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"Also, [there will be] the continued effort to try to help our lineup function in more efficient ways. And then to add some bullpen arms, guys that can create different options for Sosh and the staff and give us more depth."

Once again, the health of their best hitter, Kendrys Morales, is a key issue for the Angels.

Having missed a season and two-thirds with a fracture in his lower left leg requiring two surgeries, Morales is in the early stages of his physical rehab, reportedly jogging in Florida in anticipation of reporting to Spring Training in February.

If Morales can make it back to the lineup in 2012 and give the club the equivalent of a wonderful, inexpensive free-agent acquisition, the Angels' prospects would brighten immeasurably.

That home-plate leap Morales made in May 2010 on the heels of his game-winning grand slam at Angel Stadium is turning out to be the most expensive celebration in franchise history.

The optimistic view is that Morales will be ready to test his left leg in Arizona after spending the entire '11 season in rehab. If he can hit and run well enough to get around the bases, he can open the season as a designated hitter now that Mark Trumbo -- the club leader in home runs and RBIs while finishing second in the American League Rookie of the Year race -- has established himself at first.

Offense was the area most deficient in 2011 as the club fell 10 games short of Texas in the AL West. A return to top form by veterans Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu, along with the return of Morales and the muscle of Trumbo and Howard Kendrick, would give the club power production to go with the speed of Peter Bourjos and Erick Aybar.

While the Rangers were coming within an out of a World Series title, the Angels were planning an overhaul of the front office, with Dipoto replacing Tony Reagins and bringing in a support staff of highly regarded assistants.

They will put their heads together along with Scioscia, embarking on his 13th season, in Dallas in an effort to find a piece or two that can help push the club back to the top of a division it won five times in six years before the Rangers assumed control in 2010.

Club needs:

Starting pitching: In Weaver, Haren and Santana, the Angels have a front three they would match against any in the game. Jerome Williams, a late-season revelation, is the frontrunner for one of the two remaining spots, and Garrett Richards and Trevor Bell are candidates to claim the No. 5 spot with Joel Pineiro in free agency. Coveted free agent C.J. Wilson has met with his hometown Angels and is a possibility, but more likely is the signing of a less-costly veteran to fill out the rotation. There are a number of intriguing free-agent possibilities, including Hiroki Kuroda and Aaron Harang.

Right-handed relief pitcher: Jordan Walden, in just his second season as a reliever, had a roller-coaster rookie year as the closer when handed the role in the opening week of the season as Fernando Rodney faltered. Walden made the AL All-Star team but had some rocky stretches in the second half, finishing with 32 saves in 42 opportunities.

Signing a veteran closer would enable Scioscia to move Walden into a setup role, or he could keep the hard-throwing right-hander in that role and land a setup man to complement Scott Downs. It's not a necessity -- the club has a number of experienced options -- but it would add depth to a bullpen that at times frayed under a heavy workload. Free agency is deepest in relievers.

Power-hitting third baseman: Alberto Callaspo was the primary third baseman in 2011, with Maicer Izturis in support. Both players have skills but neither fits the classic mold at the position. A deal for a third baseman with some muscle would add balance and production, and Dipoto and Co. likely will explore all avenues to see if it's feasible.

Who they can or need to trade:

Catcher Bobby Wilson, solid defensively and a contact hitter, is another candidate for a swap.

Izturis, earning $3.8 million in the last year of his contract, could be moved with Callaspo seizing third base. Or Callaspo could be dealt.

Center fielder Bourjos is in high demand, but it's doubtful the club would consider dealing a future star and leadoff catalyst. The same applies to Trumbo. Outfielder Mike Trout is close to untouchable.

Top prospects: RHPs Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Fabio Martinez, John Hellweg, Ryan Chaffee, Ysmael Carmona; LHPs Trevor Reckling, Tyler Kehrer, Drew Taylor, C Carlos Ramirez; INFs Jean Segura, Alexi Amarista, Andrew Romine, Luis Jimenez, Ryan Mount, Kaleb Cowart; OFs Jeremy Moore, Randal Grichuk, Travis Witherspoon.

With Tyler Chatwood gone, the Angels are not deep enough in pitching to deal away top prospects to address needs this offseason. Dipoto believes in building from within, making it unlikely he'd move such potential stars as Segura, Cowart and, of course, Trout. Like most clubs, the organization recognizes the importance of developing homegrown talent and not relying on expensive free agents.

Big contracts they might unload: Abreu's $9 million could be moved.

Arbitration-eligible: Aybar, Kendrick, Callaspo, Morales, Williams.

Payroll summation: The Angels would like to keep the salary structure in the same $140 million neighborhood as last year, which will make it difficult to sign one of the top-tier free agents without exceeding the owner's payroll projections. Dipoto appears to have an aggressive, creative approach, and he could land an arm or two, most likely in deals.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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