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Starting pitching key to Angels' offseason strategy

Starting pitching key to Angels' offseason strategy

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Starting pitching key to Angels' offseason strategy

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."

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.

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