ANAHEIM -- For Angels fans, there's legitimate reason for anxiety heading into the Winter Meetings, which kick off from Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Monday.
Under general manager Jerry Dipoto, these have been about as eventful as can be.
In December 2011, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson were signed within hours of each other.
In December 2012, Sean Burnett and Joe Blanton were added, and the stage was set -- via a secretive, off-site lunch -- for the signing of Josh Hamilton.
What will December 2013 bring? Well, don't expect another big-ticket signing -- but hope for some starting pitching. The Angels have addressed third base (David Freese ) and shored up their bullpen (Joe Smith ), but they have yet to touch the most needy area of their team.
Dipoto is still waiting to make his move, and the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort, where baseball's executives and agents will gather from Monday to Thursday, could be his setting.
With that in mind, here's a categorical look at the Angels heading into this year's Winter Meetings …
Rotation: Barring an unexpected signing over the weekend, the Winter Meetings will be all about starting pitching for the Angels. They need two starters to join a rotation with Jered Weaver, Wilson and Garrett Richards, and at least one of them will come via free agency. The big question is: Can the Angels get their hands on someone like Matt Garza, one of the few top-tier arms perceivably within reach?
They haven't expressed interest in starters tied to Draft-pick compensation -- Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana -- they aren't looking at Bartolo Colon as an option, and Bronson Arroyo may be too expensive relative to his age (36). Garza is 30 years old, won't cost a pick, is from Southern California and could be a nice fit in the rotation, but the Angels are keeping their options open.
Once you get past Garza -- and A.J. Burnett, who has previously been against pitching in the West Coast -- it's a pretty steep drop, with the likes of Jason Hammel, Mike Pelfrey, Chris Capuano and Paul Maholm seemingly the safest among the next tier. The wild card remains Masahiro Tanaka -- but he remains a long shot.
Depth: Heading into Spring Training last offseason, the Angels signed an assortment of versatile infielders, left-handed-hitting outfielders, journeyman relievers and tenured starters to Minor League contracts. Look for something similar this year. The Angels still have a dearth of young talent in the upper levels of their system, so they'll have to once again fill a big chunk of their Triple-A roster via Minor League free agency. The club needs additional starting-pitching depth -- in addition to Chris Volstad and Wade LeBlanc, who have already been added -- and could use some utility infielders to compete for a bench spot.
Who they can trade, if necessary
Second baseman Howie Kendrick: Kendrick is appealing to a lot of teams, because of his production (he ranks 11th among Major League second basemen in OPS over the last four years) and a relatively affordable contract (owed $18.85 million over the next two seasons). This offseason, his no-trade list whittled from 14 teams to six, which is hardly an obstacle in trading him.
Of all Angels position players besides Peter Bourjos, who was already flipped to the Cardinals for Freese, Kendrick is by far the most likely to be traded. Problem is, the Angels haven't been able to get the cost-controlled pitching they seek in return. The Angels have offered Kendrick to the Blue Jays, Tigers and Royals, among others, to no avail. But they'll keep trying.
Shortstop Erick Aybar: Aybar -- like the man listed below him -- is likely to stay, simply because while the Angels have an assortment of in-house options to replace Kendrick at second base, they'd have to go out and spend on a shortstop if they trade Aybar. This is a classic case of Aybar being a lot more valuable to the Angels than he is within the industry. He's owed $25.5 million over the next three years and can't block any trades, but he took a step back defensively last season and has an on-base percentage of just .321 over the last five years. Teams have expressed interest, but not to the degree the Angels would've hoped.
Outfielder/first baseman Mark Trumbo: Trumbo holds the most value of all the Angels' offensive players -- minus Mike Trout, of course -- because he provides the right-handed thump a lot of teams still covet, ranking 27th in the Majors in isolated power over the last three seasons. But ever since he began shopping offensive players leading up to last July's non-waiver Trade Deadline, Dipoto has been against trading Trumbo, because of his production, his versatility and his clubhouse presence. Don't look for him to get traded unless it means getting top-flight pitching in return -- and that seems unlikely at this point.
Relievers Michael Kohn, Dane De La Rosa or Kevin Jepsen: With Smith and Fernando Salas on board, the Angels have an excess of right-handed power arms that could give them the flexibility to dangle one in a trade. Ernesto Frieri is the closer, Smith and lefty Burnett will probably share eighth-inning duties, and several others -- Kohn, De La Rosa, Jepsen, Salas, Cory Rasmus, Nick Maronde, Buddy Boshers, etc. -- are capable of rounding out the bullpen, without even including the need for a swing man. Kohn has the most upside, De La Rosa is coming off a very solid season and Jepsen could be an intriguing buy-low candidate.
The Angels' top 10 prospects, as ranked by MLB.com, are, in order: third baseman Kaleb Cowart, first baseman C.J. Cron, second baseman Taylor Lindsey, starter Mark Sappington, reliever Nick Maronde, second baseman Alex Yarbrough, shortstop Eric Stamets, reliever Mike Morin, third baseman Luis Jimenez and reliever R.J. Alvarez. Soon enough, though, they believe two of their youngest starting pitchers, 18-year-old Hunter Green and 16-year-old Venezuelan Ricardo Sanchez, will top that list.
Can any of the Angels' prospects be packaged in a trade to land a top-flight starting pitcher? Cron gets thrown around all the time, since he can't play any position besides the one that's locked down for a long time. But the Angels have hardly received calls on him. And there is a general hesitancy within the organization to part ways with any of their few premier prospects. At some point, they need to let their farm system cultivate.
Rule 5 Draft
The Angels put their 40-man roster at 37 after non-tendering Tommy Hanson, Jerome Williams, Chris Nelson and Juan Gutierrez, previously designated for assignment. They have room to take a chance on a Rule 5 selection if they want, but the Angels haven't made a selection in the Major League portion of this Draft in either of the last two Winter Meetings.
Big contracts they might unload
Blanton, coming off going 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA in his return to the American League, is owed $8.5 million heading into the final year of his contract and has no place on the pitching staff. For the Angels, though, it makes little sense to release him now. They're paying him anyway, they have holes in the rotation, and the most prudent thing to do is to let him go into Spring Training, hope he pitches well and see if they can trade him to a team willing to absorb some of his remaining salary (a la Vernon Wells last spring).
All indications with the Angels continue to point to the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million basically being their spending limit. A team's proximity to the threshold -- where teams are taxed 17.5 percent for going over for the first time -- is represented via the Collective Balance Tax payroll, calculated as the average annual value of all 40-man-roster contracts plus bonuses and benefits. As of now, the Angels are at roughly $174 million, giving them an extra $15 million of wiggle room.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read 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.Less