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Halos prepare with four eligible for arbitration

A look at how potential cases for Freese, Frieri, Jepsen and Salas may shake out

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ANAHEIM -- The Angels can breathe easy entering the unofficial arbitration portion of the offseason, because this much is still true: Mike Trout isn't there yet.

The 22-year-old superstar outfielder should eventually set a compensation record for a first-year arbitration-eligible player -- unless he signs a long-term deal before then -- but that won't begin to be an issue until next January.

This month, the Angels will instead worry about four other, far-less-complicated cases: David Freese, Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen and Fernando Salas.

Players officially file for arbitration on Tuesday, but that's just a formality. The bigger step is Friday, when players and teams exchange figures, providing an indication of how far apart the two sides are. Arbitration hearings are then scheduled from Feb. 1-21, but a deal can be struck at any point before a team's scheduled hearing, and long-term contracts can also be worked out.

The last time the Angels actually went to arbitration with a player was February 2011, when they "beat" Jered Weaver and paid the ace right-hander $7.37 million instead of the $8.8 million he requested -- six months before signing Weaver to a five-year, $85 million extension.

Here's a closer look at this year's candidates, with projections provided by MLBTradeRumors.com ...

3B David Freese
Seasons away from free agency: Two
2013 salary: $3.15M
2014 projection: $4.4M

Freese is coming off a down year in St. Louis, but players almost always get a raise via the arbitration process. The 30-year-old went from a .293/.372/.467 slash line in his first full season of 2012 to a .262/.340/.381 mark in 2013. And based on Ultimate Zone Rating, Freese went from 2.1 to minus-16.5, last among qualified third basemen.

He suffered a back strain in Spring Training, finished April batting only .163 and posted a .526 OPS in a postseason stage he shined in just two seasons prior. The Angels are banking on a bounce-back season, after acquiring Freese and Salas in exchange for center fielder Peter Bourjos and outfield prospect Randal Grichuk.

CL Ernesto Frieri
Seasons away from free agency: Three
2013 salary: $530,000
2014 projection: $3.4M

Frieri's raise will be by far the biggest, because he's a first-year arbitration-eligible player and he's also a full-time closer. Frieri, acquired from the Padres in May 2012, has compiled the 12th-most saves in the Majors these last two years (60). During that time, he's converted 89.6 percent of those save chances, posted a 3.07 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP, and struck out 13.1 batters per nine innings.

He's been, by several measures, among the top closers in baseball, and he's slated to take the ninth inning again in 2014. Coupled with his service time, that makes Frieri an intriguing extension candidate. But his agent, Matt Colleran, would not discuss whether or not that has been explored.

RP Kevin Jepsen
Seasons away from free agency: Three
2013 salary: $1,181,250
2014 projection: $1.4M

While with the team in Seattle last August, the 29-year-old Jepsen underwent an emergency appendectomy and his 2013 season ended abruptly. He appeared in 45 games, posted a pedestrian 4.50 ERA and 1.53 WHIP, and now Jepsen -- out of options -- will have to fight for a role as a middle reliever in a crowded bullpen.

Jepsen had Super Two status last offseason, so he's arbitration-eligible for the second time despite still being three years away from free agency. The Angels tendered him a contract in December because he's got a big arm, which he displayed while posting a 3.02 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP in 2012. But he currently projects behind Frieri, Joe Smith, Sean Burnett, Dane De La Rosa and Michael Kohn in the bullpen pecking order.

RP Fernando Salas
Seasons away from free agency: Three
2013 salary: $512,000
2014 projection: $700,000

Salas had no role in a Cardinals bullpen rich in young power arms. So despite appearing in a combined 133 games from 2011-12 and posting a 3.16 ERA, the 28-year-old right-hander spent basically half of 2013 pitching for Triple-A Memphis, accruing just enough Major League service time to become arbitration-eligible for the first time.

Salas struggled through a 4.50 ERA in 27 Major League appearances, but shined in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, racking up a 1.90 ERA, a 0.85 WHIP and 12 saves. Salas still has options left, but will have a chance to win a Major League job this spring. It could come down to Salas and lefty Brian Moran, a Rule 5 Draft selection from the Blue Jays, for the final bullpen spot.

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.

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