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Angels Put Reliever Smith on Winter Shopping List

November 17, 1994|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHOENIX — The Angels, regretting their decision not to act a year ago, have decided to pursue free-agent relief pitcher Lee Smith, according to club officials.

Smith, baseball's all-time saves leader, finished the season with a major-leading 33 for the Baltimore Orioles. Smith produced 12 more saves than the entire Angel bullpen, which ranked last in the American League.

"I think it's our biggest need," Angel Manager Marcel Lachemann said. "If you've got a closer down there, it can make all the difference in the world."

Also Wednesday, the Angels continued trade discussions with the San Diego Padres involving center fielder Chad Curtis. The Angels are seeking a package that would include right-handed starter Scott Sanders ($115,000) or right-hander Andy Ashby ($225,000).

The Angels would be willing to trade Curtis for reliever Trevor Hoffman, but the Padres rejected the advance. Hoffman, who saved 20 games last season, is in the midst of a three-year contract that will pay him $315,000 in 1995 and $955,000 in 1996.

"It's possible we could have a match somewhere down the line," Padre General Manager Randy Smith said, "but we don't know right now."

Angel General Manager Bill Bavasi, after talking with every club during the general manager meetings, said the Angels have narrowed their focus to one or two clubs, but doubted that a trade could be made today.

"It's possible something could be done today, but it's unlikely," said Bavasi, who's returning to California this afternoon. "It's just difficult in this environment."

While the Angels have discovered this week that it's too prohibitive to acquire closer John Wetteland of Montreal or Kansas City closer Jeff Montgomery, Smith might fit in their budget.

Smith, who turns 37 in December, earned $1.5 million last season and became a free agent when the Orioles refused to offer salary arbitration. He's expected to earn at least $2 million on the open market.

The Angels could clear space for Smith under their $24.5-million budget by not tendering a contract to reliever Joe Grahe. Grahe earned $910,000 last season and would be eligible for arbitration if it still exists under the new labor agreement.

The Angels nearly acquired Smith during the 1993 season when he pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals. The Angels were offering starter Chuck Finley to St. Louis for third baseman Todd Zeile, pitcher Joe Magrane and Smith. The Cardinals backed out of the deal.

The Angels also explored the possibility of acquiring Smith last winter. Yet, Whitey Herzog, general manager at the time, received unfavorable reports and did not submit a free-agent offer.

Smith went to Baltimore, and proved again that he's one of the premier relievers in the game. He saved a major league-record 12 games in April, and was successful in 33 of 39 opportunities.

"We're getting a lot of interest in Lee," said Jim Bronner, Smith's agent, "but at this point, it's hard to read the Angels' interest. I think once one or two teams make offers, the other clubs will either show interest or drop by the wayside."

The Angels' ability to acquire Smith, who is being strongly pursued by the Orioles and Texas Rangers, also could hinge on the Angels' new stadium proposal. If the city of Anaheim approves a new stadium for the 1998 season, Angel President Richard Brown said the club might increase their 1995 budget.

"Irrespective, this ballclub will be improved," Brown said, "but a new stadium perhaps would make it happen faster. If we get approval for a new stadium, we know we'll be afforded more resources to be competitive."

Notes

Pete Janicki, the Angels' 1992 first-round draft pick, has been outrighted off the 40-man roster. The move enables the Angels to avoid Janicki's $235,000 option for 1995. Janicki cleared waivers, however, and will return to the organization in 1995 under a reconstructed contract. . . . Several clubs have inquired about the availability of Chuck Finley, but the Angels say that unless they're overwhelmed by an offer, he's staying put. . . . Rex Hudler, who filed for free agency after playing for the Angels last season, has drawn attracted interest from several clubs, including the Dodgers.

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