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Angel Off-Season Effort May Start With Escobar

Pitcher appears close to a deal that would satisfy the team's No. 1 need. Spiezio could be gone.

November 22, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

The Angels appear close to signing free-agent pitcher Kelvim Escobar and losing first baseman Scott Spiezio.

The announcement of an agreement with Escobar, who pitched for Toronto last season, is expected within days. After talking with Bartolo Colon and Andy Pettitte, the Angels are expected to satisfy their need for a starting pitcher with Escobar, at an annual salary roughly half of what free agents Colon and Pettitte are expected to command.

The Boston Red Sox, also interested in Escobar, have been told he was prepared to sign a three-year, $18.75-million contract with the Angels, the Boston Herald reported on its Web site Friday. Angel General Manager Bill Stoneman declined to comment, and agents Peter Greenberg and Chris Leible did not return several calls.

At that price, Stoneman would maintain financial flexibility to sign the impact hitter the Angels ranked as their second off-season priority, although outfielder Vladimir Guerrero could be a reach unless the price drops from $15 million per season. The Angels have talked with outfielder Shannon Stewart, whose price range figures to be similar to that of Escobar, and are believed to be interested in shortstops Miguel Tejada and Kazuo Matsui.

Although owner Arte Moreno has promised a player payroll "north of $90 million," the addition of Escobar for $6.25 million next season would mean the Angels would commit about $86 million to 18 players under contract or under control, including the released Kevin Appier.

The Angels targeted Escobar in September, citing his track record of pitching deep into games and avoiding injury. After starting last season as a closer, he joined the rotation in May and pitched six innings or more in 19 of his final 23 starts. Escobar, 27, has not been on the disabled list in the last five seasons.

However, he is the defendant in a sexual-assault case in Toronto, being sued for $8 million in damages over a 2001 incident in which an unidentified woman claims he drugged her and then filmed himself having sex with her while she was unconscious. Escobar denied the charges in a Canadian court filing three weeks ago, saying any sexual activity was consensual and labeling the lawsuit as a "blatant attempt to extort money."

On another front, with the Angels apparently running out of time to sign Spiezio, his agent said Friday the team had not been in contact since the end of the season.

If the Angels do not sign Spiezio by Dec. 7, they will lose negotiating rights unless they offer arbitration. That seems unlikely, since Spiezio would probably accept, committing them to a one-year contract and probable raise from his $4.25-million salary.

Once the Angels officially refuse arbitration, other teams can sign him without forfeiting a top draft pick in compensation. Agent Barry Meister said several teams had expressed interest in signing Spiezio as an everyday player. "If the Angels don't offer arbitration, you can expect something to happen really quickly with Scott," Meister said.

With Darin Erstad preparing to return to center field rather than move to first base, the Angels might well postpone any decisions about a first baseman until after Dec. 20, when the free-agent pool will expand with dozens of players not offered contracts for next season.

The best available first basemen among the free agents are Atlanta's Robert Fick, Tampa Bay's Travis Lee and Texas' Rafael Palmeiro. The Angels have little to no interest in Seung-Yeop Lee, who would like to sign with a major league team after setting a home run record in the Korean Baseball League last season.

The Angels offered Fick a $1-million contract last season, but only as a left-handed designated hitter, and he chose to play first base for the Braves.

Fick, a Cal State Northridge teammate of Angel second baseman Adam Kennedy, said Friday he had talked with Arizona, Kansas City and Texas but would prefer to sign with the Angels.

"I'd love to play at home," he said. "That's a no-brainer for me."

In other news, Red Sox President Larry Lucchino conducted a phone interview Friday with Angel bench coach Joe Maddon, one of the candidates for the Boston managerial vacancy. Maddon, who met with Boston General Manager Theo Epstein last week in Arizona, said he expected to speak with Lucchino again over the weekend.

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