In the wake of their failed attempt to sign first baseman Mark Teixeira, negotiations that appeared to break down when Teixeira's agent didn't counter the team's initial offer, the Angels set their sights on improving their pitching staff, which soon could be bolstered by free-agent closer Brian Fuentes.
The Angels remained in contact with Fuentes' agent, Rick Thurman, while the Teixeira saga played out, and the former Colorado Rockies left-hander has moved to the top of the Angels' priority list.
The feelings are mutual. Fuentes, who was 1-5 with a 2.73 earned-run average and 30 saves last season and held left-handers to a .184 average, has said the Angels are his top choice.
"They're still high on my list -- they always have been," Fuentes said by phone from his home in Merced, Calif. "It looks like they're out of the market for Teixeira. They'll draw up a new plan, and hopefully I'll be a part of it."
Fuentes, who is also being pursued by the St. Louis Cardinals, is looking for a deal in the three-year, $30-million range, but he might settle for two years plus an option.
The 33-year-old, who has a 17-27 record and 3.41 ERA in seven seasons, would either replace closer Francisco Rodriguez, who signed a three-year, $37-million deal with the New York Mets, or be a set-up man for Scot Shields or Jose Arredondo should either win the closer job.
Teixeira, meanwhile, still hadn't decided as of Monday whether he would sign with the Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals or Baltimore Orioles, who have all made substantial bids for the slugger, or the New York Yankees, who might be interested.
Angels General Manager Tony Reagins was not available for comment and has assured reporters he will speak today about Sunday's decision to pull an eight-year, $160-million offer to Teixeira off the table.
But according to a source who is familiar with the negotiations but not authorized to speak about them on the record, Angels owner Arte Moreno grew frustrated that his initial offer, extended to agent Scott Boras at the winter meetings in Las Vegas on Dec. 9, essentially sat for two weeks.
Though the Angels knew Boras was seeking a 10-year deal, Boras did not respond with a specific counteroffer, and Moreno, not wanting to bid against himself, declined to sweeten his bid.
Boras declined to comment on the record.
Barring a trade, the Angels plan to replace Teixeira at first base with Kendry Morales, a 25-year-old switch-hitter who has been crushing the ball in the Dominican Republic (.411, eight homers, 28 runs batted in) this winter.
Morales, in 127 big league games over three seasons, has a .249 average with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs. His defense is not Gold Glove caliber but has improved considerably since 2006.
The Angels' outfield appears set, with Vladimir Guerrero, Juan Rivera and Gary Matthews Jr. rotating through the corner spots and designated hitter and flanking center fielder Torii Hunter. Chone Figgins will probably remain at third base.
The Angels will look to upgrade their offense, but there appear to be more options through trades than free agency.
There is a slim chance the team could pursue free-agent slugger Manny Ramirez, but only if the 36-year-old left fielder, who led the Dodgers to the National League Championship Series in October, is willing to accept a two-year deal.
The Angels will probably make another attempt to engage San Diego in trade talks for ace Jake Peavy, but the Angels can't afford to part with the kind of young arms -- Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver -- it would take to satisfy the Padres, so a deal appears remote.