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For Angels, Jason Bay, John Lackey and Chone Figgins are all in play

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As the free-agent shopping season opens, owner Arte Moreno warns that even with a boost in overall payroll, there might not be enough to re-sign their pitching ace and third baseman.

November 20, 2009|By Bill Shaikin

Reporting from Chicago — Matt Holliday is not coming. Jason Bay might be coming. John Lackey and Chone Figgins are not coming back -- not together, anyway.

Those were the highlights of the state of the Angels address delivered by owner Arte Moreno on Thursday, after baseball's owners concluded their meetings here.

The free-agent shopping season opens today, with owners citing an uncertain economic forecast in suggesting players might linger on the market well into the winter. Yet Moreno left one thing absolutely certain: The Angels have no interest in outfielder Matt Holliday, perhaps the best position player available in free agency.

"He is not going to be an Angel," Moreno said. "We are not looking at Holliday at all."

Moreno did not elaborate, but he did say the Angels would look into signing outfielder Jason Bay, in part because of his "great bat and great makeup."

The same qualities could be attributed to Holliday, but he is represented by Scott Boras and Bay is not. After Moreno tried to retain first baseman Mark Teixeira last winter, the negotiations with Boras left the owner displeased with the agent, according to sources within the organization who were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

Moreno identified a power bat, a starting pitcher and a reliever as the Angels' primary off-season needs.

Holliday, 29, hit .313 with 24 home runs and a .909 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) last season. Bay, 31, hit .267 with 36 home runs and a .921 OPS last season.

Bay rejected a four-year offer at "close to $60 million" to stay with the Boston Red Sox, SI.com reported Thursday.

The Angels would have to fit Bay into a payroll that appears to have room for one premium free agent. After factoring in raises for players under contract and eligible for salary arbitration, Moreno said the Angels stood at $101 million, with a target of $113 million.

"We're going to invest what we invested last year," he said. "We're not looking to reduce payroll."

Moreno said he would like to bring Lackey and Figgins back. If both players depart, Scot Shields would be the lone player remaining from the 2002 World Series championship team.

"When you're with someone as long as they've been here, they've got an emotional connection," Moreno said. However, Moreno said he did not anticipate fitting Lackey and Figgins into that $12-million slot allotted for free agents.

"If you look at what they're asking," Moreno said, "you can't bring both of them back."

Moreno said the Angels could address some needs -- and possibly create more payroll space -- with trades. For instance, he said, the Angels might be able to spare a middle infielder in trade.

Even then, he might not consider any free agent looking for a contract beyond four years. Lackey is believed to have set the contract to which the New York Yankees last winter signed pitcher A.J. Burnett -- five years, $82.5 million -- as a starting point for his negotiations.

"A lot of people are looking for five- and six-year contracts," Moreno said, speaking generally. "I'm not interested in making what I would consider a long-term contract unless we feel it's for a franchise player. There are very few franchise players out there."

Vladimir Guerrero was one when the Angels signed him in 2004. He won the American League most valuable player award in his first year with the Angels, but Moreno suggested he might have reached an impasse in negotiations for a new contract.

"We've talked to his agent just recently," Moreno said. "We talked to his agent two years ago. We could never get close enough. It's very emotional for us. He's been unbelievable for our franchise. He's a gentleman. He should be a future Hall of Famer."

Moreno also praised perennial top prospect Brandon Wood, who could replace Figgins at third base or at the least replace Robb Quinlan as a right-handed bench player. Wood, 24, has batted .192 over parts of three seasons.

"Eventually, Brandon is going to get his 600, 800, 1,000 at-bats. He's done everything he can in our minor league system," Moreno said. "He's been a very patient guy. . . . I can't tell you he'll be guaranteed a job. He's one of the players that's earned an opportunity to try to win a job."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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