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Most Angels free agents signal their desire to stay, except for Matthews

It appears Angels will make strong bids to keep Lackey, Figgins and Abreu; Guerrero is more of an unknown. Disgruntled outfielder Matthews says he wants to go where he will play every day.

October 28, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | ON THE ANGELS

Three key Angels headed for free agency -- Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero -- have publicly expressed a desire to return to Anaheim, and center fielder Torii Hunter, after talking to free-agent pitcher John Lackey, is convinced the right-hander wants to remain an Angel.

Gary Matthews Jr.? Not so much.

The disgruntled outfielder with two years and $23 million left on his contract wants no part of the Angels in 2010, and he reiterated his request to be traded -- or released -- while cleaning out his Angel Stadium locker Tuesday.

"I don't expect to be back; it's time to move on," Matthews said. "I'm ready to play for an organization that wants me to play every day. This organization has other plans, and that's OK."

Matthews signed a five-year, $50-million contract to play center field in 2007 but was derailed in the second half of that season by a left knee injury.

The Angels signed Hunter to a five-year, $90-million deal to play center field in 2008, a season in which Matthews was again slowed by a knee injury, and after Abreu was signed in 2009, Matthews was relegated to a fifth outfielder role, batting .250 in 103 games, with four home runs and 50 runs batted in.

Matthews, who has a no-trade clause allowing him to block deals to four clubs, requested a trade last March and again around the All-Star break but did not make his demands public.

"There were things bigger than my situation," Matthews said, "and that was this team trying to win a championship."

But since the Angels were knocked out of the American League Championship Series by the Yankees, Matthews spoke freely about his desire to be traded, even if Abreu and Guerrero depart and open an outfield spot.

"I just feel like it's time for me to play for an organization that believes I can contribute every day from day one," Matthews, 35, said. "Whether it's a trade or them releasing me, it's time to go."

Matthews has had several "candid talks" with General Manager Tony Reagins, who appears willing to accommodate Matthews' request, but to trade Matthews, the Angels will have to eat a significant portion of the $23 million left on his deal.

"It's definitely not as big as it was a year ago," Matthews said of his contract. "Obviously, there are some teams that can't afford it, but when I'm playing every day, I feel I can be a top-of-the-line center fielder, and that, I would think, is what a lot of teams want."

As for the team's large group of free agents, which includes 39-year-old reliever Darren Oliver, who is contemplating retirement, utility player Robb Quinlan and pitcher Kelvim Escobar, Manager Mike Scioscia said Tuesday that the Angels will be "proactive" in pursuing players they want to retain.

Last winter, first baseman Mark Teixeira was the team's clear-cut, top priority. Is there a No. 1 priority this winter?

"I think we have four or five No. 1 priorities," Scioscia said. "Every year there's going to be a little change in any clubhouse, but we feel this group is one we want to keep moving forward with."

It appears the Angels will make strong bids to retain Lackey, Figgins and Abreu. Guerrero, who gave Scioscia a big hug before leaving the clubhouse Tuesday, is more of an unknown.

He's 35 and clearly not the feared slugger he was from 2004 to 2008, but Guerrero was the Angels' most productive hitter in the playoffs, with a .378 (14 for 37) average, one homer, three doubles and seven runs batted in.

"In the playoffs, there's no doubt his bat speed was every bit as good as we've seen the last four or five years," Scioscia said. "He still has the potential to be productive."

If Figgins leaves, top prospect Brandon Wood would probably take over at third base. If either Guerrero or Abreu leave, Figgins could move to the outfield to clear a spot for Wood, who is out of options, meaning the Angels must risk losing him to a waiver claim if they try to bump him from their 25-man roster.

"Decisions have to be made," Scioscia said, "but we feel Brandon is ready for the challenge of the major leagues."

If Lackey leaves, Scioscia is confident a rotation headed by Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir "is going to be good."

And the bullpen should be bolstered by the return of veteran setup man Scot Shields, who underwent season-ending knee surgery in June and is on course to return by spring training.

"It will be an incredible boost to have him back pitching to his capabilities," Scioscia said. "Sometimes, you don't notice how much you miss someone until he's not there."

As the Angels enter a winter of intrigue and uncertainty, the question is: Will they be saying the same thing next season about Lackey, Figgins, Abreu and Guerrero?

"These guys -- Figgy, Lackey, Bobby, Vlad -- they love it here, they want to come back," Hunter said. "But they're free agents. They've earned the right to go out and flirt a bit with other teams. I just hope they're not so flattered they don't come back."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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