Free-agent pitcher C.J. Wilson, who helped the Ragners reach the last two… (Kirthmon F. Dozier / McClatchy-Tribune )
The Angels' most pressing needs in the eyes of new General Manager Jerry Dipoto are rotation depth behind Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana; right-handed, back-of-the-bullpen relievers; catching and a better on-base percentage.
Noticeably absent from Dipoto's priority list is a burly first baseman who can slug 40 homers and drive in 120 runs a season at a cost of $25 million a year for six to eight years.
After being contenders for high-priced free agents such as Carl Crawford, Adrian Beltre and Mark Teixeira in recent winters, the Angels look as if they will sit out the Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder sweepstakes.
"You have to be open to the possibility, but it's not something we're going to aggressively pursue," Dipoto said Friday, the end of his second week on the job. "I don't think you're going to get a financial bargain swimming in that pool."
Looking at the four-year, $50-million deal closer Jonathan Papelbon struck with Philadelphia on Friday, there aren't many bargains at the top of the free-agent food chain.
But as Dipoto prepares for next week's general managers meetings in Milwaukee, he acknowledged he has contacted the agent for left-hander C.J. Wilson, the Texas Rangers ace who is the best available starting pitcher.
"The market is still developing," Dipoto said. "It's very early in the courting period."
Dipoto didn't rule out a free-agent closer such as Heath Bell or Ryan Madson, but it appears more likely the Angels will pursue less costly relievers such as Joe Nathan, Octavio Dotel, Matt Capps and Todd Coffey.
A 2012 payroll that is already pushing $120 million and includes $48 million in the virtually-impossible-to-move contracts of Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu, and owner Arte Moreno's desire to cap spending at $140 million could handcuff Dipoto.
"Right now, it creates confinement, but it doesn't necessarily have to stay that way," Dipoto said. "That's where you can be creative in building a 25-man roster, by not including all 25 guys who are on it today."
Dipoto will not rely exclusively on free agents to upgrade the team.
"My preference is to explore the trade market — there are many advantages," Dipoto said. "You can rely on your own scouting information. You may appreciate a player more than the team he's currently on. And it allows you to retain your draft picks."
The return of Kendrys Morales, who has missed 11/2 seasons because of a broken left ankle, could provide a huge boost. Dipoto said the slugger started a light running program and began hitting off a tee this week.
But Morales, who in 2009 hit .306 with 34 homers and 108 runs batted in, is not expected to advance to strenuous exercise until January, and Dipoto is not counting on him.
"You can't hold a 25-man roster hostage waiting for something," said Dipoto, who plans to tender Morales a contract. "But we also don't want to walk away from a guy with such tremendous upside. You know what he can deliver when he's fully healthy. It's worth finding out."
If Morales returns, the Angels will explore moving first baseman Mark Trumbo to third. However, Trumbo won't be able to work out at the position for at least another month. Doctors told him Friday it will take another four to six weeks for the stress fracture in his right foot to heal.
There isn't much catching on the market, but one possible alternative to weak-hitting Angels catcher Jeff Mathis is switch-hitter Ryan Doumit, who hit .303 with eight homers and 30 RBIs in 77 games for Pittsburgh last season.
Among the back-of-the-rotation types the Angels could pursue are left-handers Paul Maholm, Bruce Chen or Jamie Moyer.
"A complete overhaul isn't necessary," Dipoto said. "There are tweaks to make, holes to fill. We'll exhaust all possibilities."