Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels delivers a pitch against the Giants on… (H. Rumph Jr. / Associated…)
The Angels have scouted Tampa Bay pitchers James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson extensively, and Monday night they had scouts in Miami to watch Marlins right-hander Josh Johnson pitch against Atlanta and in Chicago to see Minnesota left-hander Francisco Liriano pitch against the White Sox.
Eight days before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Angels are also known to have interest in Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels and Milwaukee’s Zack Greinke, if they become available, and Chicago Cubs right-handers Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster, though Dempster is reportedly on the verge of being traded to the Braves.
“If the ability to make a move to help the club exists, we’ll search that out,” Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. “Pitching will be available — it is every July. How much of it will be available, I don’t know. But there will be a premium to access it.”
Shields, 30, may be the most attractive of the bunch because he is relatively inexpensive and under club control through 2013 — he’s making $7 million this season and has a $9-million option for next season — and he has been a front-of-the-rotation starter for playoff teams.
Hal Morris, the Angels’ director of professional scouting, was in attendance when Shields held Seattle to three runs and four hits and struck out 10 on Friday night. A graduate of Newhall Hart High School, Shields is 8-6 with a 4.39 earned-run average in 20 starts this season.
Hellickson, 25, won American League rookie-of-the-year honors last season, going 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA, but with an excess of pitching, the Rays, who had a special assignment scout in Detroit to watch the Angels last week, are willing to part with the right-hander if they can get players to upgrade their offense in return.
Hellickson has regressed a bit since 2011 — he is 4-6 with a 3.55 ERA, 63 strikeouts and 40 walks in 99 innings this season — but he does not become a free agent until 2017, which is attractive to a team looking to acquire him.
Johnson and Liriano, both 28, have ace-caliber stuff, but their injury histories make them risky trade targets.
Johnson, who is signed through 2013 and makes $13.75 million this season and next season, went 15-5 with a 3.23 ERA in 209 innings in 2009 and 11-6 with a National League-leading 2.30 ERA in 183 2/3 innings in 2010, but a shoulder injury limited him to nine starts in 2011.
Morris was in Miami on Monday night to watch Johnson, who entered the game with a 5-7 record and 4.35 ERA in 19 starts.
Liriano, who makes $5.5 million this season and will be a free agent after the season, entered Monday night’s start with a 3-9 record and 4.81 ERA, but he was 3-4 with a 2.84 ERA over his last 10 games, in which he struck out 77 in 63 1/3 innings. But because of elbow and forearm injuries, he has thrown more than 137 innings only once in six big league seasons.
The problem for the Angels, who would also like to add a bullpen piece, is they don’t have a surplus of premium prospects to acquire top-flight pitching, and Dipoto is very reluctant to deal his most attractive trade chips, center fielder Peter Bourjos and pitcher Garrett Richards.
The organization’s most attractive, close-to-big-league-ready prospects are probably infielder Jean Segura, who was promoted to the big leagues Sunday, catcher Hank Conger and pitcher Johnny Hellweg.
The return of right-hander Dan Haren, who gave up two runs and three hits in six innings of Sunday night’s win over the Rangers, may mitigate the need to trade for a starter, but Ervin Santana (4-10, 6.00 ERA) is struggling, and No. 5 starters Jerome Williams and Richards have been inconsistent.
“There may not be a fit,” Dipoto said. “The best answers we have are in-house, a healthy Dan Haren and Ervin Santana pitching the way he can.”
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