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Zack Greinke's status is a big key to Angels' off-season plans

The Angels would like to know by the end of the World Series if Greinke, a free-agent right-hander, is returning to the team or intent on leaving. They aren't likely, however, to get an answer soon.

October 19, 2012|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Angels pitcher Zack Greinke squats down before taking to the mound in the fist inning against the Texas Rangers on Sept. 20, 2012.
Angels pitcher Zack Greinke squats down before taking to the mound in the… (Michael Nelson / EPA )

In a perfect world, the Angels would have their top off-season target Zack Greinke secured to a long-term deal or get a firm decision from the free-agent right-hander that he is signing elsewhere by the end of the World Series.

That would give General Manager Jerry Dipoto a clear view of the Angels' roster and payroll before having to make three key early November decisions: whether to extend a qualifying offer of about $13 million to outfielder Torii Hunter and whether to pick up 2013 options for pitchers Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.

But winter plans rarely unfold in such clean, linear fashion, and they won't for the Angels. Greinke, the top pitcher on the market, is expected to take his free agency negotiations deep into November and probably December, which could muddle things for Dipoto, whose top priorities are to bolster the rotation and bullpen.

"The pace we move forward with on Zack is going to be dictated by Zack and the market as it unfolds," Dipoto said. "And we're certainly interested in having Torii back, but it has to fit with what we're trying to do with the 25-man roster. We're not going to have that discerned in 10 days' time."

The Angels, under the new collective bargaining agreement, have until three days after the World Series to act on Santana's $13-million option and five days after the Series to decide on Haren's $15.5-million option.

Jered Weaver ($16.2 million) and C.J. Wilson ($11.5 million) are under contract for 2013 and Greinke is expected to command a deal of about five years and $120 million. So the Angels, who had a record $159-million payroll in 2012, can't continue to pay front-of-the-rotation prices for back-of-the-rotation pitchers.

Which is why they're expected to decline options for both Haren and Santana, buying out Haren's for $3.5 million and Santana's for $1 million. And neither is expected to receive a qualifying offer of about $13 million.

But if the Angels are unable to re-sign Greinke — they are not allowed to make him a qualifying offer because Greinke did not spend the entire 2012 season with the Angels — they may want Haren or Santana back on a reduced-rate, one-year deal.

The problem with Plan B: By the time Greinke picks a team, Haren and Santana may have signed elsewhere, leaving the Angels to piece together their rotation with Garrett Richards, Jerome Williams and whomever else they can find through free agency or trades.

"It's still a work in progress," Dipoto said of the Haren/Santana option decisions. "We have time."

The Angels are taking a similar tack with Hunter, the 37-year-old who showed no signs of decline in 2012, hitting .313 with 16 home runs and 92 runs batted in on the season and .351 with 27 RBIs in 28 games in September.

Hunter, whose five-year, $90-million contract has expired, said he'd take a significant pay cut to remain in Anaheim, but he had too good of a year, and there will be too much demand for him on the market, for him to settle for a low-ball offer in the neighborhood of $5 million.

Hunter said he wants a "fair" deal, which could be something in the area of two years and $20 million or a one-year deal for about $12 million with a vesting option for 2014.

The Angels have until five days after the World Series to make Hunter a qualifying offer of about $13 million. If that offer is extended, Hunter would have seven days to accept or reject it.

If he accepted it, Hunter would be considered a signed player, though the teams could still negotiate a multiyear deal. If he rejected it, Hunter and the Angels could continue to negotiate, but if Hunter signs elsewhere, the Angels would receive draft-pick compensation for his loss.

"I wouldn't use the word 'progress,' " Dipoto said, when asked about negotiations with Hunter and Greinke. "We've exchanged phone calls, gone into a little rhetoric, but nothing substantial. We're no further along now than we were at the end of the season."

Clouding the Hunter issue is a roster that already includes outfielders Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells, whose weak bat and bloated contract — he's owed $42 million over the next two years — makes him virtually impossible to trade.

Dipoto may need to use the speedy Bourjos in a trade for a pitcher, and he is expected to exhaust all avenues to deal the underachieving Wells. But it's highly doubtful he'll be able to resolve either issue before he must make a decision on Hunter.

"I don't know what we're going to be able to do other than continue to explore what fits for both the Angels and individual players," Dipoto said. "It's day by day."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

twitter.com/MikeDiGiovanna

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