Torii Hunter came away from a recent lunch meeting with General Manager Jerry Dipoto convinced the Angels would make a strong push to re-sign him after his five-year, $90-million contract expires in October.
The 37-year-old right fielder entered Friday with a .305 average, 15 homers and 81 runs batted in and "is playing the best baseball he's played since he signed with us," said Manager Mike Scioscia, who added that Hunter should win his 10th Gold Glove Award.
"I feel that they want me back, but at the same time, things have to align," Hunter said. "If they align, I think I have a very good chance of remaining with this organization."
Dipoto has expressed his admiration for Hunter and a desire to re-sign him, but as Hunter knows, the outfield situation is complicated. Mike Trout has locked up center field, and Mark Trumbo appeared to lock up left field until his recent slump.
Vernon Wells is under contract through 2014 at $21 million a year, and the Angels would like to find a spot for speedy defensive whiz Peter Bourjos. On a bloated $159-million payroll, Hunter's $18-million salary is a logical target to trim.
But Dipoto is expected to exhaust all efforts to trade Wells, and Bourjos, Trumbo or Kendrys Morales could be used in a trade for a starting pitcher or reliever, opening more outfield and designated hitter at-bats.
Hunter is willing to take a pay cut. The Angels could make him a qualifying offer of $13.2 million within five days after the World Series or sign him for a little less before that window closes.
"It feels good to know they're trying," Hunter said. "They told me they want me back. I'm honored. I'm very grateful."
Closer by committee
A pair of ninth-inning meltdowns against Kansas City last Saturday and Texas on Thursday have cost right-hander Ernesto Frieri the closer job.
Scioscia said before Friday night's game that he will "match up more" in the ninth inning with left-hander Scott Downs, right-hander Kevin Jepsen and Frieri, citing the need "to take a little pressure off a guy whose confidence is not quite where it should be."
Frieri was dominant for four months, with a 3-0 record, 1.91 earned-run average and 19 saves in 21 opportunities through Sept. 14. But after replacing Zack Greinke with a 2-0 lead and one out in the ninth last Saturday, he gave up a two-run homer to Billy Butler and a solo shot to Salvador Perez for a 3-2 loss.
In his next appearance Thursday against the Rangers, he replaced Greinke to start the ninth with the score tied, 1-1. Frieri gave up a single to Michael Young, a two-run homer to Adrian Beltre, and the Angels lost, 3-1.
"His last couple of outings haven't been as crisp," Scioscia said. "The back end of the bullpen is fragile. Ernie is going to get the ball in important situations, whether it's the eighth or ninth. When you're matching up, which we've done for most of the year, those outs in the eighth are as important as the ones in ninth."