Angels seek big bat at Meetings

Angels still seek big bat at Winter Meetings

ANAHEIM -- Monday will ring in the event of the Hot Stove season, aka the Winter Meetings.

Held in Orlando this year, the Angels, like the other 29 Major League Baseball teams and nearly the entire industry, will spend four days trying to figure out a way to make their team better. The plus side is that everybody -- agents, general managers, managers and their respective supporting casts -- is there. The downside is, everybody is there.

If there is a prospective deal, it is likely to become a rumor first, and many rumors remain just that.

Like last year's meetings in Dallas, the Angels will enter these with a power bat still on their wish list. Next week begins, though, with some movement on the roster.

Three positions were identified this offseason for upgrades: first base, third base and center field, preferably with some punch attached. The Angels landed Gary Matthews Jr. to take over in center field, but he is slated more to the top of the batting order than the middle.

By investing $50 million over five years, the Angels have added a defensive whiz in center that brings speed and some power. But he's also 32 years old.

The move, which at first glance would seem to make Chone Figgins expendable, could instead adjust the super-utility player to ninth in the batting order, where he spent the last month of 2006, and back to third, a position at which he played 148 games from 2004-05.

But third base is by no means settled.

The Angels have long been rumored in a swap with the White Sox that would bring Joe Crede to Anaheim to play on the corner in exchange for Figgins, who has the admiration and respect of Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen.

The latest reports have Figgins included with right-hander Ervin Santana for Crede and White Sox right-hander Freddy Garcia. But general manager Bill Stoneman is quick to point out that he has no great desire to move Santana, despite the 23-year-old being linked to just about every Angels trade rumor.

"We are a pitching-based club. That is our philosophy, and you have to pitch to win in this business," Stoneman said. "Losing [Scot Shields and Santana] would be a tough thing to do."

Pitching depth has been the strength of the Angels over the last few years and is again this winter, which will allow them to be judicious about any prospective deal but also could provide them with the opportunity to take a chance.

Bartolo Colon is rehabbing a partial tear in his right rotator cuff and the club is cautiously optimistic he will return. The 2005 Cy Young winner would head a rotation that includes John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Jered Weaver and either the left-handed Joe Saunders or Santana.

The Angels prefer to be eight deep at starting pitcher but it would be a blow to Saunders, who went 7-3 in 13 starts with the big club, to head back to the Minors to stay fresh as a reserve option. Colon's health is the wild card, but something is likely to give.

Starting pitchers remaining on the free-agent market include left-handers Barry Zito and Mark Mulder and right-handers Jason Schmidt and Greg Maddux. The Angels could become buyers for a starter if they move some of their young arms for offense.

The Angels also signed Justin Speier to an $18 million, four-year deal. The right-hander is expected to share setup duties with Shields as the two relievers shorten games to six innings with Francisco Rodriguez again pitching the ninth in the closer role.

With Speier in the bullpen, speculation has heated up that Shields will be dealt. His name has surfaced in a number of trade rumors, but the Angels are heading into the Winter Meetings with intentions of hanging on to their surplus of pitching.

"We're still going to be active," Stoneman said. "We're having conversations with other clubs,"

One last rumor that lingers from last year's meetings is the availability of Manny Ramirez. The Red Sox and Angels had discussions on the possibility of dealing the enigmatic outfielder in Dallas last December, and Boston again is eager to move Ramirez off its payroll. The Angels have moved from favorite to long shot in that race, and Stoneman would only admit he's willing to listen.

"We will keep looking if there are players that interest us," Stoneman said.

The Angels have also said that they're not likely to make a blockbuster deal, though, which could make their shopping mostly of the window variety in Orlando.

Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.