Opportunities knock, Angels pass

Angels unwilling to pitch in at Winter Meetings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It has become a yearly rite of passage.

The Angels delineate their priorities as to what will make their team better. They meet and greet and engage in the requisite milling that is de rigueur at the Winter Meetings. And then they head home with their roster intact.

That occurred a year ago in Dallas and it did again here at the Dolphin Resort at Walt Disney World, where the annual meetings concluded Thursday.

The opportunities were there. Prospective deals for established stars like Boston's Manny Ramirez and Colorado's Todd Helton were discussed as were those concerning younger players like Atlanta's Adam LaRoche and Arizona's Chad Tracy.

A common theme throughout, however, was a target that encircled the Angels' strength and general manager Bill Stoneman simply could not be persuaded to part with any of his pitching, which is the core of his team.

"The one thing the teams that came after us, they wanted pitching; we have quality pitching," Stoneman said. "The No. 1 thing a club has to protect is pitching to win consistently."

The names Scot Shields and Ervin Santana were tossed around so much it was if the Angels had posted billboards in the hotel lobby. But the truth in advertising is the success they have generated on the field and the Angels didn't have to tell anybody.

They weren't shopping these guys. Nor had they any realistic intentions of moving Francisco Rodriguez, Jered Weaver or Joe Saunders, but any discussion that involved one of their pitchers didn't get very far and the Angels had difficulty generating interest in their position players.

Chicks may dig the long ball but the hottest commodity was readily apparent this week.

"If you have a decent starting pitcher in this market you can move him and get quality back," Stoneman said.

The Angels believe they have quality and feel they've already improved their club by adding center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. and right-handed reliever Justin Speier last month. So as the frenzy of the Meetings abates and the market settles, Stoneman expects opportunities, preferably in his price range, to surface.

"The season starts in April; there is no time frame," Stoneman said. "If you self-impose a deadline, you're setting yourself up."

Deals done: There were none. The Angels had plenty of discussions and were rumored to be involved in a number of deals, both high level and low, but they left the Winter Meetings essentially unchanged

Rule 5 activity: The Angels lost Triple-A catcher Ryan Budde to the Phillies but did not draft any players.

Goals accomplished: The Angels were unable to unearth the power-hitting corner infielder they sought but gained serious validation about the pitching throughout their organization. Every deal the Angels could have pulled off involved one of their pitchers. They also made it clear they will not be in the market for Barry Bonds.

Unfinished business: The Angels have Matthews but they haven't upgraded the offense as they had hoped to do. Still unsettled are the two corner slots, where the Angels had hoped to plug in a power hitter, maybe two. Chone Figgins is the front-runner to take over at third if the club does not make a move but Dallas McPherson, Maicer Izturis and Robb Quinlan will be in the mix.

First base is more of a question mark. Casey Kotchman is playing winter ball, his first on-the-field action in several months, and if healthy could prove to be the solution the club had hoped he would be a year ago. The Angels will target both positions, though. Aubrey Huff and Shea Hillenbrand are two available free agents while LaRoche remains a possibility but a blockbuster trade is unlikely.

GM's bottom line: "We like our team; we like it a lot. We won 89 games last year and that's a lot better than losing 89. There were some disappointments [last season] but we have to look at how we're going to make ourselves better." -- Stoneman

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