Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto moved to quash speculation that he is trying to trade pitcher C.J. Wilson, labeling as "false" any rumors that he is "shopping" the struggling left-hander.
"We have not picked up the phone and offered C.J. Wilson around to the league, at a reduced cost or any other," Dipoto said near the end of his first day at the winter meetings Monday. "We find C.J. to be an asset, even coming off what has been his worst year as a starting pitcher."
Since moving from the bullpen to the rotation with the Texas Rangers in 2010, Wilson built a reputation for being durable if not dominant, going 61-32 with a 3.37 earned-run average in his first four years as a starter, including a 17-7 record and 3.39 ERA for the Angels in 2013.
But Wilson, 34, was erratic this past season, going 13-10 with a 4.51 ERA in 31 starts, striking out 151 and walking 85 in 175 2/3 innings and frustrating Angels coaches with his occasional shoddy starts.
According to one Internet report Sunday night, the Angels were looking to trade Wilson in hopes of freeing up enough payroll to make a run at a free-agent ace such as Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields.
Wilson has two years and $38 million remaining on the five-year, $77.5-million deal he signed before 2012, and the Angels would probably have to absorb a significant chunk of that if they were to trade him. Wilson can also block trades to eight teams, which his agent, Bob Garber, declined to identify.
But Dipoto said he has had only one conversation with another club regarding Wilson this winter, in the week after the World Series, "and that discussion lasted all of 10 minutes," Dipoto said. "We moved on, and we never revisited it. …
"C.J. has been an exceptionally good starting pitcher with the exception of the last half of the 2012 season and the last half of 2014. There are few people in the game who work any harder or who are as focused on finding ways to make themselves better. I believe he'll find a way."
Dipoto acknowledged that after his stealthy pursuits of Albert Pujols, who signed a 10-year, $240-million deal before 2012, and Josh Hamilton, who signed a five-year, $125-million deal before 2013, there is an expectation among fans and the media that he will remain under the radar before making another "big splash" at these winter meetings.
"A lot of things happen in the game that are quiet, and others have been very loud — it just so happens that the one that was so quiet was so magnificently big, it leaves everyone with the sense that we are trying to unveil the magic at the last minute," Dipoto said, referring to the Pujols move.
"That's not what we're trying to do. We are truly here attempting to augment our club in smaller ways. If it spider-webs in a different direction, that's something we'll consider, but that's not what we're planning."
With the Angels about $10 million under the $189-million luxury tax threshold for 2015 and owner Arte Moreno reluctant to blow past that figure, Dipoto does not appear to have the financial resources to make a bold move.
But the Angels also return the bulk of a club that had a major league-best 98-64 record last season, so a major overhaul is not necessary. Dipoto's primary focus, he said, is to add a utility infielder who can play shortstop, not sign a front-of-the-rotation starter to a nine-figure contract.
"I just don't see that there's a tremendous need that should push us out into the deep seas of free agency," Dipoto said. "We're comfortable with the group we have."