The Angels, as expected, did not extend a one-year, $14.1-million qualifying offer to pitcher Jason Vargas by Monday’s deadline, so they will not receive draft-pick compensation if the free-agent left-hander signs elsewhere.
Monday’s decision does not preclude the Angels from pursuing a multi-year deal with Vargas, who had a 9-8 record and 4.02 earned-run average in 24 starts during an injury-plagued 2013 season, and there appears to be interest in such a deal on both sides. But beginning Tuesday, Vargas can negotiate with all 30 teams.
“I don’t feel like this closes the door on the Angels’ relationship with Jason, and I believe Jason understands that,” Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. “We’ve continued an open rhetoric with Jason throughout. He knows we like him. There’s a mutual interest in both sides connecting in the future.”
The Angels did not make the $14.1-million qualifying offer to Vargas because it would push them right up against the $189-million luxury tax threshold for 2014. They would prefer to sign Vargas to something closer to $10 million per year.
Vargas sat out from mid-June to mid-August because of surgery to remove a blood clot in his left armpit, but he has been one of the more consistent left-handers, with a 51-58 record and 4.30 ERA in 174 games over eight seasons.
With $126.5 million committed to 10 players under contract for 2014 and another $20 million or so needed to retain six to eight arbitration-eligible players, the Angels are not expected to make another huge free-agent splash after spending $365 million on sluggers Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton the last two off-seasons.
They could make a run at Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who is expected to be posted by the Rakuten Eagles after finishing 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA during the regular season and helping his team win the Japan Series over the weekend, throwing 160 pitches in a complete-game loss Saturday and 15 pitches in relief Sunday.
But part of the appeal of Tanaka, outside of the 25-year-old’s 94-mph fastball and a devastating split-fingered fastball, is that his posting fee, which some predict could approach $75 million, does not count toward a team’s luxury-tax payroll.
Dipoto said the Angels have scouted Tanaka "multiple times," but declined to elaborate on the team's level of interest in the pitcher.
The competition for Tanaka will be fierce, but his contract could resemble something closer to the six-year, $56-million deal Yu Darvish signed with the Texas Rangers, a contract with an average annual value of $9.3 million.
Dipoto will likely spend much of the off-season pursuing deals for young pitchers, using players such as Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Peter Bourjos, Kole Calhoun and Chris Iannetta as trade bait.
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