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Angels Will Get Finley and Retain Flexibility

Times Staff Writer

The Angels are expected to make an early splash at the winter meetings today when they announce the signing of center fielder Steve Finley to a two-year contract with an option for a third year, a deal that eliminates the Angels from the Carlos Beltran Sweepstakes but leaves them in better position to bolster their rotation.

General Manager Bill Stoneman did not return calls Thursday night, but baseball sources confirmed that Finley, who helped key the Dodgers’ National League West title run after July’s trade from Arizona, had spurned the Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers to sign with the Angels.

The deal, believed to guarantee the 39-year-old Finley between $15 million and $20 million over two years, will go a long way toward filling the power void left by the departures of left fielder Jose Guillen and third baseman Troy Glaus and should give the Angels one of baseball’s most formidable outfields, with Vladimir Guerrero, the American League most valuable player, in right and Garret Anderson in left.

“I think it’s a better outfield than we had last year,” said Tim Salmon, the Angel veteran who will sit out most of 2005 while recovering from knee and shoulder surgery. “Garret did an admirable job in center, but I think his natural position is left. And offensively, [Finley] gives us one more good solid bat. He still has some sock.”

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The deal also leaves the Angels in good financial position to pursue such top-notch free-agent pitchers as Carl Pavano, Matt Clement, Russ Ortiz and possibly Pedro Martinez, and to possibly make another run at Arizona ace Randy Johnson, whom the Angels tried to acquire in July.

If the Angels are to keep their 2005 payroll in the $100-million range or less, a target owner Arte Moreno has mentioned on several occasions, they would have about $20 million to allocate to new players this winter. Had they continued to pursue Beltran, who could cost $15 million a year or more, they would have had no more than $5 million left for other players.

By signing Finley, who hit .271 with 36 home runs and 94 runs batted in last season, the Angels will have at least another $10 million to play with, which would be enough to sign just about any of the free-agent pitchers remaining on the market.

“They have holes to fill,” said one source familiar with the Angels’ thinking. “You don’t want to back yourself into a corner with one signing.”

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Plus, to get Finley, the Angels had to act quickly. The 16-year veteran, who made $6.75 million last season, had attractive offers from Detroit and Arizona, and San Francisco hoped to sign him before the winter meetings, which begin today at the Anaheim Marriott.

With negotiations for Beltran expected to drag deep into December and possibly January, Stoneman decided to go with a less expensive but still-attractive option in center.

The Angels hadn’t made Finley a formal contract offer as of Tuesday, but when the Dodgers decided not to offer salary arbitration to Finley on Tuesday night -- meaning the Angels would not have to surrender a first-round draft pick to sign Finley -- negotiations moved quickly Wednesday and Thursday.

Though the left-handed-hitting Finley will turn 40 in March, he is in excellent shape and hopes to play for another four years. A four-time Gold Glove Award winner and two-time All-Star, Finley has a .276 career batting average, a .337 career on-base percentage and a .450 career slugging percentage and has averaged 27 homers and 87 RBIs over the last six years.

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Finley, who phoned Salmon and Angel first baseman Darin Erstad on Thursday to ask them about the organization, hit .263 with 13 homers and 46 RBIs in 58 games for the Dodgers after a July 31 trade from Arizona.

Guillen, traded to Washington in November, had 27 homers and 104 RBIs in 2004.

But with Finley in center and Dallas McPherson, who combined to hit .317 with 40 homers and 126 RBIs in the minor leagues in 2004, taking over for Glaus at third, there shouldn’t be a marked drop-off in power.

Stoneman said earlier this week he would have “no qualms” about starting 2005 with the speedy Chone Figgins in center, but with Finley, the Angels can keep the versatile Figgins in the infield, where he can fill in for the injured Adam Kennedy at second to open next season and possibly platoon with David Eckstein at shortstop when Kennedy returns from knee surgery.

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The Angels would also like to add a proven reliever -- possibly a left-hander to replenish the bullpen depth lost when closer Troy Percival signed with Detroit, and it’s possible they might try to upgrade at shortstop and designated hitter. Robb Quinlan and reserve outfielder Juan Rivera are currently the leading DH candidates, though the Angels have explored a possible deal for Mike Piazza.

“The game revolves around starting pitching -- that’s really important -- but you still have to score runs and defend,” Stoneman said. “We look at everything. It’s a matter of fitting people in, making sure they’re the right people for your club.”


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