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Molina Plans to Test the Market

Times Staff Writers

One reason the Angels made no attempt to re-sign third baseman Troy Glaus last winter is they believed they had a capable -- and much less expensive -- replacement in Dallas McPherson.

There seems to be a parallel situation developing at catcher this winter: Bengie Molina is a free agent who could command a three- or four-year deal in the $7-million-a-year range, and the Angels have a highly touted prospect in Jeff Mathis, whom Manager Mike Scioscia said “is ready for the challenge” of the big leagues. But unlike their approach to Glaus, it appears the Angels will attempt to re-sign Molina, who hit .295 with 15 home runs and 69 runs batted in this season and is considered one of baseball’s best defensive catchers.

“Bengie will have a lot of suitors, and we’ll be one of them,” Scioscia said. “We hope something can be worked out, but free agency is a tricky thing.”

The Angels will have an exclusive 15-day window after the World Series to negotiate with Molina. If a deal isn’t struck by then, Molina can field offers from other teams, a prospect that seems to entice the 31-year-old.

“Of course, you want to know what your value is,” Molina said. “At the same time, I would love to stay here.... I think I’ll be a free agent, and everyone will have a chance to get me. I don’t know, for sure.”

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Molina and San Diego’s Ramon Hernandez are the only two veteran free-agent catchers on the market, and the New York Mets are known to covet both. Molina said he will look for a four-year deal but would settle for a three-year deal if the figures were right. The Angels, he said, would not receive any home-town discount.

“I don’t think this is the time for discounts,” said Molina, who just completed an under-market-value, five-year, $7.15-million deal. “It will be fair for me to get what I deserve for everything I’ve done for the organization.”

If Molina does depart, “that would definitely leave a big hole,” second baseman Adam Kennedy said.

“Bengie is one of those heart-and-soul-of-the-team guys,” Tim Salmon said. “He’s anchored the staff for six years, he’s a proven clutch hitter and Gold Glove defender. I don’t know who you’d replace him with, but you’d be dropping down a notch.”

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Salmon, 37, cleaned out his locker Monday, just as he had the last 12 seasons, but this time it was different, more sentimental. His four-year, $40-million contract has expired, he missed the season recovering from knee and shoulder surgery, and his career could be over.

“Most times you do this, you don’t give it a second thought because you know there will be a next year,” Salmon said. “Not this year. Not this time. It’s been a year of reflection, and the past couple of days, the potential finality of it all has set in.”

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The Angels won’t have to worry about Bartolo Colon aggravating his shoulder injury playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Because Colon passed a certain threshold for innings pitched this season, the Angels were able to block him from playing winter ball.

Colon, who missed the American League championship series because of a small tear in the back of his shoulder, is expected to recover fully by spring training.

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Though Vladimir Guerrero, who hit .050 (one for 20) in the ALCS, said he felt fine physically, Scioscia admitted Monday that Guerrero’s shoulder “affected him; it hurt him off and on through the final week. But he was in a funk too. He just wasn’t getting to pitches.”

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Angel pitcher Paul Byrd returned to his home in Alpharetta, Ga., Monday, much to the delight of his 9-year-old son, Grayson.

“He was so excited we lost, because that meant Dad was coming home,” Byrd said. “Stuff like that puts things in perspective for me, so I’m gonna go home and be the best dad I can.”

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This is blasphemy, isn’t it? The folks who make Dodger Dogs rooting for the Angels?

Yet Farmer John jumped on the Angel bandwagon. During the playoffs, Farmer John purchased ads on the Angels’ radio broadcasts -- in English and Spanish -- congratulating the team on its championship season.

“We’re a California company,” said Jim Stockham, Farmer John director of marketing. “We want to be loyal to as many California teams as we can. We hope to be able to support the Angels long-term.”


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