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Shopping for a hitter starts early

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Times Staff Writer

The July 31 non-waiver trading deadline is 86 days away, but Angels General Manager Bill Stoneman is already perusing the market for an early-bird special.

A hip injury that will sideline Garret Anderson for at least another month and a hand injury that could sideline Howie Kendrick for another three weeks -- combined with Shea Hillenbrand’s struggles -- have thrust the Angels into their annual search-for-a-bat mode two months earlier than usual.

Among the players the Angels are believed to be interested in are Colorado third baseman Garrett Atkins and outfielders Brad Hawpe and Jeff Baker, outfielders Kevin Mench (Milwaukee), Jacque Jones (Chicago Cubs), Pat Burrell (Philadelphia) and Emil Brown (Kansas City), and third basemen Morgan Ensberg (Houston) and Edwin Encarnacion (Cincinnati).

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Boosting their leverage in trade talks is a surplus of starting pitchers -- with the return of Bartolo Colon and Jered Weaver and strong performances from Joe Saunders and Dustin Moseley, the Angels’ rotation goes seven deep.

Right-hander Ervin Santana, who was nearly traded for Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada last summer, could be the Angels’ best bargaining chip, a pitcher who, when packaged with another good player, could bring a hitter the caliber of Atkins (.329, 29 home runs, 120 runs batted in last season).

Or, the Angels could use Saunders or Moseley in a deal for a hitter of lesser ability, but one who could still boost the offense.

“We’re always looking,” Stoneman said. “The depth and health of our rotation puts us in a better position. It’s not like we couldn’t do something right now if we get the opportunity.”

Ideally, the Angels would like to acquire a player who could fill in for Anderson now and perhaps move to designated hitter in June if Hillenbrand continues to struggle. They can be flexible in their pursuit of a hitter because third baseman Chone Figgins could move to left field, if necessary.

“If an opportunity exists to do something, we’ll do it -- you’re always looking to get better,” Stoneman said. “But you also have to look at the long term. You don’t want to destroy the long term for the sake of the short term.”

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Stoneman said Saturday that the Angels “wouldn’t rule out” the possibility of banning alcohol in both Angel Stadium clubhouses in the wake of the April 29 crash that killed St. Louis reliever Josh Hancock, whose blood-alcohol level, according to police, was 0.157, nearly double the Missouri drunk-driving limit of 0.08.

On Thursday, Stoneman said he didn’t expect the Angels to change their policy, but Major League Baseball has reportedly begun surveying teams and could issue a blanket ban of alcohol in all clubhouses.

“We’ve had [alcohol] available, and I don’t recall it ever being an issue ... but liability would drive any decision not to have it,” Stoneman said.

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Reliever Justin Speier was not available Saturday because of what the Angels termed a “non-baseball-related condition.” The right-hander left the team Friday night and was not in Angel Stadium on Saturday. He is not expected to be available today.... Manager Mike Scioscia said Gary Matthews Jr., who has played every inning of the Angels’ first 31 games, will get today off.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com


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