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Angels are trolling for bigger fish

Times Staff Writer

At first glance, the Angels’ trade of Gold Glove shortstop Orlando Cabrera and $1.5 million to the Chicago White Sox for veteran pitcher Jon Garland on Monday is a real head-scratcher.

Why would the Angels, flush with pitching and light on offense, trade a highly productive hitter -- who also happened to be their top defensive player and the glue to a young infield -- for a middle-of-the-rotation starter?

The Angels hope to provide an answer soon, as they look to parlay a pitching surplus into a power bat -- they’re targeting Florida Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera and, to a lesser degree, Baltimore Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada -- they have craved for years.

“Tony is not done; he’s going to keep pushing forward,” Manager Mike Scioscia said, referring to new General Manager Tony Reagins’ attempts to trade for a slugger. “Every club he’s talked to wants pitching. . . . Obviously, there’s a lot of focus on the offense, and now he has the tools to do the things we need to do.”

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The Angels entered the off-season with five capable starters in John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana, though Santana’s 2007 struggles -- he was 7-14 with a 5.76 earned-run average and was demoted to triple-A for a month -- and a lack of minor league depth accentuated the need for more pitching.

But the addition of Garland, 28, who was 10-13 with a 4.23 ERA last season after winning 18 games in both 2005 and 2006, gives the Angels a rotation surplus that would enable them to package a young starter such as Santana or Saunders in a trade for a hitter such as Miguel Cabrera or Tejada.

“This gives us opportunities to strengthen our club in other areas,” said Reagins, who replaced Bill Stoneman as GM in October. “It’s a positive step forward. It gives us flexibility to do some other things. . . . We’re looking at every opportunity available to make the club better.”

The Angels expressed interest in free-agent third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who is negotiating a 10-year, $275-million deal to remain with the New York Yankees, and discussed a trade for Miguel Cabrera at the recent GM meetings.

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The Angels thought they had a deal in July 2006 for Tejada, whom they would want to move to third base, but it was nixed at the last minute by Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

Though the Angels continue to talk with the Marlins and Orioles, a baseball source said they do not have a deal in place for Cabrera or Tejada. Scioscia hinted that he didn’t expect a trade until the Dec. 3-6 winter meetings, at the earliest.

The Marlins insist that second baseman Howie Kendrick be included in any deal for Cabrera, and they have inquired about catcher Jeff Mathis and top prospect Brandon Wood, who can play shortstop or third.

But Florida also covets young pitching, so it’s possible that the Angels may be able to use two pitchers -- either Santana or Saunders and top prospect Nick Adenhart -- in a trade for Cabrera and leave either Kendrick or Mathis out of the deal.

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Tejada appears to be more of a fallback, a player the Angels could acquire without giving up as much talent as it would take to land Cabrera, who also is being pursued by the Dodgers and Giants.

Orlando Cabrera, 33, just completed his third season with the Angels, one in which he batted .301 with 101 runs, 35 doubles, eight home runs and 86 runs batted in and firmly established himself as a team leader.

As of today, he will be replaced by slick-fielding 23-year-old Erick Aybar, who batted .237 in 79 games during an injury-plagued 2007 season.

Utility player Maicer Izturis also can play shortstop, and Scioscia said the Angels are considering moving Wood from third base back to shortstop next spring.

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“We’re at a point where there is a lot of young leadership emerging on the club,” Scioscia said. “Certainly, O.C. brought a direction, but the presence of Vladimir Guerrero, Garret Anderson, Lackey, Mike Napoli, Mathis . . . there’s no leadership void.

“And a guy like Garland will lead by example. He’s pitched in big games, and he will bring a piece of that to the clubhouse. O.C. was one of the most popular guys, a terrific player, but it’s time for these younger players to get into their game. They’re very talented.”

Cabrera is entering the final year of a four-year, $32-million contract that will pay him $10 million in 2008, and White Sox GM Kenny Williams said Cabrera was “acquired with the intent of him being a White Sox for the long run here and not just a short-term” player.

Garland is entering the final year of a three-year, $29-million deal that will pay him $12 million in 2008. A Southern California native who attended Kennedy High in Granada Hills, Garland, who helped Chicago win the 2005 World Series, said he would be “very interested” in signing an extension with the Angels.

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“We think he’s going to make us better,” Reagins said of Garland. “In fact, I know we got better today.”

The 6-foot-6, 210-pound sinkerball specialist, who also mixes a changeup with his fastball, has a 92-81 record and 4.41 ERA in six-plus seasons. He has reached 10 wins, 30 starts and 200 innings in each of the last four seasons.

“I don’t feel I’ve changed at all” since the consecutive 18-win seasons, said Garland, who was nearly traded to the Angels for Darin Erstad in December 2001. “I feel I’ve been getting better. . . . This is a great opportunity to come home and show the West Coast what my capabilities are. I’d love to bring another championship back here.”

Though Garland suffered his first losing record since 2003, he still gave an underperforming White Sox team 21 quality starts (six innings or more, three earned runs or fewer), and the Angels believe he will thrive in Angel Stadium, which is more of a pitchers’ park than U.S. Cellular Field.

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“He’s proved he’s going to take the ball, get 30-plus starts, pitch deep into games, and that constant is very important for us as we move forward,” Scioscia said. “He threw the ball well last year.”

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Trade targets

The Angels traded shortstop Orlando Cabrera to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Jon Garland in hopes it could lead to the acquisition of a slugger like Florida’s Miguel Cabrera, below.

PLAN A: MIGUEL CABRERA

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What it would take: The Marlins want second baseman Howie Kendrick, pitching prospect Nick Adenhart, catcher Jeff Mathis or Mike Napoli and infield prospect Brandon Wood. The Angels could replace Kendrick or the catcher with a pitcher such as Ervin Santana or Joe Saunders.

Impact: The Angels would get a proven slugger to protect Vladimir Guerrero -- Cabrera, 24, has averaged 31 home runs and 115 RBIs the last four years -- but they would be weakened defensively with the overweight Cabrera at third. Erick Aybar would play shortstop, and third baseman Chone Figgins would move to a utility role.

PLAN B: MIGUEL TEJADA

What it would take: Baltimore probably would take Adenhart and Wood, or either Santana or Saunders and Wood.

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Impact: The Angels would move Tejada to third, freeing up shortstop for Aybar and moving Figgins to utility. Tejada’s power numbers slipped in 2007 -- he had 18 homers and 81 RBIs after averaging 29 homers and 116 RBIs for seven years -- but many think a change of scenery would invigorate the 31-year-old.

-- Mike DiGiovanna


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