The chances of trading Erick Aybar are remote, but General Manager Tony Reagins did not rule out the possibility of dealing the highly touted shortstop, an apparent philosophical shift that could make the Angels front-runners for Toronto ace Roy Halladay.
It was reported last summer that Aybar was the sticking point in talks with the Blue Jays about Halladay: Toronto wanted Aybar badly; the Angels refused to part with him. Not necessarily so, Reagins said Tuesday at the winter meetings.
“I never said Aybar was the sticking point in that deal,” Reagins said. “He has tremendous value for us, but Brandon Wood can play shortstop and third base, and Maicer Izturis can play shortstop, third and second, so there’s some flexibility if we wanted to include any of those three guys in a trade.”
The Blue Jays are looking for a young starting pitcher, catcher and shortstop in exchange for Halladay, the 2003 American League Cy Young Award winner who is owed $15.75 million in 2010, the last year of his contract.
Toronto is believed to have targeted Angels left-hander Joe Saunders, catcher Mike Napoli and outfield prospect Peter Bourjos, but the Angels’ willingness to include Aybar could make them a far more attractive trade partner than the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies.
Aybar, 25, emerged as one of baseball’s best young shortstops in 2009, hitting .312 with five homers and 58 runs batted in and playing superb defense.
Would the Angels consider trading Aybar?
“You have to be open-minded, but it would have to be something that makes a lot of sense,” Reagins said. “It would take a significant package to move some players. Erick is very talented. We haven’t seen the best of him yet. He’s still improving, and there’s a real good chance we’ll see that in an Angels uniform.”
No relief in sight
Reliever Jose Arredondo, who followed his superb rookie season with a shoddy 2009 in which he was demoted to triple A and diagnosed with an elbow sprain, is experiencing more elbow problems, Reagins confirmed.
The right-hander had such a good 2008, going 10-2 with a 1.62 earned-run average, that he was considered a potential replacement for closer Francisco Rodriguez before the Angels signed left-hander Brian Fuentes last winter.
But Arredondo struggled with his control the first two months of the season, going 1-3 with a 5.55 ERA in 25 games before being demoted to Salt Lake on June 9.
Arredondo, diagnosed with the elbow sprain after his demotion, was recalled to Anaheim on Aug. 7, but he pitched so sporadically he was left off the team’s playoff roster. He finished with a 2-3 record and 6.00 ERA in 43 games.
Chone Figgins wouldn’t discuss details of negotiations with the Angels, but it was clear the team’s reluctance to add a fourth year to their offer was a huge factor in the infielder’s decision to sign a four-year, $36-million deal with the Seattle Mariners.
“I would have loved to have come back to Anaheim, but things were different,” said Figgins, who hit .298 with 114 runs and a league-leading 101 walks last season. “When it comes down to business, you deal with it. Maybe they had to move on. I had to move on as a player.”
Figgins, whose deal includes a fifth-year vesting option, probably will bat second for the Mariners behind Ichiro Suzuki, and he will play either third base or second.
Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik said there was no added bonus in luring Figgins away from an AL West rival.
“If you set your sights on another club, they can do a move that rivals or trumps your move,” Zduriencik said. “Our focus is putting the best club on the field.”
There was speculation Tuesday that the Angels have emerged as the front-runners for free-agent outfielder Jason Bay, who turned down a four-year, $60-million offer from the Boston Red Sox, but Reagins described negotiations for the slugger as preliminary.
“He’s a guy we have interest in,” Reagins said. “We have to find out what it’s going to take to make a deal, and we don’t have an indication right now.”
The Angels remain in negotiations with free agent John Lackey, but it’s highly doubtful they will offer him a six-year deal in the $100-million range.
“There is a point where it doesn’t make sense,” Reagins said, when asked if there was a limit to the number of years they would offer Lackey. “You can jeopardize your organization moving forward when you consider the dollars a player might command.”
The Angels hope to retain reliever Darren Oliver, who was not offered arbitration, but they will face competition from Seattle, Tampa Bay, Texas and the New York Mets. . . . Kelvim Escobar has been cleared to pitch winter ball in Venezuela.