Angels trade Gary Matthews Jr. to Mets

The Angels will pay their highest salary this year to Torii Hunter. They will pay their second-highest salary to a guy who could be on the bench for the New York Mets, and so the Angels might not be done spending money to assemble this year’s team.

Gary Matthews Jr. asked out of Anaheim after the season, but the Angels could not find a taker until the Mets suddenly needed an outfielder because of Carlos Beltran’s knee surgery. The Mets acquired Matthews on Friday for middle reliever Brian Stokes, but not before the Angels agreed to pay all but $2 million of the $23.5 million remaining on Matthews’ contract.

The Angels talked up their pitching depth in two conference calls Friday -- one to announce the trade and the other to confirm the signing of Joel Pineiro -- but the trade left them perilously thin in an old outfield.

Hideki Matsui is 35, with ravaged knees that restricted him to designated hitter last season. Hunter is 34, Bobby Abreu 35 and Juan Rivera 31, and the departure of Matthews leaves light-hitting Reggie Willits as the only reserve outfielder.

The Angels have internal options in Terry Evans and Chris Pettit, but they could sign a veteran who could start in the event of a significant injury to Hunter, Abreu or Rivera. The free-agent outfielders include Eric Byrnes, Reed Johnson, Jonny Gomes and Randy Winn, as well as Angels old-timers Garret Anderson and Darin Erstad.

“We have some talented outfielders in the organization,” General Manager Tony Reagins said. “I have financial flexibility if I need to do something during spring training, during the season or at the trade deadline. I have no limitations, as far as that is concerned, to do what we need to do to win the World Series.”

The Angels’ 2010 payroll, which includes $10 million to Matthews, is slightly above the $113-million target established by owner Arte Moreno.

Matthews, 35, enjoyed a career year with the Texas Rangers in 2006, then signed a five-year, $50-million contract with the Angels. In his first spring, he angered Moreno by hesitating in publicly responding to allegations he had received a shipment of human growth hormone.

The Angels displaced him from center field after one season by signing Hunter, and Matthews and the club coexisted uneasily thereafter. When he reported to training camp last spring, he said, “I don’t intend to sit around and play a couple times a week like last year.”

Manager Mike Scioscia said Matthews was not disruptive, even after being benched. “Although he didn’t agree with it,” Scioscia said, “he was as professional as anybody I’ve ever been around in handling it.”

The Mets promised Matthews nothing more than a chance to beat out Angel Pagan in center field.

“I think there’s going to be an open competition,” Mets General Manager Omar Minaya said. “That’s the same thing I told Gary.”

Stokes, 30, a right-hander who attended Riverside Community College, posted a 3.97 earned-run average in 69 games for the Mets last season.

“He can be a back-end-of-the-bullpen guy or a middle reliever,” pitching coach Mike Butcher said. “He’s definitely a good arm to have.”