Tony Reagins vows to approach this off-season the way the Angels like to run the bases. He will not be passive. He will not be shy.
“We’re going to try to be creative, aggressive, and see where things shake out,” the general manager said Thursday, one day after the Angels closed a season in which they failed to make the playoffs for the second straight year. “We’re not going to sit back and let things come. We’re going to try to improve the club.”
The needs are clear. The Angels must upgrade an offense that scored 667 runs, 188 fewer than the Texas Rangers, who won the American League West by 10 games and appear built to dominate the division for years.
They must improve a bullpen that blew a league-high 25 save opportunities, 10 by rookie closer Jordan Walden, and they need to add at least one proven starting pitcher.
They hope the veterans who struggled the most — Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu — bounce back in 2012, and that emerging youngsters Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos continue to grow.
Unlike last off-season, they are not counting on the return of slugger Kendrys Morales, who has not played since suffering a devastating ankle injury in May 2010.
“We’re going to build the team assuming he’s not going to be there, and if he is, it will help,” Manager Mike Scioscia said of Morales, who hit .306 with 34 homers and drove in 108 runs in 2009.
A payroll projected for $121 million next season could grow to about $130 million, but there does not appear to be much flexibility to a roster in which the Angels could have seven players — Morales, Trumbo, Abreu, Wells, Bourjos, Torii Hunter, Mike Trout — for three outfield spots, first base and designated hitter.
It’s doubtful the Angels will pursue the top free-agent sluggers, first basemen Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, who may be out of their price range. But they could deal one of two valued commodities — shortstop Erick Aybar or second baseman Howie Kendrick — for a starting pitcher or a shut-down reliever and pursue dynamic free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes.
They have discussed moving Trumbo to third to open first base for Morales or another slugger. Trumbo said he would “not be opposed to it,” and feels he’d be “adequate” there. Reagins said the move is “unlikely.” Scioscia said it’s a “longshot,” but didn’t rule it out.
“I think the experiment wouldn’t be to see if he could be a 162-game third baseman, but if he could be a 50-game third baseman,” Scioscia said.
The Angels also hope to broaden their pitching options by adding a middle-of-the-rotation starter. However, they are not expect to pursue Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, who could become a free agent through that country’s expensive posting system.
“Right now, we’re probably six-deep in our rotation,” Scioscia said. “We have to be deeper.”