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Pursuit of free-agent bat could push Angels past luxury tax threshold

Pursuit of free-agent bat could push Angels past luxury tax threshold
Outfielder Jason Heyward is a free agent the Angels might be interested in signing to add punch to the lineup. (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)

Angels Owner Arte Moreno said in October that he would be willing to surpass the $189-million luxury tax threshold “if the right player and the right situation arises,” and that still appears to be the case heading into next week’s winter meetings in Nashville.

Moreno has paid a luxury tax only once since he bought the Angels in 2003, incurring a penalty of less than $1 million after the club signed Garret Anderson to a four-year, $48-million contract extension in 2004.

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He has been reluctant to pass the threshold ever since, so much so that the threshold has served as a de facto salary cap for the Angels.

But Moreno may not have a choice in 2016. The Angels are currently about $22 million under the luxury tax threshold and in dire need of an impact bat, preferably one that can play left field.

With the top free agents — Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, Chris Davis and Alex Gordon — expected to command more than $20 million a year, the Angels, unless they can trade one of their high-salaried players, will probably have to push their payroll beyond $189 million to sign such a player.

"It feels fluid," new General Manager Billy Eppler said Thursday, when asked his understanding of Moreno's position on the luxury tax threshold. "Things will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

"There are scenarios where you can see it being reasonable, and there are scenarios where you can see it not being worth it. Undetermined is probably the best way to put it."

Eppler said he is satisfied with the team's rotation and bullpen depth and would "like to build more depth on the position-playing side, if possible." He has had free-agent and trade discussions on and about a broad range of outfielders, including those in the top tier.

"Things are definitely closer now than they were a month ago, and some things are closer to being a reality than just ideas," Eppler said. "I think in the next seven to 10 days we should have a pretty good feel on what we can do in both trades and free agency."

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