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Angels swing and miss at Pirates second baseman Neil Walker but still expect to improve

Pittsburgh's Neil Walker is introduced before the National League wild card game between the Pirates and the Chicago Cubs on Oct. 7.

Pittsburgh’s Neil Walker is introduced before the National League wild card game between the Pirates and the Chicago Cubs on Oct. 7.

(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)
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The Angels fell short in their bid to acquire second baseman Neil Walker from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, but Manager Mike Scioscia fully expects new General Manager Billy Eppler to bolster the team’s lineup in the coming weeks.

“I think it’s pretty clear where we need to go and where our upgrades need to be, and it starts on the offensive side, blending the offensive pieces to give you a cohesive defense,” Scioscia said at the winter meetings. “Billy is working very hard on that, and I expect us to improve offensively by the time we start the season.”

The Angels engaged the Pirates in serious talks for Walker, according to a person familiar with negotiations but not authorized to speak publicly about them, and they thought they were close to a deal for the 30-year-old switch-hitter Wednesday morning.

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But the Pirates, according to several published reports, agreed to trade Walker to the New York Mets for veteran left-hander Jon Niese. Walker hit .269 with 16 home runs, 71 runs batted in and 32 doubles last season, and he would have been an upgrade over second baseman Johnny Giavotella.

The Angels have a gaping hole in left field, and they’ve had preliminary discussions with the representatives for high-priced free agents Yoenis Cespedes, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon. They also have a hole at third base and would like to improve at second.

They could use a more productive leadoff hitter, someone who could consistently set the table ahead of middle-of-the-order hitters Kole Calhoun, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, but they also need a slugger to bat behind Pujols.

“Hopefully, we’re going to have a deep lineup, and the person to hit behind Albert is just as essential as the guys that are going to be setting the table for Mike,” Scioscia said.

“Both are important. Hopefully, we’ve got enough spackle to fill four holes and we don’t have to kind of have the spackle for two holes and figure out which ones you leave open.”

An investment in players such as Cespedes, Heyward, Upton or Gordon would probably require the Angels to take their payroll above the $189-million luxury tax threshold, and there is no indication that Owner Arte Moreno is willing to do that.

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia talks with reporters at Major League Baseball's winter meetings Wednesday in Nashville.

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia talks with reporters at Major League Baseball’s winter meetings Wednesday in Nashville.

(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

But the Angels would also consider a lower-priced platoon in left with free agents such as David Murphy, who hit .265 with five homers and 23 RBIs in 48 games for the Angels after being traded from Cleveland last July, and Justin Ruggiano, who has a .272 career average against left-handed pitchers.

“There are a lot of big names in the outfield, no doubt, that would fit on our club,” Scioscia said. “There’s also a lot of guys who you could bring in that can piecemeal it and platoon and give you the production you’re looking for.

“There are a lot of different areas in which you can become a better team offensively, not necessarily with a big splash and the free agents. We have to improve offensively. It might be with a high-profile name, and it might be with a platoon that might give you something close to that end point anyway.”


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