Be prepared for the Angels to make at least one trade this week. At this point, it will be an upset if they do not.
The team, according to major league sources, is aggressively trying to move right-handers Dan Haren and Ervin Santana before deciding on their respective — and expensive — club options for 2013.
“I think they trade both guys,” one rival executive said Tuesday.
The Angels will not exercise Santana’s $13 million option, one source said, and there is every indication that they will decline Haren’s $15.5 million option as well. The deadlines for their decisions are Wednesday for Santana and Friday for Haren, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Neither pitcher performed well enough in 2012 to warrant their respective option prices. However, a team that acquires Haren or Santana could seek to negotiate a longer deal at a lesser average salary.
For Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, the timing is critical. If Dipoto simply declines the options and allows Haren and Santana to become free agents, he will lose leverage in his negotiations with the one pitcher the Angels want to keep, right-hander Zack Greinke. Better that Dipoto should get a return for both Haren and Santana — and perhaps an enhanced return if he includes cash in the trades, making the pitchers more appealing to low-revenue clubs.
“I can’t see Jerry getting pinned in a corner,” said one executive familiar with the Angels’ discussions. “I think he will act first instead of reacting later.”
The Royals, Twins, Blue Jays, Padres, Red Sox and Brewers are among the clubs seeking help for their rotations. Such teams might prefer to trade for a Haren or Santana, even on an inflated one-year deal, rather than sign a free agent. The scarcity of quality starters on the open market likely will lead to inflated free-agent prices, particularly with more money in the game due to baseball’s new national television contracts.
Then again, Dipoto is not operating in a vacuum. A number of teams already are engaged in serious trade discussions for starting pitchers, exploring options that are more appealing than Haren and Santana, rival executives say.
Haren, 32, was 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA last season, suffered from lower back tightness and showed a decline in fastball velocity. Santana, who turns 30 on Dec. 12, was 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA and allowed a major league leading 39 home runs.
The Rays, seeking to add offense, are one club with better pitching to offer; their inventory of starters includes not just veterans such as right-hander James Shields and lefty David Price, but also younger, lower-priced pitchers such as righty Jeremy Hellickson and lefty Matt Moore.
The Mariners, Diamondbacks and Braves are among the other clubs that could trade starting pitching, though the Mariners’ most appealing chips are at the prospect level, and teams such as the Royals want pitchers who are major league ready.