Angels’ Dipoto gets jump on winter meetings

Last offseason — Jerry Dipoto’s first as the Angels’ general manager — was nothing short of spectacular, but no one should expect a repeat performance this year.
Dipoto departs for baseball’s annual winter meetings next week in Nashville, Tenn., where he’s likely to continue pursuing pitchers to fill out a starting rotation and relief group that is still incomplete. But he won’t be making the kind of splash he made last December when he signed free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson on the same day.
The big fish this year is right-hander Zack Greinke, who spent the final two months of last season with the Angels but is currently shopping himself to the highest bidder. The Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals are all said to be interested, and although the Angels haven’t ruled him out yet, it doesn’t seem likely they’ll commit the expected $150 million or more Greinke will command on the free-agent market.
Not that Dipoto is standing still. This week, he made two important additions, reliever Ryan Madson and starter Tommy Hanson, who was acquired from the Atlanta Braves on Friday for relief pitcher Jordan Walden.
But Dipoto is expected to be busy in Nashville.
“You’re always looking to get better,” he said after the Madson signing. “We want to have a championship-caliber bullpen and rotation. We’re not done by any stretch.”
Madson is already being considered the Angels’ closer, although he’s rebounding from elbow ligament replacement surgery that cost him the entire 2012 season. But he was 32 for 34 in save chances two seasons ago, and Dipoto is convinced he can be a major contributor in late-game situations, saying he has “the chance to be a big difference maker.”
Hanson, 13-10 last season with the Braves, will slip into the No. 3 spot in the rotation behind Jered Weaver and Wilson and ahead of Garrett Richards. But that still leaves one spot to fill.
The Angels freed up salary by trading Ervin Santana and buying out the option year on Dan Haren, presumably to sign Greinke. But they might have a reluctance to bring back Greinke given his expected contract demands.
It’s even possible they’ve moved on, although Dipoto has not said so publicly. But it might be wiser for him to look elsewhere for a starter rather than risk losing an available free agent to another team.
Right-handers Anibal Sanchez (9-13, 3.86 ERA last season with Detroit) and Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 with St. Louis) will be less expensive than Greinke, but neither will come cheaply. The Angels could even pursue Ryan Dempster, who finished up last season with the Rangers after spending nine seasons with the Chicago Cubs. He’s 35, but he would give the team a veteran presence and is capable of pitching 200 innings. And Dipoto hasn’t closed the door on re-signing Haren, who struggled last season but still won 12 games.
Dipoto has done well to strengthen the bullpen, but he’s not finished there either. His philosophy is to build from the back end, which he’s done with Madson and holdovers Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen and Scott Downs. Together, they give the Angels a strong group capable of working the final three innings of a game.
But Dipoto recently said, “I don’t think we’re done with that by any stretch,” so he could be working the hallways and lobby of the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville in an effort to score another reliever.
The name mentioned most often is Japanese right-hander Kyuji Fujikawa, who has shown interest in the Angels but is also being courted by the Cubs, Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Fujikawa, 32, has a fastball in the 94-mph range and had 220 saves and a 1.77 ERA over the past 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers. Best of all, he’s a free agent and doesn’t require the sizable posting fee to his former team.
Other pitchers whose names could come up are Mike Adams, Joakim Soria and Kohi Uehara.
The Angels are already pretty deep in the bullpen, but Dipoto’s desire to bolster his current group is an indication he believes a strong bullpen will help his starters last longer into the season.
Dipoto is already off to a fast start before the winter meetings begin, but he knows he far from finished.