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Is Howie Kendrick still on the market?

That’s the big question after the Angels attained some much-desired cost-controlled starting pitching by using backup catcher Hank Conger to get 24-year-old right-hander Nick Tropeano (and Minor League catcher Carlos Perez) from the Astros.

Howie Kendrick’s name has been thrown around quite a bit this month, similar to what took place around this time last year. Last week, Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reporting before the trade that the Angels are “likely” to trade Kendrick, along with third baseman and fellow walking free agent David Freese. And on Thursday, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca wrote that the Blue Jays have “placed multiple calls” on Kendrick.

The Blue Jays, Mets, Marlins and Rays are reportedly the four teams Kendrick can block trades to this offseason, and it remains to be seen how aggressively the Angels will continue to shop the 31-year-old right-handed hitter.

Kendrick has been one of the best second basemen in baseball in recent years, posting a .288/.332/.420 slash line since 2010 while compiling a Wins Above Replacement score of 18.7 (according to Baseball-Reference). He’s only got one year left on his contract — at $9.5 million — and second base is the Angels’ deepest position organizationally. Trading him can, at the very least, free up some payroll space, with Grant Green potentially taking over.

But the Angels tried to shop Kendrick for cost-controlled starting pitching last winter and couldn’t get much value in return, ultimately having to use Mark Trumbo to get Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. And the acquisition of Tropeano at the very least lessens the urgency to part ways with more Major League position players in pursuit of pitching.

“The team that you saw at the end of the season is probably something similar to what you’ll see at the start of the next, as far as our everyday players go,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said after Wednesday’s trade. “There could be a subtle change here and there, but we don’t anticipate anything dramatic at this point.”

Alden Gonzalez

Dodgers, Mattingly finalize extension …

The Dodgers and manager Don Mattingly reached agreement on an extension Tuesday, a source told MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick. According to ESPN.com, which first reported the news, the deal keeps him in uniform through the 2016 season. The Dodgers have not confirmed the agreement.

Mattingly was previously only under contract through the 2014 season, a result of his option automatically vesting when the Dodgers beat the Braves in the National League Division Series, but the two sides had been in talks about removing his lame-duck status for most of the offseason.

Mattingly, 52, is 260-225 in three seasons with the Dodgers. Last year, he guided the team through a thrilling turnaround that saw them go from 12 games below .500 on June 21 to 28 games over by Sept. 3, ultimately losing to the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series. For that, Mattingly finished second to Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle for the NL Manager of the Year Award.

– Alden Gonzalez

Mattingly, Dodgers closing in on deal …

Don Mattingly and the Dodgers are making progress on a contract extension that would remove his lame-duck status as the team’s manager, according to reports from FOXSports.com and the Los Angeles Times.

The new deal, which the two sides have been in talks about for most of the offseason, is “expected to be done soon,” FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal wrote via Twitter.

Mattingly is currently only under contract through the 2014 season, his option automatically vesting when the Dodgers beat the Braves in the National League Division Series.

That spilled into an awkward season-ending press conference, when Mattingly – with general manager Ned Colletti by his side – voiced displeasure over being guaranteed for just one more year and said he didn’t want to work where he didn’t feel wanted, resurfacing reports from early in the summer that his job is in jeopardy.

By the time the Owners’ Meetings came around in early November, though, the two sides appeared to clear up any misunderstandings and were talking through a contract extension, with Mattingly saying: “I love where I’m at. I’m proud to be representing the Dodgers and managing their club. We’re in talks right now. Things are going good. No real hurry or rush for me at this point — I don’t think for the Dodgers, either.”

Mattingly, 52, has gone 260-225 in three seasons with the Dodgers. This year, he guided the team through a thrilling turnaround that saw them go from 12 games below .500 on June 21 to 28 games over by Sept. 3, ultimately losing to the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series. For that, Mattingly finished second to Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle for the NL Manager of the Year Award.

– Alden Gonzalez

Angels sign Mulder to Minors deal …

The Angels have agreed to terms on a Minor League contract with a Spring Training invite with veteran starter Mark Mulder, the two-time All-Star who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2008, a source confirmed to MLB.com on Wednesday.

The agreement – first reported by Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com – will pay Mulder up to $6 million if he reaches all incentives, according to several reports.

Mulder, 36 and previously working as an ESPN analyst, was one of the game’s top left-handers from 2001-05, averaging 18 wins and posting a 3.65 ERA for the A’s and Cardinals. But he pitched only 12 2/3 Major League innings from 2007-08 and retired in ’09 after struggling to bounce back from two shoulder surgeries.

This past October, though, he started emulating the delivery of Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez and found something that worked for him, according to an ESPN.com story. That prompted Mulder to spend the month of November working himself back into shape in Arizona, before throwing off the mound near his home in Scottsdale and reportedly sitting between 89-90 mph with his fastball.

The Angels were one of the teams who saw Mulder throw that day. Now, they’ll give him a chance to compete for a spot in their rotation this spring.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am,” Mulder told ESPN in early December. “To be honest with you, I never anticipated this five or six weeks ago. It was just a flat-out fluke that came from me trying to imitate Paco Rodriguez in my living room.”

– Alden Gonzalez

Angels in the mix for Mark Mulder …

The Angels are “emerging as [a] front-runner” to acquire veteran pitcher Mark Mulder, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported via Twitter on Friday night, adding that “an incentive-laden deal could be consummated soon.”

Mulder, 36, has been retired for four years, hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2008 and currently works as an ESPN analyst. But the Angels were among the teams who saw him throw in Arizona just before the Winter Meetings, and a source confirmed that they have interest in acquiring the former A’s and Cardinals ace. 

A separate source told MLB.com that Mulder still hasn’t made up his mind yet, though, and is weighing offers from seven different teams, with the Angels being one of them. He is, however, set on coming back to pitch. Earlier reports said he was seeking a Major League contract, but it remains to be seen if he actually gets that.

Mulder was a 21-game winner with the A’s in 2001, ultimately finishing second in voting for the American League’s Cy Young Award, and was among the game’s top left-handers from 2001-05, averaging 18 wins per season while posting a 3.65 ERA and making two All-Star teams.

But he pitched only 12 2/3 Major League innings from 2007-08 and retired in ’09 after struggling to bounce back from two shoulder surgeries, joining ESPN two years later.

But in October, he started emulating the delivery of Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez and found something that worked for him, according to an ESPN.com story. That prompted Mulder to spend the month of November working himself back into shape in Arizona, before throwing off the mound near his home in Scottsdale and reportedly sitting between 89-90 mph with his fastball.  

“I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am,” Mulder told ESPN in early December. “To be honest with you, I never anticipated this five or six weeks ago. It was just a flat-out fluke that came from me trying to imitate Paco Rodriguez in my living room.”

– Alden Gonzalez

White Sox, Angels, D-backs working on trade …

UPDATE, 3:20 P.M. PT: The deal is nearing completion and is expected to be announced by Tuesday night. The Angels would get Skaggs and Santiago, the White Sox would get Eaton, and the D-backs would get Trumbo and two players to be named later (one each from the Angels and White Sox).

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The Angels, Diamondbacks and White Sox are working on a three-team deal that would involve Mark Trumbo going to Arizona, and Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago going to the Angels, sources confirmed to MLB.com on Tuesday. Keith Law of ESPN.com, who first reported the specifics, said D-backs center fielder Adam Eaton would be going to the White Sox.

The D-backs would also be receiving two prospects, though it’s still uncertain from which clubs, an industry source told MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert.

“We think that we are on the cusp of doing some other things that I think our fans are going to like,” White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams told MLB.com’s Scott Merkin.

The deal, which is not done, could potentially fill a need for all parties involved.

The Angels would get some much-needed cost-controlled pitching. Skaggs has posted a 5.43 ERA  in 13 starts with the D-backs over the last two years, but he’s only 22 and he’s a former first-round pick, drafted when Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto was the D-backs’ director of scouting and player personnel. Santiago, a 25-year-old left-hander, went 4-9 with a 3.56 ERA in 34 games (23 starts) for the White Sox in 2013 and would be looked as a starter with the Angels. Santiago is still a year away from arbitration.

Trumbo, 27, would transition to a corner-outfield spot in Arizona and supply some much-needed power. Over the last three years, Trumbo — a homegrown player who grew up an Angels fan — has hit 95 homers and driven in 282 runs while providing a .773 OPS. If Trumbo ultimately departs, the Angels feel they’d need to replace his bat via free agency. But if no money changes hands in this deal, and no other players are involved, the Angels would be saving about $4 million, since Trumbo could make roughly $5 million as a first-year arbitration-eligible player.

Eaton, 25, gives the White Sox a young center fielder with some upside. He’s posted a .254/.332/.373 slash line in 88 games with the D-backs over the last two years, but batted .375/.456/.523 in the Minors in 2012.

– Alden Gonzalez

Angels making Mark Trumbo available (maybe) …

Mark Trumbo is “in play” for clubs looking to add right-handed power at the Winter Meetings, FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal reported via Twitter on Monday.

His availability, however, could greatly hinge on how the Angels can bolster their rotation via free agency.

Matt Garza is perceivably at the top of their list in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., because he’s 30 years old, isn’t tied to Draft-pick compensation, is from Southern California and has posted a 3.76 ERA while averaging 175 innings over the last six innings. If the Angels can work something out with the Nez Balelo client — who also represents the already-signed Jason Vargas and Phil Hughes — they’re in good shape, with a front four of Jered Weaver-C.J. Wilson-Garza-Garrett Richards.

If they can’t, they may have to get creative.

The free-agent market after Garza could drop considerably. Consider: The Angels haven’t shown a willingness to sign anyone tied to Draft-pick compensation, which eliminates Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana; they’ve expressed interest in Bronson Arroyo, as the right-hander reiterated to MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon earlier today, but are less willing to overpay for a 36-year-old; they aren’t interested in Bartolo Colon, who’s 40 years old and has a history of PED suspensions; A.J. Burnett has previously had trepidations about pitching in the West coast; and Masahiro Tanaka, who is expected to be posted this week, remains a long shot.

Once you get past those guys, and Garza, you have to move on to the likes of Jason Hammel, Mike Pelfrey, Chris Capuano and Paul Maholm. That’s a big drop.

Howie Kendrick continues to be available, and the Angels could look to part ways with a catcher (Hank Conger or Chris Iannetta) and a reliever (Michael Kohn, Dane De La Rosa, Kevin Jepsen among them). If Garza signs elsewhere, though, Trumbo and potentially shortstop Erick Aybar could join that list.

– Alden Gonzalez

Angels remain flexible in pursuit of SP …

They could sign two moderately-priced free-agent starters, they could sign one high-priced free-agent starter and leave the fifth spot open for competition, or they could sign one free-agent starter and trade for another. The latter remains the most likely scenario, but with three days left before the Winter Meetings, the Angels are keeping their options open as they try to patch up the two holes remaining in their rotation.

Matt Garza, who’s 30 years old, is from Southern California and isn’t tied to Draft pick compensation, is a target. But they could turn to the next tier down — guys like Jason Hammel, Chris Capuano, Mike Pelfrey and Paul Maholm — if his price tag remains too high. The Angels aren’t particularly interested in Bronson Arroyo or Bartolo Colon at this time, and they still have no plans to sign any of the three starters tied to Draft pick compensation (Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana or Hiroki Kuroda, who’s almost surely returning to the Yankees).

Howie Kendrick continues to be dangled, with shortstop Erick Aybar and outfielder/first baseman Mark Trumbo still unlikely to be dealt (that, however, can change if the Angels don’t like what’s available to them in the free-agent market). The Angels also have flexibility in their bullpen, allowing them to dangle the likes of Michael Kohn, Kevin Jepsen and Dane De La Rosa. Catchers Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger could also be made available in a package for starting pitching.

The Angels really like Masahiro Tanaka. But with a proposed maximum bid of $20 million, the Japanese star may not be posted by his current team, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, and if he is, most of if not all teams will throw their hat in the ring (the proposed agreement between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball allows the posted player to negotiate with any teams that are tied for the highest bid).

– Alden Gonzalez

Jerome Williams an intriguing dilemma …

UPDATE, 4:53 P.M. PT: Williams has been non-tendered.

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As of 3 p.m. PT — six hours before the deadline — Jerome Williams’ agent hadn’t heard from the Angels on whether or not they’ll tender his client a contract. It’s possible that they haven’t told him anything because it’s a no-brainer that they will, but far more likely that they simply hadn’t made up their minds just yet.

Williams represents a very interesting dilemma for the Angels.

On one hand, they need to allocate as much money as possible to address their rotation, where at least two starting pitchers are needed, and can’t afford the luxury of paying about $4 million — what Williams would get in his final season of arbitration — for a sixth starter/long reliever.

On the other, $4 million for Williams may be a bargain if he were a free agent in this year’s class, especially after seeing Scott Kazmir get two years and $22 million from the A’s. If nothing else, the Angels may be able to keep him on the roster and then trade him for something else.

Williams’ agent Larry O’Brien said he’d be “very, very surprised” if Williams were non-tendered, but he isn’t sure.

“If he isn’t worth four to five million bucks, the guys that are getting paid multi-year, guaranteed deals out there – really? Tender him and trade him,” said O’Brien, part of Full Circle Sports Management. “It kind of baffles me, but they can do whatever they want to do. I think the guy can start for a number of teams and be a fourth or fifth starter and get 32 starts and let the chips fall where they may.”

Williams seems like the only big question for the Angels prior to the 8:59 p.m. PT non-tender deadline.

Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said Monday that Kevin Jepsen will be tendered a contract, saying he “never thought it would be an assumption he wouldn’t be.” Mark Trumbo, Ernesto Frieri, David Freese and Fernando Salas are also expected to be tendered. Tommy Hanson and Chris Nelson, meanwhile, seem like locks to be non-tendered.

If Williams isn’t tendered, O’Brien sees it as an opportunity for his client to potentially get a job as a full-time starting pitcher.

“Jerome loves the Angels,” O’Brien said. “He has a house in Mission Viejo, he’d love to pitch for them. I know deep down he’d love to start. And I don’t get it. I don’t know why everybody writes that the Angels need two more starters and blah-blah-blah, and they don’t talk about Jerome Williams. Why don’t you go out and give the guy the ball for 32 starts and see how he does? I just don’t quite get why they don’t have that confidence. But it is what it is. All I can tell you is that it’s not a big concern of mine either way. I’d be very, very surprised if they don’t tender him, but that’s their call.

“We’ll just see what happens. If they tender him, great. He’ll compete for the job, and if they want to use him as a swing man or do whatever they want to do, then that’s their right. And if they don’t, then we move on. I wish him the best, I’m sure they’d wish him the best, and it’d be a blessing in disguise.”

Alden Gonzalez

Angels reportedly sign Joe Smith …

The Angels have signed free-agent reliever Joe Smith to a three-year contract worth about $15 million, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported on Saturday night.

Smith has posted a 2.42 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP and a 2.20 strikeout-to-walk ratio with the Indians over the last three years. On the Angels, the 29-year-old right-hander will provide a major boost to the back end of the bullpen, joining closer Ernesto Frieri, lefty Sean Burnett and power right-handers Michael Kohn, Dane De La Rosa and Kevin Jepsen.

On Friday, the Angels also acquired 28-year-old righty Fernando Salas along with third baseman David Freese, as part of the four-player trade that sent outfielders Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk to the Cardinals.

The Angels still need to add at least two starting pitchers, but were targeting a veteran setup man like Smith – as well as Edward Mujica – to round out the bullpen.

Alden Gonzalez

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