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Angels emerge as possibility for Ian Kennedy

The Angels have expressed mild interest in acquiring D-backs starter Ian Kennedy for the last couple weeks, and reports on Tuesday suggested they may be closing in on the 28-year-old right-hander.

The Padres are also interested in Kennedy, MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert reported.

Kennedy has had a rough year, going 3-7 with a 5.22 ERA, but Angels like him in a buy-low deal. As one exec said, “That’s when those guys are available.” Acquiring Kennedy wouldn’t cost the Angels Howie Kendrick or Erick Aybar, the two guys who are basically considered their best trade assets right now. Likely prospects, as they try to make room to add another starting pitcher.

“Stuff is still good,” one scout in charge of NL West teams said.

According to MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart, the D-backs are interested in adding Bud Norris, who was scratched from his Tuesday start with the Astros.

Kennedy went 10-12 with a 3.55 ERA in 624 1/3 innings, and Jerry Dipoto is very familiar with him from his days in the D-backs front office. He’s owed $1.4 million through the remainder of this season and would be under club control through 2015 as an arbitration-eligible player.

– Alden Gonzalez

Angels fielding lots of phone calls …

The Angels — 14 games out of first place and eight games below .500 — have been fielding a lot of phone calls in the last couple of days, with a multitude of teams gauging their interest in parting ways with some of their position players. One person familiar with the team’s thinking said Tuesday afternoon that the chances they strike a deal before Wednesday’s 1 p.m. PT non-waiver Trade Deadline are “better than 50/50.”

“Vultures appear to be circling,” the source said.

Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar appear to be the most likely to be traded, given how solid they’ve been on both sides of the field and the team-friendly extensions they signed last year. The Royals — with Chris Getz, Elliot Johnson and Miguel Tejada — are looking for a second baseman with offense and would be willing to include veteran starter Bruce Chen or Luke Hochevar, who’s been effective out of the bullpen but hasn’t started all year, in a deal. They also have two top guys in the Minors in Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura, but Royals reporter Dick Kaegel doesn’t believe they’ll be included in a deal.

And according to FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, the Royals are one of the 12 teams Kendrick could block a trade to this season.

Aybar, however, has no such no-trade protection in his contract. And if Jhonny Peralta gets suspended as part of the Biogenesis investigation, perhaps they get interested. So far, though, they’ve shown no signs of being on the lookout for a shortstop, per Tigers reporter Jason Beck.

So, we’ll see. There can be a lot of surprises this time of year, especially in the final hours. But there’s definitely incentive for the Angels to wait until the offseason to swap a position player for cost-controlled starting pitching. More teams can get involved, and plenty more time permits.

Early on Monday, the Angels traded veteran lefty reliever Scott Downs to the Braves in exchange for Minor League reliever Cory Rasmus.

– Alden Gonzalez

Aybar, Kendrick reportedly available …

Scott Downs has long been considered to be the most likely player the Angels move this month, and as someone familiar with their situation said recently: “If they make only one trade this month, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Long-term, though, the Angels know they have to improve their rotation. They know the best way to do that is to trade for starting pitching, and they know their best assets to trade — given the state of their farm system — are offensive players. Which is why the recent report by Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan, who said Sunday that the Angels have made Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar available in exchange for a cost-controlled starting pitcher, falls right in line with their plan.

Such a big trade may have to wait until the offseason, when there’s more time and more teams can get in the mix. But you never know who will get desperate this time of year and swoop in with a great offer.

The potential free-agent market isn’t necessarily flush with starting-pitching talent. Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, A.J. Burnett, Bronson Arroyo, Matt Garza and Vargas are the only names that really stick out — and the Angels already have more than $131 million in salary commitments for 2014. That includes $18.6 million owed to the Yankees for Vernon Wells and does not include the potential arbitration cases for Jerome Williams, Kevin Jepsen, Mark Trumbo, Ernesto Frieri and Peter Bourjos.

Kendrick (.299/.339/.446) and Aybar (.283/.310/.389) both signed pretty team-friendly extensions in 2012. Beyond this year, Kendrick is signed for two years and $18.85 million and has limited no-trade protection, allowing him to block deals to 12 clubs this year. Aybar is owed $25.5 million from 2014-16 but can’t block deals.

Trading them, of course, would mean replacing them. The Angels don’t have anybody ready to man the middle infield on an everyday basis in their organization.

Alden Gonzalez

Angels 7/25 Question of the Day, on Trade Deadline

Any indication the Angels will sell next week? — @ChrisSexton

All indications continue to point to a relatively quiet next six days for the Angels, leading up to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Things change really fast this time of year. Teams get desperate, sentiments change, and there’s always the possibility that the Angels are blown away by an offer.

But here’s something you can pretty much count on: They won’t be picking up any rentals, a la Zack Greinke in 2012. And they’re not really going to be “sellers,” per se, because the construction of their roster — most notably Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols — doesn’t really allow for that. Somewhere in the middle is where I’d put them. If they can find a good deal for Scott Downs, they’ll probably take it. In August, if they don’t make progress in the standings, they can also look to trade Jason Vargas — at that point, they’d have to put him through waivers first — if he pitches well in his return from the DL.

And if there’s a deal they really like, which would allow them to turn an offensive player into controllable starting pitching, they’ll take it.

That deal hasn’t presented itself yet. And the chances of it coming this month are highly unlikely. That may have to wait until the offseason.

As one person familiar with the Angels’ thinking said recently, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they made just one minor trade.”

Alden Gonzalez

Downs would prefer to stay with Angels

Things tend to change very quickly this time of year, but indications around the Angels point to a relatively quiet next nine days leading up to the non-waiver Trade Deadline. They’re too far back in the race and too close to the threshold at which teams are taxed 17.5 percent to be buyers; too burdened by big contracts to be all-out sellers.

One player who can very well be moved, though, is Scott Downs, the lefty reliever who will be a free agent at season’s end.

“I’ve been through this before,” the 12-year veteran said. “I can’t control what’s going on on the other side. The only thing I can control is what I do out on the field to help this team win. That’s the only thing I want to do, that’s the only thing I’m going to worry about.”

Downs figures to be an attractive name leading up to July 31, especially given the amount of teams that need relief help down the stretch. He’s having a very solid season (1.32 ERA, 1.17 WHIP). He’s affordable (owed the pro-rated share of a $5 million salary for 2013). He’s got a great track record (a 2.30 ERA while averaging 63 appearances from 2007-12). And the Angels entered Monday’s game 8 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot in the American League.

The Braves and Indians are among the teams that would have interest.

Downs is 37, has yet to pitch in the playoffs and would welcome appearing in meaningful October games. But he’d like to make that happen here, and would love to find a way to stay with the Angels past 2013.

“I signed out here because I wanted to win and because of the makeup of this team,” said Downs, in the final months of a three-year, $15 million contract. “I still believe, and I think everyone in this clubhouse believes, we have a chance to win; we have a chance to do something special here. So for me to say I want to leave here to go somewhere else, that’s not the case. I want to win with this team and that’s my mindset. Unless that changes, my mindset is on this team and this team only.”

– Alden Gonzalez

Jason Vargas still on the mend …

Jason Vargas would figure to be one of the more attractive arms leading up to the non-waiver Trade Deadline. He’s a free agent at season’s end, he’d cost the pro-rated share of $8.5 million this season, he’s on an Angels team that enters the second half nine games out of the final playoff spot and, well, he’s a solid left-handed starting pitcher.

Problem: He may still be on the disabled list by the time the non-waiver Trade Deadline comes and goes.

Vargas has been on the shelf since June 21 with a blood clot near his left armpit area. He had surgery, took two weeks off from throwing a baseball and has progressed since then, currently playing catch from 140 feet. But he has yet to get off a mound, and after he does that, he’ll likely have to go on a rehab assignment.

And the Trade Deadline is 13 days away.

“He’s got a little more work to do long-tossing before he can get on the mound,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We’ll evaluate him through this next week.”

– Alden Gonzalez

Angels trade Morales for Vargas …

The Angels, a source told MLB.com, have traded designated hitter Kendrys Morales to the Mariners in exchange for starting pitcher Jason Vargas.

Vargas, a 29-year-old left-hander, went 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA in 33 starts last year. Morales batted .273 with 22 homers and 73 RBIs in 2012, his first season removed from a couple of ankle surgeries.

More coming on MLB.com soon.

– Alden Gonzalez 

Is there still room on the Angels’ 2013 payroll?

The acquisition of Josh Hamilton was, in many ways, a two-for-one signing because it also allows general manager Jerry Dipoto to trade a suddenly-expendable player for another starting pitcher.

Question is: Can the Angels take on more payroll in the process?

Hamilton’s five-year, $125 million contract will pay him $17 million in 2013 ($15 million in salary, plus a $10 million signing bonus that’s dispersed evenly over the course of his five-year contract). That, in addition to arbitration projections and minimum contracts, puts the Angels’ 2013 payroll at roughly $159 million, which is about where they finished at last year.

Asked about expanding it further in case of adding a pricey arm, Angels president John Carpino basically said it would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“Instead of putting [the payroll] at a place where it’s, ‘This is where we’re at,’ it’s, ‘What’s the opportunity cost of doing it?’” Carpino said at Hamilton’s Saturday news conference. “So, if something became available that’s an opportunity cost, it just comes down to wanting to win. But it also has to make sense fiscally.”

Teams are a lot more willing to give up a would-be free agent than a cost-controlled arm, of course.

That’s why, with R.A. Dickey off the board, names like Ricky Nolasco of the Marlins ($11.5 million in his walk year), Gavin Floyd of the White Sox ($9.5 million in his walk year) and Matt Garza of the Cubs (projected $10 million in his final arbitration year) seem to be the most feasible. Rick Porcello of the Tigers (projected $4.7 million in his second arbitration year) has also been mentioned.

Peter Bourjos, who’s still a year away from arbitration and will make about $500,000 in 2013, appeals to many teams. Kendrys Morales, Vernon Wells and — seemingly to a lesser extent — Mark Trumbo can also be made available.

The Angels’ preference would be to acquire a young, pre-arbitration starter who won’t add to the budget (Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore of the Rays comes to mind). But whether or not that situation presents itself remains to be seen.

– Alden Gonzalez

Angels positioning themselves for big move?

UPDATE, 11:24 AM PT: Josh Hamilton is headed to the Angels, a source told MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan. According to ESPNDallas.com, Hamilton signed a five-year deal.

——-

It seemed like the Angels were mostly done for the offseason, after acquiring two starting pitchers (Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton) and two back-end relievers (Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett) to push their payroll to about $140 million.

But maybe that has changed.

ESPN.com’s Buster Olney wrote via Twitter on Thursday that the Angels are “positioning themselves for a big strike in the market,” speculating that high-priced free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton could be the target. Joe McDonnell of FOXSportsWest.com attributed a Major League source in tweeting that the Angels are in serious negotiations with Hamilton.

On Wednesday, when the four new pitchers were introduced at the ESPN Zone in Downtown Disney, Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said: “I don’t feel like anything else is imminent, I don’t feel like anything else is pressing and I don’t think anything else is required.” And a source told MLB.com that if the Angels do make another signing, it’d probably be in January if the market dries up on a starting pitcher, prompting him to take much lower than expected.

But has owner Arte Moreno suddenly decided to stretch out the budget once more, like he did last offseason to acquire Albert Pujols? And is it a reaction to the big-ticket moves made by the Dodgers, as Olney speculated?

Perhaps.

– Alden Gonzalez

Dipoto satisfied with pitching staff after Meetings

Since they’re both pending physicals, Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto couldn’t speak very candidly on the agreed-upon two-year deals for starter Joe Blanton and reliever Sean Burnett.

But speaking from the lobby of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel on Thursday morning, minutes after the Rule 5 Draft and just as he boarded a flight back to Southern California, the second-year GM sounded like a man who’s satisfied with the pitching depth and isn’t looking to make any other significant free-agent signings.

“Sometimes,” Dipoto said, “the smartest moves you can do is just make practical decisions.”

The likes of Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson and Brandon McCarthy will probably sign elsewhere now. Dipoto wouldn’t flatly say that they’re out on Zack Greinke, who’s expected to command a $150 million contract, but of course they are. “We’re prepared to,” he said. “You have to make smart decisions.”

In fact, if the Angels do make any other addition to their Major League roster, it would probably be to one more low-tier free agent — probably a reliever, but perhaps another starter.

Dipoto talked all offseason about building “one-through-12 pitching depth.” With Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hanson, Blanton, Garrett Richards and Jerome Williams as starters, and Ryan Madson, Burnett, Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen and Scott Downs as relievers, he feels he has “11 men in place on our Major League pitching staff, and every one of the 11 guys, when they take the field, is a competitive Major League pitcher and the innings are going to grow.”

Asked if he’d be satisfied if this were the same pitching staff that arrives in Tempe, Ariz., this spring, Dipoto said, “Oh yeah.”

The Angels’ payroll was never expected to be at $159 million like it was last season. The most likely scenario was that it would be somewhere between $140 and $145 million. Right now, it’s at roughly $140 million — and it may not go much higher than that.

“We’ve made a handful of decisions that we think are best for the club,” Dipoto added. “I can tell you there’s not another move coming today; I can’t tell you that there won’t be an addition to the club at some point. You’re always looking to get better. But I think what we did in the last few days is we put ourselves in a position where we’re stable. We’re not going to have to make further additions to be a competitive club.

“Right now, on paper, we have 11 guys that slot into Major League roles, and if the chance exists to better our club in some way, that makes sense for the Angels, we’ll take a look at it. But we have nothing imminent, we have nothing that I think is a certainty – nothing we have to do.”

– Alden Gonzalez

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