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Angels nearing a deal for Joe Blanton

UPDATE: Blanton’s deal is expected to be two years for $15 million, according to a source, with ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reporting that it includes a third-year club option.

That all but squashes the Angels’ already-faint hopes to land Greinke, who many expect to command at least an average annual value of $25 million on a six-year deal. The likes of Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster and Shaun Marcum also don’t seem to be options, with the Angels’ payroll expected to be at least $10 to $15 million less than the $159 million they ended last season with.

But that’s still unclear, because the club hasn’t publicly commented on its 2013 payroll projections.

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Shortly after agreeing to terms on a two-year contract for lefty reliever Sean Burnett, the Angels were on the verge of signing free-agent starting pitcher Joe Blanton, sources confirmed to MLB.com.

Blanton, 31, went 10-13 with a 4.71 ERA in 31 games (30 starts) for the Phillies and Dodgers last season. From 2005-12, the right-hander went 83-75 with a 4.37 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP.

How does it affect the Angels’ pursuit of Zack Greinke or others, like Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson and Joe Saunders? Still unclear, but a source said Blanton is only “a piece” for the rotation and not necessarily the final piece.

– Alden Gonzalez

Angels sign left-hander Sean Burnett

The Angels finalized their bullpen search on Wednesday, signing left-handed reliever Sean Burnett to a two-year deal with a club option, a source told MLB.com.

The deal, which is still pending a physical, is expected to be just south of the two-year, $9.5 million deal Kyuji Fujikawa got with the Cubs, and way south of the three-year, $18 million deal Jeremy Affeldt signed with the Giants.

The addition of Burnett has “no effect” on the Angels’ pursuit of a starting pitcher. They’re still not totally out on Zack Greinke. Burnett joins a bullpen that includes fellow lefty Scott Downs in addition to Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen and the recently signed Ryan Madson, who’s expected to take over the closer’s role after recovery from Tommy John surgery.

– Alden Gonzalez

Angels still not sounding confident on Greinke

The Angels continue to sound like a club that isn’t counting on resigning Zack Greinke.

Obviously, things can change very quickly, and Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto has a recent track record of being very coy about his pursuit of big-name free agents (see: 2011 Winter Meetings). But the price tags continue to be sky high — with Dan Haren signing for $13 million and Shane Victorino reportedly getting a three-year, $39 million deal from the Red Sox — and the Angels continue to seem content with simply adding one middle-tier starter and one back-end reliever.

On Tuesday afternoon, Day 2 of the Winter Meetings from the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, FOXSports.com’s Jon Morosi tweeted that the Dodgers “have become [the] clear favorite to land Greinke,” echoing a sentiment that has been widely reported/speculated for most of the offseason. The Angels, who continue to be portrayed as a dark horse, want to avoid what happened last season, when they committed a lot of money to the rotation and were essentially tapped out in August, unable to add to a bullpen that badly needed an upgrade.

The Nationals dropped out on Greinke with the Haren signing, seemingly making it a three-team race. If Greinke’s price gets to $150 million, the Angels are likely out. If he’s willing to settle for something less, they have a chance.

But this is still the most likely scenario for Dipoto: Sign one No. 3 starter to slot between Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, and Tommy Hanson and Garrett Richards/Jerome Williams (Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson, Brandon McCarthy, etc.); sign one more back-end reliever to complement Ryan Madson, Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs and Kevin Jepsen (Mike Adams, Sean Burnett, Koji Uehara, etc.).

Dipoto wouldn’t go into much detail in his daily briefing with local reporters on Tuesday, but he did re-iterate that he’s “100 percent” only looking at pitchers and that free agency — not the trade market — is almost his sole focus. The Angels did circle back with Haren, talking to him as recently as Monday, and a source said they improved on their original offer (one-year at $4 million with an $8 million vesting option) before buying out his contract.

Asked whether he was close on any pitchers, Dipoto said …

“Can’t say for certain that I’m getting warm on anything, but again, we’ve picked up the targets that we’re most interested in, we’ve had great discussions — in some cases multiple layers. We’re making progress, the extent of which I can’t tell you. I don’t know if anything gets done today, tomorrow, or post-[Winter Meetings], but I am certain that we’ll line up with a team on the field, and time will make the proper decision.”

– Alden Gonzalez

Angels continue to search for relievers

Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said after signing Ryan Madson that he’s not done addressing the bullpen “by any stretch.” And that search has intensified at the Winter Meetings here in Nashville, Tenn., where the Angels are focused on adding one starting pitcher but are keeping their ears open for additional bullpen options.

The Angels, a source confirmed, are one of several teams with a keen interest in former Nats left-hander Sean Burnett, who has posted a 2.76 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP in 176 1/3 innings from 2010-12, averaging 7.8 strikeouts and 2.7 walks per nine innings. Acquiring Burnett would give the Angels a second lefty to complement Scott Downs, who has been reliable the last few years but struggled in the second half of 2012.

It would also let the young Nick Maronde start full-time in the Minor Leagues. Some in the organization, however, believe his future is as a reliever anyway.

Another option for the Angels is right-hander Mike Adams, who posted a 1.60 ERA and a .92 WHIP from 2010-11. The 34-year-old Adams finished last season with a 3.27 ERA with the Rangers, the highest since his rookie year in 2004, due in large part to a rough September that ended with him being shut down due to a right shoulder ailment.

The Angels checked in on Joakim Soria at the General Managers Meetings, but Soria’s preference is to sign somewhere he can close — and with Madson on board, that’s no longer a selling point for Dipoto.

Burnett, Adams and Soria are sure to use the three-year deals signed by Jeremy Affeldt ($18 million), Brandon League ($22.5 million) and Jonathan Broxton ($21 million) as a starting point. That means signing one of them would almost certainly take the Angels out of the Zack Greinke sweepstakes, though a source said they’re “not closing the door on anything.” According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, the Angels have checked in on the two starting pitchers a tier below Greinke — Anibal Sanchez and Kyle Lohse.

Alden Gonzalez

Angels reportedly front-runners for Fujikawa

Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa is nearing a decision and the Angels are believed to be the front-runners, Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports reported via Twitter on Friday afternoon. Fujikawa’s agent, Don Nomura, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Fujikawa, 32, is one of the top relievers in the Far East, racking up 202 saves to go along with a 1.36 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP and a rate of 12.4 strikeouts and 2.3 walks per nine innings in 369 2/3 frames while pitching for the Hanshin Tigers.

Fujikawa met with Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto in Anaheim last week, a source confirmed to MLB.com, as part of a five-team tour that also saw him make stops in the Dodgers’, Orioles’, Cubs’ and D-backs’ facilities. At least 10 teams are believed to have made him an offer, according to Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker, who said Fujikawa is seeking a multi-year deal.

The Angels signed Ryan Madson to potentially be their closer on Wednesday, adding him to a back end of the bullpen that also includes Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen and Scott Downs. On Friday, they freed up a spot in the ‘pen by trading Jordan Walden to the Braves for starter Tommy Hanson.

If the Angels sign Fujikawa, they’d probably be out of the Zack Greinke sweepstakes, instead going with a cheaper alternative to fill their final rotation spot.

Alden Gonzalez

Haren’s market leaning East

Former Angels starter Dan Haren, who was bought out of his 2013 option for $3.5 million, is drawing heavy interest from several teams, most of them residing in the East coast.

Haren’s most aggressive suitor thus far, according to a person with knowledge of his free agency: The Red Sox. The Nationals, Orioles, White Sox, Padres and Blue Jays are among other clubs that have expressed interest. Haren, however, is said to be in no hurry to sign, preferring to let a lot of the smoke clear before making his decision.

The Angels recently checked in on Haren, but nothing had changed from a negotiating standpoint. After trading for Tommy Hanson, only one spot is left in their rotation — and their desire to resign Zack Greinke remains. If Greinke’s price tag reaches $150 million, as has been reported, the Angels will go with a much cheaper free-agent starter and sign at least one more upper-tier reliever, joining Ryan Madson.

Haren, who wants to keep pitching in Southern California, could make sense given his price tag, track record and familiarity. For now, however, a return remains unlikely.

Haren is coming off his first rough season in quite a while, going 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA, a stint on the disabled list with lower back problems and a drop in velocity. From 2005-11, though, he was one of baseball’s most consistent starters, winning 101 games, posting a 3.49 ERA and averaging 226 innings per season.

The Angels also had the framework of a deal in place with the Cubs in early November, sending Haren to Chicago for closer Carlos Marmol. In it, an industry source said, the Cubs were slated to take on most of Haren’s salary and Marmol’s. But according to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney, the Cubs backed out due to concerns over Haren’s hip — not his back.

– Alden Gonzalez 

Angels swap Walden for Hanson

The Angels are on the verge of acquiring starting pitcher Tommy Hanson from the Braves, an industry source confirmed to MLB.com on Friday.

Hanson, 26, has gone 45-32 with a 3.61 ERA in 108 starts while pitching the last four seasons with the Braves. Last year, the right-hander went 13-10 with a 4.48 ERA in 174 2/3 innings.

In exchange, the Braves will be acquiring hard-throwing reliever Jordan Walden, who notched 32 saves in 2011 and posted a 3.46 ERA in 45 appearances this past season.

– Alden Gonzalez 

Angels out on Greinke? …

What started out as a pie-in-the-sky, dream number now looks like a very hard dose of reality.

Zack Greinke is expected to garner a contract of six years at $150 million, making him the highest-paid right-handed pitcher in baseball history, according to Tuesday reports from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com and Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com. Buster Olney of ESPN.com reported he could even beat CC Sabathia’s record contract of seven years and $161 million.

That may be too rich for the Angels’ blood.

And according to Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com, the Angels have pretty much relented, writing Tuesday that they are “now unlikely to sign” Greinke because they aren’t willing to shell out that kind of money. “Long-term costs are making it tough,” an industry source told MLB.com, adding that “there are financial limits” with the Angels.

And that’s part of the problem.

The Dodgers, reported by several media outlets to be the favorites, could generate up to $7 billion in a TV deal with FOX Sports that kicks in after 2013 — or, an average of $240 million for 25 years — according to a report by The Los Angeles Times. In short, they don’t really have “financial limits.” That gives them the ability to outbid anyone for Greinke, even though they already have nearly $200 million tied to 18 players.

The Angels agreed on a one-year contract with Ryan Madson Tuesday, which is pending a physical, but that’s expected to be a low-base salary, high-incentive deal. They cleared a bunch of money by letting Torii Hunter go, buying out Dan Haren’s option and dealing Ervin Santana.

But if the Dodgers are willing to write a blank check, as is essentially being reported, there isn’t much they can do.

Keep in mind, though, that this is a negotiation and a fluid situation. And agents sure have a way of driving up the price. The Angels are basically in a two-front bidding war for Greinke — against the Dodgers on the West coast, and against the Rangers in the AL West.

– Alden Gonzalez 

Angels, Madson close on one-year deal

UPDATE, WEDNESDAY, 10:46 A.M. PT: Madson finalized his contract with the Angels. It’s for a base salary of $3.5 million and can be valued up to $7 million. There’s up to $2.5 million based on time on the active roster, and $1 million for amount of games finished.

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The Angels’ desire to upgrade the bullpen has seemingly taken them to Ryan Madson, who missed last season with Tommy John surgery but could be a big addition if he reverts back to form next year.

A source confirmed to MLB.com on Tuesday morning that the Angels and Madson are closing in on a one-year contract, following an initial report by CBSSports.com. Details are still being ironed out and the team hasn’t commented on the deal, which wouldn’t be official until Madson passes a physical.

A Madson-Angels pairing would in many ways be ideal, given Jerry Dipoto’s aspirations to add to the ‘pen but also balance that with the need for starting pitching, particularly Zack Greinke. Madson’s new contract is expected to be low in base salary and high in incentives, perhaps mainly based on games finished.

Madson, represented by Scott Boras, was born and raised in Southern California, currently lives in Temecula, Calif., and rehabbed from Tommy John surgery in Anaheim under the watch of Angels doctors. He had a base salary of $6 million during his lost season with the Reds in 2011, then declined his half of the $11 million mutual option for 2013 in order to get the $2.5 million buyout (the Reds would’ve declined their half anyway).

The Angels ranked fourth with a $159 million payroll last season, but cleared a lot of it by not resigning fan favorite Torii Hunter – quickly signed to a two-year, $26 million deal by the Tigers – paying $3.5 million to buy out Dan Haren’s option and sending more than 90 percent of Ervin Santana’s 2013 contract to the Royals.

With the remaining money, the Angels hope to fill two spots in their rotation and strengthen a bullpen that has totaled an American League-leading 47 blown saves the last two years.

If this deal gets finalized, and Madson bounces back, they can perhaps scratch that last part off their list.

– Alden Gonzalez 

Figgins probably not a fit for Angels

Former Angels speedster Chone Figgins was just designated for assignment by the Mariners after a rough stint in the Northwest, but don’t anticipate a return to Anaheim. A source with knowledge of the team’s thinking said Tuesday night that Figgins is “not likely to be a fit” for the Angels in 2013.

By designating Figgins for assignment, the Mariners have 10 days to trade, release or outright him before he becomes a free agent. If he clears waivers and is not traded, he will be released, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said. Figgins will most likely slip through waivers, which means the Mariners will simply pay the $8 million owed to him in 2013 and set him off into free agency.

The Angels, who are prioritizing pitching, have Alberto Callaspo slated as their starting third baseman for 2013 and have several options for the utility infield spot — Andrew Romine, Angel Sanchez and Brendan Harris.

Figgins, who can also play all three outfield spots, excelled with the Angels from 2004-09 but struggled mightily in his three years with the Mariners, compiling a .227/.302/.283 slash line. In 2012, he appeared in just 66 games and finished with a .181 batting average.

“He just became an expendable piece and that’s it,” Zduriencik told MLB.com’s Greg Johns. “That’s the end of the story.”

– Alden Gonzalez 

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