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Senior Baseball Columnist

With problem 'pen, rotation in tatters, Angels in holding pattern over Greinke

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After dealing Ervin Santana and cutting loose Dan Haren, the Halos focus is on re-signing Greinke. (US Presswire)  
After dealing Ervin Santana and cutting loose Dan Haren, the Halos focus is on re-signing Greinke. (US Presswire)  

Did you see the way general manager Jerry Dipoto pancaked a significant portion of the roster for his Los Angeles Angels of Ooomph! over the past several days?

And you thought another highly entertaining Alabama-LSU game Saturday delivered dozens of crunching hits.

Not to diminish the Tide and Tigers, but it was the Angels who were banged up on Monday, the wind knocked clear out of them.

Two-fifths of their rotation, gone with that wind.

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Heart of the clubhouse, sliced away.

Leaving them with ...?

A wing and a prayer, as they zero in on re-signing free agent pitcher Zack Greinke, turn the outfielder over to Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo and continue to work toward fixing their real problem in 2012, the bullpen.

Now of all clubs re-arranging the decks for 2013, you would think it is a team named the Angels who can survive on a wing and a prayer.

We're about to find out.

Crazy thing is, even after signing Albert Pujols, going into 2012 the Angels were sure they were going to be major October players because of their starting rotation. Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, Ervin Santana ... that always was going to be the power train that moved them through the October nights toward Halloween.

Not only did that plan fail, but now, in the name of gaining financial flexibility, they've ripped apart that rotation.

Santana was dealt to the Royals for a career minor-leaguer who never has pitched in the majors -- Brandon Sisk, 27.

Haren's 2013 option was bought out for $3.5 million late Friday night, making him a free agent.

Greinke, acquired from the Brewers in July, already was a free agent.

So what the Angels have now is Jered Weaver ... Wilson ... a strong desire to re-sign Greinke ... and not much else for a rotation.

Toss in the decision to not make a $13.3 million qualifying offer to outfielder Torii Hunter, and now these Angels need starting pitchers, bullpen help and a heart transplant.

Smart decisions?

Too early to say.

Risky decisions?

Without a doubt.

There is a very slim chance Haren and Hunter could return. Crazier things have happened. But the odds of that happening are somewhere in the vicinity of Bobby Grich and Chuck Finley coming back.

Dipoto's takeaway line from speaking with Angels beat reporters Friday night: "Anything is possible. But I can't say anything is likely."

Haren, 32, had been Mr. Dependable until lower back issues knocked him onto the disabled list in July. The result: For the first time in eight seasons, Haren didn't log 200 or more innings pitched. Only the Tigers' Justin Verlander has thrown more total pitches in the majors over the past four seasons.

The Angels' are bidding farewell to a man who has taken the ball as consistently as anyone since the Angels acquired him from the Diamondbacks in July 2010. But maybe all of those innings and pitches thrown have taken a toll: Haren's homers allowed were up (28 in 30 starts, as compared to 20 in 35 in 2011), and of 30 starts in '12, only 15 were quality outings.

Hard to fault the Angels for bailing on the $15.5 million they would have owed him in 2013, given his '12 decline.

And Santana has been an enigma for years.

So now their focus is entirely on Greinke, say league sources familiar with the Angels' thinking (even if Dipoto protests that the search for starting pitching is not "isolated" on Greinke).

They will not be alone. The starting pitching market is exceedingly thin, with the next bests after Greinke being Kyle Lohse, Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson.

In another time, at another place, the Angels zeroed in on another free agent they played sort of like Greinke: Mark Teixeira. As with Greinke, they acquired Teixeira in a midseason trade, both to help them win that year (2008) and figuring that half-a-season with him would give them an insider's edge when that winter's free agent market opened.

Then, the Yankees blew the Angels out of the water in the Teixeira negotiations.

Now, with the Dodgers and their bottomless bankroll, the Angels stand a real chance of the same thing happening with Greinke.

Unless the Angels have a secret master plan, parting ways with both Haren and Santana exponentially increases their need (and worsens their leverage) for Greinke.

Part of the clear vision fogged up when Dipoto's efforts to trade Haren fell apart. Even the Cubs' Carlos Marmol, with plenty of baggage of his own, would have given the Angels another strong bullpen arm.

Now, they face significant holes in both their rotation and bullpen.

And Hunter, while he doesn't pitch, is a nine-time Gold Glove winner who batted .313 with 16 homers and 92 RBI last season. And it wasn't Pujols, or Trout or even Trumbo who grabbed the Angels by the scruffs of their necks and pulled them toward one final, frantic playoff push in September. It was Hunter.

Even at 37, he hit .345 with 27 RBI in 29 games to keep the Angels in play. Without him, they would have finished further than five games behind AL West champ Oakland, third in the division.

He was so good down the stretch that owner Arte Moreno told the team's radio station, "If we don't figure out a way to re-sign him, we're going to get hung, aren't we?"

Lot of figuring is going on right now with the Los Angeles Angels of Missed Playoffs.

With Pujols already turning 33 in January with nine more years left on his deal, the urgency to figure right is imperative.

With Vernon Wells having two years and $42 million left on his deal, the quest for financial flexibility in other areas is a necessity.

It is not easy being the Angels right now, coming off of a chillier-than-predicted summer, with a frigid winter just ahead.

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