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OC Register: Angels still have room to upgrade heading to Winter Meetings

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SAN DIEGO — As the Angels head to the Winter Meetings, the big question is whether they are going to “go big.”

A month into the offseason, the Angels have already made three significant acquisitions — pitcher Tyler Anderson, infielder Gio Urshela and outfielder Hunter Renfroe — that pushed their payroll to just about where it was last season.

If the Angels are truly going to consider themselves a playoff-caliber team, as opposed to a team that could maybe, possibly, if everything goes right, get there, they have room to upgrade.

In order of need, the Angels could use a shortstop, at least one high leverage reliever and another starter. A veteran backup catcher wouldn’t hurt either.

Will they do it?

That likely depends on how much owner Arte Moreno wants to spend on a team that he’s in the process of selling.

The Angels ended 2022 with a payroll of around $180 million, according to FanGraphs. They had budgeted for more than that, but trades of Noah Syndergaard and Raisel Iglesias saved them around $10 million.

So far this winter, they’ve added Anderson ($13 million in 2023), Urshela (around $9 million in arbitration) and Renfroe (around $11 million in arbitration). They are also going to pay Shohei Ohtani $30 million in 2023, after paying him just $5.5 million in 2022.

Add it all up and they are currently on the hook for around $192 million, which is around $206 million for purposes of the luxury tax, which starts to kick in at $233 million.

The luxury tax is based on average salaries, which can differ from what a player is actually making in a given year. Also, it includes bonuses and benefits which are generally not included when calculating a team’s base payroll.

However you slice it, that would seem to make it difficult for Angels to fill their most glaring need with one of the four marquee free agent shortstops: Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson and Trea Turner.

The Angels also could look to deal for an infielder who becomes surplus from one of the teams that signs one of the top shortstops. For example, if the White Sox sign one of them, the Angels might be able to get Tim Anderson from Chicago. If the Padres sign a marquee shortstop, perhaps they would trade Ha-Seong Kim.

If the Angels do make the plunge on one of the Big Four shortstops, it would free up Rengifo to be used in a trade to fill one of their other holes. Perhaps Rengifo could be used as part of a package to get closer David Bednar from the Pittsburgh Pirates or closer Gregory Soto from the Detroit Tigers.

Beyond swinging a deal like that, the Angels’ have plenty of free agent options for the bullpen, but they come with the normal risk of spending money on relievers. Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel are all free agents with impressive resumes and significant baggage because of age, recent injury or poor performance.

So far the Angels have signed three relievers to minor league deals: right-handers Chris Devenski, Jonathan Holder and Jacob Webb.

In the rotation, the Angels have perhaps one opening in a group with Ohtani, Anderson, Patrick Sandoval, Reid Detmers and José Suarez. It seems unlikely they’d be able to afford a pitcher at the top of the free agent market, but perhaps they could sign someone like Chris Bassitt, Nathan Eovaldi, Jameson Taillon or Taijuan Walker. All are right-handed, which could complement the four lefties currently in the Angels rotation. The Angels also could bring back right-hander Michael Lorenzen.

Behind the plate, Max Stassi figures to start the year as the Angels No. 1 catcher, with Logan O’Hoppe waiting in the wings. They also have Matt Thaiss, who will be out of options in 2023. The Angels might look for another alternative, in case Stassi doesn’t rebound from his disappointing 2022 and O’Hoppe isn’t ready.

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