from the New York Daily News’ Peter Botte :

Angels owner Arte Moreno has made no secret of his desire to supplant the Dodgers as the “it” team in southern California. So how would a trade for former Los Angeles icon Mike Piazza ratchet up that growing rivalry?

Anaheim was among several teams Mets GM Omar Minaya held talks with at the GM meetings last week in Key Biscayne, Fla. A person familiar with those discussions acknowledged last night that the Angels had expressed interest in acquiring Piazza, who starred for the Dodgers from 1992 through 1998 before establishing the all-time record for homers by a catcher in his five-plus seasons in Flushing.

The Angels, who have cleared more than $40 million from their payroll for expected runs at free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran and a top starter such as Arizona ace Randy Johnson, likely would have to shed other contracts in any deal for Piazza, who is slated to earn $16 million next season.

The Mets are seeking to clear Piazza’s salary off their books to obtain Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa and they also will look to obtain two starting pitchers and a first baseman. But one baseball official said last night “there’s not much of a market” for Piazza and the Mets “will listen to anyone who brings his name up.”

With Anaheim, Piazza – who has 10-5 rights to veto any trade – could serve as the primary designated hitter and he also could receive at-bats as a backup catcher and first baseman. Angels DH Tim Salmon is expected to be sidelined most of next season while recovering from shoulder surgery.

Another intriguing player for the Mets might be Anaheim first baseman Darin Erstad, who recently became the first player ever to win a Gold Glove as both an infielder and an outfielder. Erstad, who won the award as a first baseman for the first time last season, would appear to fit the Mets’ criteria of a defensively responsible player to anchor their young infield. Erstad, a career .289 hitter, is slated to make $8.25 million in 2005.