Results tagged ‘ Rays ’
Last year’s record: 85-77, 3rd place
Key additions: SP Masahiro Tanaka, OF Jacoby Ellsbury, OF Carlos Beltran, C Brian McCann, INF Kelly Johnson, INF Brian Roberts, RP Matt Thornton
Key subtractions: CL Mariano Rivera, 2B Robinson Cano, OF Curtis Granderson, 3B Alex Rodriguez, SP Andy Pettitte, SP Phil Hughes, RP Joba Chamberlain, RP Boone Logan
Biggest strength: Outfield. They’re deep enough there that they can eventually use Brett Gardner as a chip to help shore up another department. For now, Gardner is expected to start alongside Ellsbury and Beltran, with Alfonso Soriano (129 OPS plus with the Yankees last year) serving as the primary designated hitter and Ichiro Suzuki (eventual Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki) off the bench.
Biggest question: Age. Four of their projected starting nine are 35 and older (Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Brian Roberts, Beltran), CC Sabathia is seemingly on the decline and Hiroki Kuroda is 38.
Most important player: Tanaka. He was signed to a seven-year, $155 million contract on Wednesday, and if he becomes the ace suggested on his price tag, or even just a very formidable No. 2, the Yankees’ rotation can compete in baseball’s toughest division.
In 25 words or less: The Yankees re-established themselves as a financial juggernaut, but can they be dominant again? That’s up to Father Time.
Last year’s record: 97-65, 1st place (beat the Cardinals in WS)
Key additions: C A.J. Pierzynski, INF Jonathan Herrera, RP Edward Mujica, RP Burke Badenhop
Key subtractions: OF Jacoby Ellsbury, SS Stephen Drew, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, RP Matt Thornton
Biggest strength: Starting pitching. The Red Sox return all six starting pitchers from their World Series-winning team — Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront.
Biggest question: Their young players, specifically Jackie Bradley Jr., who will replace Ellsbury in center fielder, and Xander Bogaerts, who’s expected to replace Drew at shortstop after a stellar postseason.
Most important player: Clay Buchholz. The 29-year-old right-hander has shown flashes of brilliance, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy throughout a full season. Last year, he had a 1.74 ERA but made only 16 starts because of shoulder fatigue that diminished his fastball velocity in October.
In 25 words or less: Once again, the Red Sox have a nice blend of accomplished veterans and talented young players, and look like a force.
Last year’s record: 92-71, 2nd place (lost to Red Sox in ALDS)
Key additions: CL Grant Balfour, C Ryan Hanigan, RP Heath Bell, INF Jayson Nix, RP Pedro Figueroa
Key subtractions: CL Fernando Rodney, OF Luke Scott, INF Kelly Johnson, RP Randy Choate
Biggest strength: Starting pitching, like it is every year. The Rays never seem to run out of it, no matter how little money they have to play with. The quintet of David Price/Alex Cobb/Matt Moore/Jeremy Hellickson/Chris Archer is as good as anyone.
Biggest question: Protecting Evan Longoria. It’s an annual question with this money-strapped bunch, but could cease being a problem if Wil Myers builds on his Rookie of the Year season.
Most important player: Balfour. The Rays signed him to a two-year, $12 million deal on Thursday, a month after his two-year, $15 million agreement with the O’s was taken off the table over issues with his physical. If he can be the guy the A’s have had the last two years (2.56 ERA, 62 saves), he’ll be a bargain and stabilize an otherwise uncertain bullpen.
In 25 words or less: If they keep Price, they’ll find a way to contend. If they trade Price, they’ll find a way to content. They don’t stop.
Last year’s record: 74-88, 5th place
Key additions: C Dioner Navarro, 1B Dan Johnson, 2B Chris Getz, 3B Brent Morel, RP Tomo Ohka
Key subtractions: SP Josh Johnson, RP Darren Oliver, OF Rajai Davis, C J.P. Arencibia
Biggest strength: Offense. With Jose Reyes at the top, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in the middle, and Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie sprinkled throughout, Toronto has the makings of a potent lineup — if everyone performs to their career norms.
Biggest question: Starting pitching. The Blue Jays ranked 29th in starting-pitcher ERA last year, ahead of only the Twins, with R.A. Dickey having a rough first half and the likes of Johnson, Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ and several others all struggling.
Most important player: The free-agent starter to be named later. The Blue Jays could target someone like Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez. And if they get one of them, it’ll take a lot of the load off Dickey, Morrow and Mark Buehrle.
In 25 words or less: The same core that looked primed to win the division and grossly underachieved is back almost entirely. That’s both good and bad.
Last year’s record: 85-77, 3rd place
Key additions: 2B Jemile Weeks, OF David Lough, OF Delmon Young, RP Ryan Webb, RP Brad Brach, OF Tyler Colvin, OF Quintin Berry, OF Julio Borbon
Key subtractions: CL Jim Johnson, 2B Brian Roberts, OF Nate McLouth, OF Michael Morse, SP Scott Feldman, SP Jason Hammel, SP Tsuyoshi Wada, RP Francisco Rodriguez
Biggest strength: Star power. In third baseman Manny Machado, center fielder Adam Jones and first baseman Chris Davis, the O’s have three of the best players at their respective positions.
Biggest question: Their assortment of young starting pitchers. Few have actually clicked, and if the O’s are to compete again, someone will have to emerge from a group that includes Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson and T.J. McFarland.
Most important player: Bundy, the 21-year-old who was ranked by MLB.com as the eighth-best right-handed-pitching prospect. Bundy underwent Tommy John surgery in June and could give Baltimore a much-needed boost in the rotation if he returns to form around mid-season.
In 25 words or less: A talented core exists, but this team needs more additions to compete in this division.
Predicted order of finish …
- Red Sox
- Blue Jays
Previous entries: NL East
Here’s how it stacked up in combined wins …
AL East: 433
NL Central: 421
AL Central: 400
NL West: 399
NL East: 391
AL West: 387
And here’s where it ranked in run-differential …
AL East: 235
NL Central: 219
AL Central: 0
NL West: -137
AL West: -138
NL East: -179
But AL West teams have been particularly aggressive in the early portion of this offseason — and yes, it’s worth reminding all of you that it is, indeed, still early — which could make for an interesting dynamic in 2014, and should make the Angels’ return to the postseason that much tougher.
The Mariners just reeled in the biggest free agent of the offseason, snatching Robinson Cano from the Yankees via a reported 10-year, $240-million, Albert Pujols-like contract. No, they aren’t an instant contender. And as the Angels themselves have shown, throwing the most dollars at the best free agent in no way guarantees success. But this is an important building block for a Mariners team that has always struggled to land the big names (see: Josh Hamilton and Prince Fielder). At some point, you have to overpay to lay a foundation (the Mets thought the same thing with Curtis Granderson). This reminds me of the Jayson Werth deal the Nationals made three offseasons ago. It was a vast overpay at seven years and $126 million. But at that time, it was the only way the Nats were going to land a premier free agent. Adding Werth — even if he isn’t a star to the magnitude of Cano — changed the expectations in Washington and ultimately helped make it a place where free agents wanted to play. Same can happen in Seattle, where the Mariners are showing a willingness to spend. And if they trade for David Price — they have the prospects to do it — watch out.
In the words of one executive, “The A’s may have one of the best bullpens in history.” It’s not much of an exaggeration when you consider that they added Luke Gregerson to a group that includes Jim Johnson, Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins, Sean Doolittle, etc. Their rotation — Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, Sonny Gray, in whatever order — is darn good, as well. But here’s the most important part about the current A’s: After back-to-back exits in the Division Series, they’re going for it. You don’t trade for one season of Johnson, flip a talented prospect (Michael Choice) for Craig Gentry or give Kazmir a two-year, $22 million contract if you aren’t.
Then there are the Rangers, who you just know have another big more or two in them. I actually liked the Fielder-for-Ian Kinsler deal for them (and loved it for the Tigers). They’re paying Fielder $138 million over the next seven years, which is very reasonable for a guy whose home-run rate will inflate in Texas and who gives them the middle-of-the-order bat they’ve been missing since Hamilton left. Over the last four years, the Rangers have the third-best regular-season winning percentage in the Majors (.570, trailing only the Yankees and Braves) and have been to the World Series twice. They had the 10th-best staff ERA in baseball last year, and they surely aren’t done.
Even the Astros have made some moves. They reached agreement on a three-year, $30 million deal with starter Scott Feldman — a guy the Angels would’ve liked, but not for three years — and previously traded for former Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler. They were easily dead last in 2013 in winning percentage (.315) and run-differential (minus-238), so they’re a ways away. But they have the second-best farm system in the Majors, per Baseball America, and they’re on their way.
What does all this mean for the Angels?
Well, nothing. At least not now.
They have about $15 million and some trade chips — Howie Kendrick still chief among them — to fill two spots in their starting rotation. They still have baseball’s best player in Mike Trout, two premier superstars in Pujols and Hamilton, two legit starters at the top of their rotation in Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, and a bullpen that can be among the deepest in baseball if Sean Burnett returns to full health. If they can sign someone like Matt Garza, they’re no doubt a legit playoff contender, regardless of how bad this past season turned out for them.
But their competition just keeps getting better.
In August 2009, the Angels acquired Scott Kazmir from the Rays in a four-player trade.
In July 2012, Peter Bourjos was so close to being dealt to the Rays — presumably for James Shields, but that part is unconfirmed — that they basically had his uniform ready in St. Petersburg.
This offseason, perhaps the two can come together again — this time for ace pitcher David Price.
The two haven’t been linked heavily in trade talks — yet — but it’s a pairing that would seem to make sense for both sides. The Rays are believed throughout the industry to be shopping Price this winter. It’s the kind of thing they’d do. The starting-pitching market is thin, which would maximize Price’s value; the 28-year-old left-hander is projected to make about $13 million in his second year of arbitration; and Tampa Bay has a gluttony of young, cost-controlled starting pitching, which could free the front office up to trade Price for the offense that may finally balance out their roster.
Meet the Angels. They’ll spend all offseason looking for pitching via the trade market and are more than willing to dangle offensive pieces to get it. Price only comes with two years of control, which doesn’t exactly meet the profile of cost-controlled arms that Jerry Dipoto specifically targets. But here’s the thing: The Angels don’t just have to improve the rotation. They have to get a lot better. Their staff ranked 11th in the American League in ERA last year, Jered Weaver basically loses a tick or two off his fastball every season, C.J. Wilson can drive you nuts every five days, Garrett Richards is still developing and Jason Vargas (if resigned) is 64th in ERA over the last four years.
This rotation looks a whole lot better if you slide Price at the top and move everyone down a spot.
Heck, it may rival some of the best in the league.
Will it happen? Maybe; most likely not, given how difficult it is to pull off trades this big. But it’s an interesting one to think about at this point. (Even a little fun, no?) Who would the Angels have to give up to get Price, you ask? One guy the Rays may really want — perhaps even demand — is Richards, and I can see that being the difference between real dialogue taking place or this being nothing more than a pipe dream. Besides Richards, Mark Trumbo – who you’d hate to lose, but would probably be willing to give up if it means getting someone this good — is probably a guy who would go to Tampa Bay, since he’d be a perfect fit in the middle of their lineup and first baseman James Loney is now a free agent. Maybe Bourjos gets thrown in there again, perhaps second baseman Howie Kendrick — born and raised in nearby Jacksonville — gets added to the mix, maybe some prospects, maybe all of them.
Two things are certain …
- The Angels would face a whole lot of competition, especially if Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka isn’t posted. And the Rays will seek a significant return since they don’t really have to trade Price this offseason.
- The Angels may have to take on money, since a big reason the Rays would do it in the first place is to free up some payroll flexibility. (I estimate that the Angels have something in the neighborhood of $15 million of wiggle room for 2014. Parting ways with Trumbo saves about $6 million for next season, while Kendrick saves about $9 million and Bourjos saves about $1.5 million.)
Vargas — without the $14.1 million qualifying offer – officially joined the free-agent pool of starting pitchers at 9:01 p.m. PT on Monday, when teams were given the green light to start negotiating with all eligible free agents. The Angels would be interested in bringing him back. And though their best bet to bolster their starting rotation will come via the trade market, the free-agent list is worth looking at nonetheless.
So, with that in mind, below is a categorical look at the unimpressive-but-perhaps-useful pool. Off the bat, I eliminated Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Hiroki Kuroda, the three starters who were tendered the qualifying offer and figure to be out of the Angels’ price range. Also not mentioned are Far East stars Tanaka and Suk-Min Yoon (Korea), who have yet to be posted.
Have a look. (Warning: It ain’t pretty.)
The Next Tier
Big Names, Big Reclamations
Coming Back From Injury
Potential Minor League Options
Some Upside Left?
The Angels are on the verge of falling out of the playoffs for the fourth straight season, but it looks the organization will extend its streak of consecutive years drawing three million fans to the ballpark.
The announced attendance for Friday’s game against the Mariners was 39,469, putting Angel Stadium at 2,823,874 for the season with five home games remaining (two against the Mariners, three against the Athletics). That means the Angels would have to average more than 35,225 the rest of the way to reach 3,000,000 fans for an 11th straight season.
Their average for the season: 37,125 (eighth in the Majors).
The last time the Angels didn’t draw three million fans during their 81 home dates was 2002, when they won the World Series and elevated the interest level of baseball in Orange County. When you consider how difficult it is for playoff teams like the Rays, A’s and Indians to draw 20,000 a night, it’s pretty impressive that the Angels would reach three million fans when they’ve been out of the playoff mix for basically the entire year.
But that’s four straight years without a playoff gate, after back-to-back blockbuster offseasons. And keep in mind that the attendance figures are bloated because of the season tickets that were purchased before the start of the season (that’s why paid attendance and actual attendance doesn’t always seem to match up). Next year is when the Angels could really see a drop-off.
Here are the year-to-year averages during the three-million-fans-a-year streak, with the Major League rank in parenthesis …
2003: 37,791 (5th)
2004: 41,675 (3rd)
2005: 42,033 (4th)
2006: 42,059 (5th)
2007: 41,551 (5th)
2008: 41,194 (6th)
2009: 40,004 (5th)
2010: 40,133 (5th)
2011: 39,090 (5th)
2012: 37,799 (7th)
That was Dane De La Rosa‘s response when asked after Tuesday’s 6-5 win if it meant more to get a save against this team. The word he used was more, well, R-rated than ‘heck.’ And he wasn’t joking.
It did mean more.
The Rays gave De La Rosa another chance. They signed him in November 2009, after he had spent three years toiling away in independent ball, and housed him (mostly in their Minor League system) for the next three years before parting ways with him (in exchange for Steve Geltz) just before the start of the 2013 regular season.
For De La Rosa, this was, as he put it, “full circle.”
“They gave me a chance,” he said after his second career save, both this year. “Stuff happens. But while I was here, I learned. This is a great organization, obviously, to learn pitching, just controlling the running game and stuff like that. Everything I learned, everything I did in this organization, I feel like it wasn’t a waste. It was for something. Now this is, I guess, what it’s for.”
It took him a while, sure, but this season — his age-30 season — the 6-foot-7 De La Rosa has finally established himself in the big leagues, with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP in 60 innings. This month, he’s given up one run in 11 appearances (spanning 9 2/3 innings), basically becoming Ernesto Frieri‘s backup closer with the Angels.
De La Rosa made sure to keep the ball on Tuesday night. When you go through as much as he has, you tend to value moments like this a little bit more.
As Jason Lee said in one of my favorite movies, Vanilla Sky: “I know sour, which allows me to appreciate the sweet.”
“Joe [Maddon] used to talk about the levels of being a big leaguer,” De La Rosa said. “And I think, right now, I’m at that last level, which is knowing I should be here and building on each outing as a big leaguer – not as a Triple-A guy or just a guy who’s a fringe guy. Just knowing that I belong here and throwing the way I usually throw.
“Coming back into baseball, affiliated baseball at least, being with them, working my way up to there, then coming back here and getting the save, it’s cool.”
The Angels went into the international signing period, which began on Tuesday, with a bonus pool just below $2 million. The thinking was that they’d do what they’ve done the last few years — hand out bonuses of a couple-hundred-thousand dollars and try to hit on as many guys as possible with their minimal allotment.
But then the opportunity to sign Ricardo Sanchez came along.
Sanchez is a 16-year-old left-handed pitcher, and the Angels consider him one of the top pitching prospects in the baseball-crazed nation of Venezuela. Tuesday afternoon, they signed him to a reported $580,000 bonus, which is more than they’ve handed out in a few years but less than what they were worried Sanchez would go for.
“If we were going to do something a little bit different, it had to be the right guy,” Angels international scouting director Carlos Gomez said. “It was probably a little bit more than we thought the biggest bonus was going to be this year, but he kind of fit all the things that we were looking to do.”
Sanchez is only 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, but his fastball can reach the low-90s and he has a good feel for his changeup and breaking ball, general manager Jerry Dipoto said. Others have compared him to Rays starter Alex Cobb.
“And I know the one thing we like more than anything is just his makeup — how he competes, the way he goes about his business,” Dipoto added.
Sanchez was most notably named MVP of last August’s Under-15 World Championships, pitching Venezuela to a win over Cuba in the title game. After the contract is officially approved by Major League Baseball, Sanchez will report to the Angels’ new academy in the Boca Chica area of the Dominican Republic, and Gomez believes he can soon go to the United States to pitch in the Arizona Summer League.
Sanchez isn’t ranked among MLB.com’s Top 30 international prospects, and Baseball America ranks lists him 27th. Gomez, who’s been following him for the last couple of years, believes he should be in the top 10.
“I will wear you out with what I think of Ricardo Sanchez, not only as a player but the human being himself,” Gomez said. “Phenomenal kid. Trainer’s phenomenal, fantastic family. It’s a nice face of the international world.”
Sanchez was added shortly after the First-Year Player Draft, which saw the Angels use their first selection (in the second round) on high school left-hander Hunter Green and take a pitcher with each of their first seven picks.
“It gives us something to look forward to in talent coming down the pike in terms of our pitching,” Dipoto said. “Nothing more than that. There’s no elaborate plan. We’re trying to add as much talent as we can to the system, and it just so happens that we’ve focused on pitching in the here and now.”
The Angels, feeling a little uneasy about Hank Conger‘s throwing woes, are in search of a veteran backup catcher as Spring Training winds down, an industry source confirmed to MLB.com on Saturday. Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com first reported the Angels’ interest.
Conger, 25, came into camp as the clear-cut favorite to back up catcher Chris Iannetta and has hit well, batting .381 with two homers and 11 RBIs. The Angels like the switch-hitting Conger — who has always hit and has come a long way with his footwork and receiving skills behind the plate — but they need him to correct his throwing issues, which led to three errant throws on Sunday to up his spring total to at least five.
With rosters being pared down this time of year, the Angels will look to the waiver wire to add a steady, inexpensive, veteran presence behind the plate. They have an open spot on the 40-man roster after slipping Bobby Cassevah, now with the Rockies, through waivers. They’ll have some competition, though, with the Phillies, Pirates and Rays also looking for catching help, according to MLB.com’s Peter Gammons.
The Angels still believe in Conger. So in the event of an acquisition, they’re likely to option him to Triple-A to start the season so he can find the consistent release point that has eluded him. Conger has one option year left. John Hester (on the 40-man) and Luke Carlin (a non-roster invitee) are the other two catchers technically vying for the backup job, but both have had very inconsistent time in the Majors throughout their careers.
Everything is fuzzy this time of year, with the start of Spring Training around the corner and the regular-season grind still about six weeks away.
But looking at the Angels’ roster, two things seem certain: The offense is very potent and the starting pitching is quite questionable.
Funny thing is, it could’ve easily been in reverse, or perhaps a little more balanced. In fact, there were two instances this offseason when general manager Jerry Dipoto reached a fork in the road and made a decision that, perceivably, worked to improve the offense and sacrificed some starting pitching.
With pitchers and catchers reporting to Tempe, Ariz., in three days, I thought it’d be a good time to look at those two crucial decisions. I’m not suggesting they were the wrong choices; I just feel they’re worth examining. Because depending on where the Angels are come October, they may be something to point to.
Here they are …
Josh Hamilton over Zack Greinke: When Dipoto scoffed at Greinke’s concrete contractual demands on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings, we thought it signaled the return to a payroll in the $135- to $140-million range. What we didn’t find out until a few weeks later was that at a certain price point, Dipoto preferred Hamilton over Greinke, and that Hamilton — at least in the words of several members of the Angels’ front office — was the one guy owner Arte Moreno was willing to “blow up” the budget for, putting it back at about $150 million.
Greinke wound up getting an average annual value of $24.5 million on a six-year deal with the Dodgers; Hamilton got a $25 million AAV on a five-year deal. Yes, it adds up to $22 million more in total value for Greinke, but I don’t think that was the main motivating factor here. Dipoto’s thinking was that signing Hamilton was a two-for-one — it improved their offense and allowed them to improve a pitching staff that at that point could use it.
But Greinke is, in many ways, an ace; a guy who would’ve continued to form a standout one-two punch with Jered Weaver at the top of the rotation, which always sets up nicely for the playoffs.
Not trading Mark Trumbo and/or Peter Bourjos: In some ways, this was yet another offense-for-pitching sacrifice by the Angels’ front office. By trading Kendrys Morales to the Mariners for lefty starter Jason Vargas — two pending free agents — the lineup would be more fluid. Trumbo would be the designated hitter most days, but would also readily fill in at first base and right field to give Hamilton and Albert Pujols a blow. That’s big, given the amount of money owed to those two 30-something sluggers, and it’s a big improvement over what was mostly a cluttered position-player roster last spring.
But what if trading Trumbo and/or Bourjos, two cost-controlled outfielders teams covet more than Morales, could’ve landed the Angels an even better, cost-controlled, top-of-the-rotation starter — maybe a Jeremy Hellickson-type?
Shortly after flipping Morales for Vargas, and keeping Trumbo and Bourjos, Dipoto said: “That was very much a part of the plan. Dating back to the start of this offseason, and even as we were trailing towards the end of the 2012 season, it’s been a priority for us to keep as much of our young nucleus in place as possible.”
Maybe it was, and maybe Dipoto also didn’t like the potential returns he was seeing for Trumbo/Bourjos. Whatever the case, the Angels head into the 2013 season with arguably the best lineup in baseball, but a far less heralded rotation — though, to be fair, also one that eats innings and tailors very well to its surroundings with lots of fly-ball pitchers.
Come October, we’ll know how those decisions really worked out.
I wrote Wednesday about the Angels’ rotation, which is seemingly the only uncertain, less-than-stellar department of the 2013 team. The down-the-stretch trio of Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana is being replaced by Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton, a new trio that costs less but should put more pressure on the revamped bullpen and a stellar offense.
But here’s one other thing worth noting about this less-sexy rotation: It’ll absorb a plentiful amount of innings, perhaps more so than that of any other club in the American League.
Consider the averages of each of the five starters …
- Jered Weaver (2007-12): 200 IP
- C.J. Wilson (2010-12): 210 IP
- Vargas (2010-12): 204 IP
- Hanson (2010-12): 169 IP
- Blanton (05-12): 178 IP
Put another way: The Angels have a realistic chance of having five starters throw at least 170 innings in 2013. No other AL team was able to boast that in 2012. In fact, nine of the 14 clubs didn’t have more than two starters account for 170-plus frames (the Twins and playoff-bound Orioles only had one; the Angels, Rays and Yankees were the only ones with four).
Weaver (6.4), Wilson (6.1), Vargas (6) and Blanton (6.2) have each averaged at least six innings per start throughout their careers, while Hanson is at 5.9. So, if the quintet of Weaver, Wilson, Hanson, Vargas and Blanton stay healthy all year (a big “if” in every circumstance, of course), Angels starters will have absorbed about 991 innings combined, based on each of their career track records.
In 2012, 991 innings from a starting rotation would’ve ranked seventh in the Majors and fourth in the AL, behind only the Mariners, Yankees and Rays.
Yes, the Angels currently have just one — maybe two, if Wilson regroups — ace-like starter capable of single-handedly halting losing streaks and altering a short playoff series. But there’s something to be said about starters consistently pitching deep into games. It repeatedly gives an offense as potent as the Angels’ a chance to win, and it means a strong bullpen won’t have to account for so many innings.
It’s why Blanton doesn’t find the term “innings-eater” insulting.
“I’m fine with that, honestly,” said Blanton, who has actually averaged 198 innings since ’05 if you discount an injury-riddled 2011.
“In my personal opinion, I don’t feel like you throw 180, 190, 200 innings without being able to go deep into games. Just taking the ball every fifth day, if you weren’t getting the job done, you’d be done every five innings, and in 30 starts, that’s 150 innings. So you still have to go deep into games, and be successful enough and keep a team in the game enough to be able to rack up those innings.”
The Angels also have a little more overall starting-pitching depth than they entered with last season.
The high-upside Garrett Richards and the capable Jerome Williams, both of whom were competing for the fifth spot last spring, are now insurance policies; as are the likes of Brad Mills, Barry Enright and the two Minor League signings, Jo-Jo Reyes and Billy Buckner.
“The likelihood of having five starters go post-to-post and not miss a day is unlikely; it doesn’t happen very often,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “So you want to have that depth.”
Whatever the Angels’ rotation lacks in prestige is made up for in numbers — as in the number of innings absorbed and the number of viable arms.
The ideal chip for the Angels’ next, seemingly inevitable trade for a starting pitcher is Kendrys Morales.
It’s hard to deny that. Morales is coming into his final season before free agency and — given his representation (Scott Boras) and his desire to be more than a full-time DH — will leave after 2013.
Trading him now would give the Angels an outfield foursome of Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo (with Vernon Wells‘ contract probably still lingering). Trout, Bourjos and Trumbo are still in their pre-arbitration years and all four are under club control until at least 2016. Trout (probably left field), Bourjos (center) and Hamilton (right) would make up one of the game’s best outfields — offensively and defensively — and would give the Angels somewhat of a revolving door at DH. Trumbo would get the most reps there, but his versatility would allow Hamilton and Albert Pujols, who need to stay on the field to maximize their nine-figure contracts, can start there, too, when needed.
But what kind of starting pitcher can Morales bring back?
The Angels will seemingly be selling pretty high on the 29-year-old switch-hitter. He’s coming off his first healthy season since 2009, batting .273 with 22 homers, 73 RBIs and a .787 OPS. Morales, who missed almost two full seasons with a couple of ankle surgeries, even proved he can still handle first base. Then there’s the belief that he’ll be even better in 2013, with the motivation of an expiring contract and a full season under his belt. That’s a pretty good package for a guy who will make about $4 million next year, and teams desperate for power — particularly from the left side of the plate — would no doubt love to have him.
Still, though, his market is limited, because you’d be hard-pressed to find a National League club willing to gamble on him as their everyday first baseman and because we’re at a point in the offseason when most teams no longer have big holes to fill. Of course, the Angels would love to move Wells, but I can’t imagine them getting back any significant starter for him, even if they eat the vast majority of the $42 million owed to him the next two years. They’ll also keep listening on Bourjos and Trumbo, and may pull the trigger if blown away by a top-tier, cost-controlled starter. But as Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com wrote on Twitter recently, the priority is to deal Morales for an innings-eater.
Who can they get?
Here are three potential (and purely speculative) AL fits …
Rays: I know, it’s the first place everyone goes. But Tampa Bay always seems like an ideal match because they’re (still) rich in starters and could always use offense. Right now the Rays have James Loney at first base, with somewhat of a platoon at DH with the right-handed-hitting Ryan Roberts and the left-handed-hitting Sam Fuld. Morales would give them a big upgrade, and someone who can protect Evan Longoria. But he wouldn’t get the Angels Jeremy Hellickson or Matt Moore, or probably even Alex Cobb. Maybe Jeff Niemann, who’s under club control for two more years and would cost about $3 million in arbitration in 2013? The Rays did pick up some flexibility for the rotation by signing Roberto Hernandez on Tuesday.
Orioles: They still seek a middle-of-the-order bat, have a spot open at DH and seemingly have some pitching they can afford to part ways with. Righties Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman, and lefties Zach Britton and Brian Matusz are all young with upside, but with the exception of Tillman, they all struggled last year. Would the O’s be willing to part ways with the 24-year-old Tillman, one of few bright spots in an eclectic starting staff that ranked ninth in the AL in ERA last year? And given his past inconsistencies, can the Angels do better?
Indians: They’re trying to woo free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher, but could always use more offense, and Morales could split time at DH and first base with the right-handed-hitting Mark Reynolds. What about Justin Masterson, who had a rough 2012 season but has topped 200 innings the last two years and is signed for two more years? Well, he isn’t an ace, but he’s listed as Cleveland’s No. 1 pitcher, so they’d probably be very hesitant to give him up for K-Mo. Here’s another intriguing name: Ubaldo Jimenez. He’s been a shell of himself the last couple years, but he’s been relatively healthy, will make $5.75 million in 2013 and has an $8 million option for 2014. Perhaps working with his old catcher, Chris Iannetta, can get him back on track.
The important thing to ask yourself is whether any of these guys would be an upgrade over the 24-year-old Garrett Richards, who has yet to start a full season in the Majors but has a lot of upside. Adding another starter would likely push Richards to Triple-A, with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton making up the rest of the staff, and Jerome Williams likely returning to the long-relief role. The Angels’ front office will have some important decisions to make before Spring Training (and perhaps they’ll linger beyond that). Do they hold onto Bourjos and Trumbo, keeping their position-player roster deep but not improving the rotation a whole lot? Or do they trade one of those two — or both, or more — to land the impact starter they could still use?