At this point, the Los Angeles Angels pursuing starting pitching this offseason has become almost like one of those repetitive ads that gets stuck your head.
Wanted: Cost-controlled pitching, preferably a mid-to-back-end of the ration kind of guy. Must be willing to spend the 2014 MLB season—maybe beyond that—in Anaheim, California. There is some pay, but thanks to a few poorly structured deals in the past, not much. Trade is an option.
Any interest should be directed towards general manager Jerry Dipoto or manager Mike Scioscia, but not both at the same time; they are still getting used to working with each other.
Thank you, from the Los Angeles Angels organization.
Simple enough, right?
There isn’t any sort of spoiler alert needed this winter for the Angels. The offseason has unceremoniously started for the organization. Both manager and general manager have gotten on the same page—or, at least, looked at the same book—and changes are on the horizon.
Good change, too. Allegedly.
Finally, they'll be seeking not the big-splash free-agent acquisition sent to win the American League West with simple swings of the bat, but effective MLB-ready pitchers who can help reclaim the domination the Angels enjoyed in the mid-to-late 2000s.
With a tight budget and arbitration cases still looming, however, the pursuit of those decent arms will not be as mindless and quick-triggered as the moves made in the past offseasons (see: Madson, Ryan).
There will need to be some out-of-the box thinking to make any move that doesn’t do one of three things: further deplete the farm system; deplete a defense that was quietly horrid in 2013; or remind all of the Angels community that Vernon Wells is still owed $18 million-plus in 2014 and that a Joe Blanton deal did in fact happen.
Can it be done?
There is always a chance for complete satisfaction, but let’s not try to reinvent a baseball miracle.
Molding some sort of winning rotation will help fans forget the last season, especially if the memory loss occurs while the Angels are on their way to the playoffs for the fist time in four years. But there was more to last year’s downfall than starting pitching.
Sure, the Angels used 26 different pitchers in 2013, an unwanted number that was nearly the worst in MLB. That’s not great, no question. But teams like the Red Sox, Pirates, Dodgers and Indians used more and made the playoffs.
Remember that, too.
And regardless of how those numbers are perceived, when you look at the arms available within the Angels’ system, things really don’t seem as bleak.
Health was and still is the real issue. And, assuming the organization can get a minor break during free-agency negotiations, there are four quality starters already on the roster—Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Garrett Richards and Jason Vargas.
Plus you never know; Comeback Player of the Year is always a welcome surprise.
But, I regress.
That leaves one spot to fill, with quality depth coming in after that. Depth is easier to obtain because the parameters—mainly, a player’s MLB ETA—are not as dire.
Now, I would never expect there to be complete agreement among the couch coaches and water cooler GMs of the Angels community. In fact, I welcome it.
There are a lot of arms out there and even more scenarios that could work for the Halos. Some may be far-fetched, and some may be right in front of us and we don't even know it.
Basically, nothing is set in stone—especially with this club.
As it stands right now, I have found five scenarios that involve landing five decent arms that the Angels should at least discuss pursuing.
To me, the search begins in-house...
Bringing back the left-hander for the 2014 season would drastically change the outlook for the Angels. Along with Garrett Richards, Vargas’ service would solidify the middle and back end of the rotation while providing a nice mix of righties and lefties in a rotation.
It will be difficult, though.
Vargas is hitting free agency at the right time—when the crop of starting pitchers isn’t all that strong. Even though he suffered that random injury (blood clot in the armpit) in 2013, he was impressive enough to merit more than just a look from the Halos this offseason.
But that is only a small piece of the negotiating issue.
The expected qualifying offer for Vargas will land somewhere in the ballpark of $14 million. Unfortunately, that would put the Angels over their budget. (Take a moment to yell out some form of Pujols, Blanton, Hamilton and Wells in a sentence here.)
The only scenario the Angels really have is to let Vargas hit free agency and hopefully re-sign him to a back-ended incentive-heavy deal.
It’s not pretty, but understanding where the club is in regards to Vargas will help map the maneuvering they will need to make elsewhere.
Like...phoning the Toronto Blue Jays' front office, for starters.
By now, most people who follow the Angels have read, heard or listened to the rumor that the Toronto Blue Jays are interested in either Hank Conger or Chris Iannetta.
Great news! And since the Jays have a decent crop of arms in their farm system, that's a good starting point for the Halos to begin acquiring cost-controlled pitching.
It might take another player in the deal, like a Howie Kendrick, to snag players from the Jays’ top-10 list, and even then, top prospects Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna might be off-limits.
Go big or go home. If the Angels are going to offer either catcher—though Iannetta’s service time makes him more enticing—they might as well see what it would take to get the Jays' top prospect.
Sanchez is one of the remaining young arms the Jays didn’t move last winter during their Miami Marlins swap. He is big. He is powerful. His plus-plus fastball and curve are front-line-type stuff.
He is projected be in MLB by 2015, making this trade fall more into the “quality depth” area, but if the Angels could get Sanchez it would certainly revamp the near future.
Of course, a straight Iannetta/Conger-Sanchez swap wouldn’t work. This deal would definitely require Howie Kendrick and maybe even another player just for good measure.
If this doesn’t work, there are other options behind Sanchez and Osuna (No. 2 prospect) with just as much potential to make an impact with the Angeles.
Nolin is a big left-hander who moved up on the Jays’ prospect chain, landing at No. 5 by the end of 2013.
Scouts don’t rank any of his pitches as plus-rated, like Sanchez, but Nolin as ability some prospects can lack: He knows how to pitch.
More importantly, Nolin would fill the obvious gap of a left-hander to complement C.J. Wilson if Vargas is lost to free agency. Sure, there is nothing wrong with a rotation that is loaded with one side over the other...but there isn’t anything right about it either.
And unlike Sanchez, Nolin might not cost the Angels as much. I wouldn’t expect a straight player-for-player deal, but I also doubt there would be as much need to throw in Kendrick as opposed to another less important piece.
Worth noting: According to scouts, Nolin is ready for MLB now—2014 instead of 2015. Immediacy is always nice.
If either of these deals falls through, however, it’s not the end of the world.
A small trip up Interstate 5 might do the Angels some good.
I had the opportunity to watch Nolasco in Game 4 of the NLCS, and I liked what I saw. Yes, he did make a mistake that Matt Holliday crushed to parts of Chavez Ravine I didn’t know existed, but still—I liked his approach.
He has decent stuff and, though he is another right-hander, Nolasco would be a good fit for the Angels, carrying the plus-sided aspect of MLB experience.
If the Dodgers don’t work out some kind of an extension, most likely Nolasco will hit the free-agent market—and I would imagine he wouldn’t mind staying in the area.
Much like the Vargas negotiations—if they happen—the deal would have to focus more on incentive and less on the $10-13 million per year at which Nolasco will probably be valued.
It’s a long shot. But if the Dodgers let Nolacso walk, then it’s worth the time for the Angels to take a look.
Worth noting: If somehow the Dodgers decide to go with a qualifying offer, it wouldn’t be worth the Angels' time to surrender any more picks.
In other words, Nolasco would be a viable option, but not one worth taking if means depleting the future farm system.
And that is the main thing to keep in mind when it's this early in the offseason: the future.
The offseason really isn’t even the offseason yet, and there is still a lot of sorting to do. Deals come, deals go, but at the end of the day, the one thing the Angels don’t want to do is sell off their future.
That means the interesting insight about David Price coming to the Angels should remain as nothing more than interesting insight. There aren’t enough pieces within the Angels’ farm system to make it work—Kaleb Cowart isn't a need when the Rays have Evan Longoria—and I doubt the club would be willing to agree on a lopsided deal, anyway.
If a top-tiered lefty—or a lefty close to the top tier—is what the Angels want this offseason, however, then there could be other options out there.
Before you throw your reading device through a wall and scream my name (it’s up top if you don’t know it), hear me out on Lester.
According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Red Sox are expected to trade either Lester or Jake Peavy, with Ryan Dempster and John Lackey also out there.
Certainly it would be nice to see a reunion with Lackey, but the chance at getting a left-hander like Lester is the more noticeable element. And the Angels might have what it takes to get him.
Assuming Jacoby Ellsbury doesn’t take the qualifying offer the Sox are expected to give him, that leaves a hole in center for the club—a hole that could be easily filled by another scrappy-type speedster in Peter Bourjos.
Sure, this would also not be a player-for-player deal, but the Sox are looking to get younger, and, according to to John Tomase of the Boston Herald, the Sox brass are beginning to embrace the New England Patriots’ style of decision-making—where they remove emotion from the process.
This leaves an opening for the Angels to negotiate. If they have to add in a strong bat to secure the eventual (and looming) takeover of DH duties from David Ortiz, then perhaps another chip like Mark Trumbo would suffice.
If it works, that gives the Angels the makings of a solid starting rotation—Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Jon Lester and Garrett Richards.
Add in one more piece and the team is set.
If none of the maneuvering works, mind you, then expect to see another ad next season (or before).
Wanted: A general manager and manager to take over the day-to-day duties of the Los Angeles Angels in the exciting AL West.
Note: Stats and scouting reports were courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.
Follow Rick Suter on Twitter @rick_suter.
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