Even during an offseason when the Los Angeles Angels’ moves are almost predetermined, we still don’t know what to expect.
What will they do?
When will they do it?
Keep in mind, the team has already done a decent job rebuilding this offseason, not waiting until the last minute to fix a four-year playoff drought.
David Freese, brought over from the St. Louis Cardinals along with pitcher Fernando Salas for outfielders Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk, gives the team an instant upgrade at third base—and it gives prospect Kaleb Cowart needed time to progress.
(And yes, there is now a reunion between Freese and his 2011 World Series buddy Albert Pujols. Simple fun works, too, I guess.)
Salas will add depth to the bullpen, along with free-agent right-hander Joe Smith, who inked a three-year deal.
They are all solid moves.
Questionable? Absolutely—there will always be the naysayers.
But the Angels haven’t traded away the entire farm system or future picks. And things haven’t gone into a tailspin since Jason Vargas opted for a fourth year, signing with the Kansas City Royals.
(Not to mention, Manager Mike Scioscia was on TMZ. Amazing!)
However, the Angels' main weakness—starting pitching—has yet to be addressed. And their other weaknesses—money to spend, a weak farm system and lack of MLB depth—will make fixing that area of need difficult. Bur let’s not turn the situation into an unbeatable uphill climb, overhyped for the sake of hot stove arguments.
After all, we are talking about a No. 4 and No. 5 starter, here. Do they really need to be mastermind-type acquisitions?
It reminds me of an interesting moment, with a quasi-lesson from an MLB hurler:
Back in 2002, after a bullpen session with then-New York Mets pitcher Rick Reed, I remember watching tape (actual VHS tape) of then-Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brian Anderson working on his mechanics. In the tape, the lefty threw about four pitches—literally, four pitches—then almost comically gave the catcher a “we’re done” sign by using the ole’ thumb-across-the-neck signal.
Reed laughed. I laughed because he laughed. It was like a bad student film.
What was so funny, I asked? “I guess, that’s the power you have when you’re a re No. 4 starter," Reed sarcastically explained.
I will never forget it.
And, when spending this offseason looking over what the Angels may or may not do, that memory cascaded back into my mind.
It made me re-think what, exactly, the Angels should be looking for while understanding that a No. 4 and No. 5 starter shouldn’t demand so much wheeling and dealing that a team has to give up the entire roster to obtain them.
True, Garrett Richards might be filling one of those vacancies, as opposed to the No. 3 spot, making the need a little greater, but still—giving up Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick along with Hank Conger or Chris Iannetta? For the sake of only one season?
No way. I understand the excitement and almost impatient willingness to covet an arm like a David Price, but that kind of fix, for now, is not what the Angels need.
When considering the last two seasons (I know, you’re trying to forget them), the back end of the rotation not doing its collective part was the main issue. It was the domino effect that ended with an overused bullpen.
The fix is simple: Along with the hopefully understood luck that happens in baseball (mainly, a healthy Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson), just find arms that can do a better job than Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson, Jerome Williams, Ervin Santana (2012 Santana, not 2013 Santana) and Dan Haren (2012 Dan Haren, not 2011 Dan Haren) and things should get on the right track.
That means finding pitchers who can combine to do better than a 36-53 record with an ERA over five—the collective totals from the aforementioned ex-Halos.
I think the Angels understand it. When general manager Jerry Dipoto spoke to reporters, including MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez, there seemed to be a confidence about fixing the rotation:
"We're open-minded in how we're going to build it, whether it be through free agency or trade -- and we're not bare in-house," he told Gonzalez.
Trade for it. Get it through free agency. Either way, the Angels realize they have three solid arms already on board. That doesn't sound like a GM on the brink of panic. Far from it.
Instead, it sounds like the Angels have a plan heading into the winter meetings, with an understanding of the moves they should at least attempt to swing.
Looking at Bronson Arroyo and Bartolo Colon and all lower-cost free-agent pitchers
Regardless of the reports—per ESPN's Jim Bowden—there is little harm in the Angels reaching out to both Arroyo and Colon. Though I am not too high on either pitcher, they have the veteran presence that can sometimes lead to a resurgence, simply based on knowing how to get guys out with what you have.
At the very least, they would be hopeful improvements, eating innings and helping the bullpen over the entire season.
There are issues.
A multiyear deal, which both will probably want, most likely would squash an agreement, but if the window of opportunity to get a deal continues to shrink throughout the winter meetings, then a one-year offer from a team like the Angels can happen.
If those types of free-agent moves don’t work, though, the next option is to make a smart trade.
Finding a new home for Howie Kendrick
I am willing to concede that Mark Trumbo will be a Halo in 2014. There aren’t any scenarios where I can see him getting shopped for anything that would make sense—including Price. And that’s not a bad thing.
It does leave Howie Kendrick as the one and only top trade chip, however, and the window for trading him is seemingly shrinking faster than Trumbo’s.
What to do?
One option, as L.A. Times’ Mike DiGiovanna has opined via Twitter, is the Kansas City Royals. Along with the Tampa Bay Rays and Detroit Tigers—which we now know is impossible—the Royals have been the other constant when talking about teams that could work for Howie Kendrick.
Unlike other teams in need of second base help, the Royals have young arms they could give up in return. That's a plus for the Angels. Though I doubt that would include the likes of Kyle Zimmer or Yordano Ventura, solid lefties like Danny Duffy and Justin Marks could do the trick.
The Angels would also dump the remainder of Kendrick’s deal, a little over $18 million, which would make room for next season's expenditures (e.g., Mike Trout).
But, if saving cash isn’t going to happen, there is always the possibility the Angels make a splash move that shocks the MLB...again.
To that, the team managed to free up some spending money—around $15 million—by non-tendering Williams, Chris Nelson, Hanson and J.C. Gutierrez.
It’s not a major amount of cash to take to the bargaining table, no question. But it’s better than the $8 million they had only a few weeks back. And don’t get me wrong—the Angels should attempt to pull off a move or two at the winter meetings.
If cost-controlled trades isn’t their thing (or the Halo community’s thing), then think about this:
The most interesting free-agent scenario I have seen floating around the rumor mill so far came from the O.C. Register's Jeff Fletcher, who said via Twitter that Garza might be a good fit for the Angels.
Garza, a California native, has been somewhat of a mystery during his career. He has the stuff of an ace, but his attitude and focus have come into question (see the Eric Sogard Twitter Incident). In his eight years, he has pitched for four teams already, highlighting some concerns.
Should the Angels swoop in and get him, however, making it stop number five, it would be a major boost for the rotation.
And there are reasons to believe it could happen.
Because of the Masahiro Tanaka waiting game, as ESPN's Buster Olney pointed out (Insider subscription), the high cost that Garza originally expected to get—which I see somewhere in the four years, $50-60 million range—might be an imaginative stretch. That would ultimately help the Angels.
Plus, they could offer Garza an opportunity to pitch in less of a pressured-filled environment, in less of a pressure-filled starting spot in the rotation. And based on how Jered Weaver performs in 2014, Garza could be the eventual workhorse at the No. 2 or No. 1 spot down the road.
It’s a win-win that is certainly worth a shot; even if the Angels go over the luxury-tax threshold doing so, the team will have the entire 2014 season to get under it.
Sure, probably not what either party expected, but, hey, it’s the Angels...we never know what to expect with them.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats and contract info were courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
Follow Rick Suter on Twitter@ rick-suter.