In the upcoming months, few things in sport will be as closely watched and precisely dissected as the projections for the Los Angeles Angels' five-man rotation in 2014.
Maybe the The Olympic judges, the Super Bowl, the Super Bowl commercials, the Super Bowl halftime show and the interesting attempt to put an outdoor ice rink in Los Angeles...and that's it.
Last offseason, the Angels were the hot topic—so hot—because of a lineup that was created to smash the baseball Gods into a mortal state, leaving the AL West in its wake, stopping only in late October to admire the World Series Trophy they just won.
It put the organization in a national spotlight.
Only one problem: With the millions and millions and millions spent, the Angels forgot to really address their starting rotation. And, unfortunately, Mike Trout doesn't pitch—though he would probably lead the AL in no-hitters.
Subsequently, when health issues hampered guys like Jered Weaver, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas, the team was left playing "Fill-in" on its way to a fourth straight missed playoffs.
And this year? Well, don't think the same disappointed people from 2013 aren't watching. Waiting.
The Angels have done a decent job revamping the rotation, though—with little money to spend, a lack a trade-worthy pieces and the other 29 MLB teams looking for starters, I would say they have done a great job actually.
But revamping is one thing; how the those arms perform is another, way more important scenario. And it starts with setting the rotation—which starts the guessing and dissection for guys (and gals) like me, too.
Lineup card, please...
Based on what the Angels currently have—or should have sooner than later—here is my projection for the five-man rotation in 2014 (for the first week, anyway).
Jered Weaver: The ace.
There may not be the same confidence for Jered Weaver as the Angels' No. 1 starter this year, as opposed to the past two seasons , but it's still his spot. In Weaver, the club has a formidable, Cy Young-caliber arm, willing to take the brunt of the pressure that will certainly shadow the entire Angels staff in 2014.
He's the ace, no question.
Sounds familiar, though, doesn't it? Yep, it's the same scenario the Angels carried heading into the 2013 season—unfortunately for the organization, fans, Rally Monkeys, etc., that scenario, didn't go according to plan.
But don't focus too much on the past. Weaver, who turned 31 this past October, has good days on the hill in front of him—regardless of what the radar gun says about his drop in average velocity. If he can keep off the DL, there is no reason he can't continue to build on the 113 wins he has totaled for the Halos.
He may just have to accomplish that with a little more finesse/deception than years past.
Stat note: It would be difficult to imagine anyone other than Weaver taking the mound on March 31, against the Seattle Mariners. That start would be a piece of Angels history, breaking the tie with Mike Witt for the most Opening Day starts (5) for a Los Angeles Angel.
Coming off a 2013 season where the lefty went 17-7 with an ERA of 3.39, eating innings for a team that desperately needed a workhorse, there is good reason to have confidence in C.J. Wilson heading into 2014.
Can he keep the consistency? Well, he does have a good head on his shoulders (pun intended).
When I had a chance to speak with Wilson during the All-Star break last season, I was impressed with how hard he has actually worked to improve as a pitcher, and how much he welcomed the challenge of providing a spark while Weaver was out with injury.
He had progressed with his mechanics, moving from the third base side of the rubber to the first base side. And he also tweaked his pitching philosophy, mixing in more two-seam fastballs, using the breaking pitches more effectively in counts while not relying totally on the mph of his four-seamer.
And the efforts paid off, reminding people why the Angels threw down the amount of cash they did to land him.
Sure, 32 years old is not 25 years young. But Wilson at, or near, the top of the rotation is a no-brainer. He is the perfect backup QB, which in baseball terms is the No. 2 starter.
The Angels' No. 3 spot in the rotation is a difficult one to project. It's the most difficult, actually.
Keep in mind...
- There is a possibility Garret Richards, who did well down the stretch in 2013, could land there. If the Angels fail to sign one more arm this offseason, he would almost be a lock.
- The possibility of Mark Mulder finishing his comeback tale as the Angels' No. 3, though it would be interesting, seems unlikely. Finishing on the Angels' roster would be a more realistic goal.
- Both Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago, the pitchers brought over in the Mark Trumbo trade, would need to have historic spring trainings to even be considered for something so high up in the rotation. Either of them at the No. 3 would mean one thing: last-minute, temporary necessity.
- Joe Blanton won't be there.
- Masahiro Tanaka, the NPB product with a $20 million posting fee, would be a nice fit. The Angels like Tanaka, according to MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez, but is there really a chance he chooses the Angels? Honestly?
- Would Arte Moreno be willing to push right up against the tax threshold ($189 million) to bring in a guy like Matt Garza? Or Bronson Arroyo? Or Tanaka?
Now, rest your mind. It's too early to call anything an absolute with this enigma of enigmas—the Angels' No. 3 spot in the rotation.
Garrett Richards—again, assuming the team does get one more arm—will be the No. 4 starter.
The right-hander started off slowly in 2013, only to finish the season with a strong second half (3.59 ERA, 5-4 record), gaining confidence within the organization—pitching coach, Mike Butcher, liked his progression, per Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com—as a worthy option this season.
Can he stay consistent, though?
Much like Jered Weaver, Richards does tend to throw across his body—where his front leg lands toward the third base side of the bag during his delivery to the plate—which can cause extra strain on the arm and cause command issues—he had 14 walks in his last 34.2 innings pitched.
But the upside is there: He is the in-house solution who can make the Angels' worries about rotation depth dwindle ever so slightly. Plus, with Richards at the No. 4 spot, the Angels will have extra flexibility with Hector Santiago, allowing the team to use the lefty as a spot starter and reliever.
No time is better than the present.
That is the thought process in giving Tyler Skaggs the No. 5 spot. The left-hander, originally drafted in the Angels' 2009 class, has only nine starts (3-6) in his two-year stint as a starting pitcher, making it difficult to argue why he makes a solid option for the Angels rotation.
But that's just the risk of having to make the best of what the organization has—or had to get.
Skaggs' fastball has dropped in velocity, which causes some concern, but the Angels feel a small change in his mechanics can fix that, per MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez. Along with a newly developed changeup, he shows a plus-rated curveball that, when on, can get him out of jams.
How often, though, remains to be seen.
Quick note: With Richards at the fourth spot, the Angels will have a backup in Hector Santiago at the No. 5 spot, should Skaggs not be ready for consistent t MLB work.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats and contract info were courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
Follow Rick Suter on Twitter @rick-suter.