With the trade deadline a mere week away and numerous teams scrambling to make moves, the Los Angeles Angels are flying high.
Prior to play on Friday night, the Angels have the third-best record in all of baseball at 56-38.
The Halos have won six games in a row and nine of their last 10; all the while building up a three and a half game lead over the Texas Rangers and a five and a half game lead over the Seattle Mariners.
The offense—despite missing outfielders Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero—has been the best in the American League since the All-Star break and continues firing on all cylinders thanks to big contributions from first baseman Kendry Morales and shortstop Erick Aybar.
The pitching has been a different story altogether.
On the season, the Angels’ pitching staff ranks in the bottom three in both ERA and WHIP in the American League. Additionally, they rank in the bottom five in both hits allowed and strikeouts.
As such, the Angels approach the deadline looking to improve the team’s pitching, as opposed to engaging in the annual search for an impact bat.
This year’s deadline figures to be a major change of pace for the Angels.
They Halos have relied on strong pitching as the foundation for the recent dominance in the AL West. But injuries and inconsistency have forced manager Mike Scioscia to get more creative with his pitching choices.
Since Scot Shields was lost for the season after undergoing knee surgery the critical late inning outs have mostly been handled by Darren Oliver, Justin Speier and Jason Bulger.
Jose Arredondo—the perceived closer of the future—has been injured for much of 2009 and wasn’t overly consistent when he was healthy.
Closer Brian Fuentes has been shaky at times in his first season with the Angels, but still leads all of baseball with 30 saves on the season.
The starting rotation has dealt with injuries to Ervin Santana and John Lackey and the unfortunate loss of Nick Adenhart.
Additionally, Joe Saunders appears to have taken a step back this season and has struggled mightily the past two months. In 11 starts since June 1, Saunders is 2-3 with a 6.87 ERA and 78 hits allowed in 64 1/3 innings.
As such that leaves the Angels looking to add at least one impact arm to the bullpen and potentially one more starter.
STARTERS—The Marquee Names
Tampa Bay only appears interested in moving Kazmir as a catalyst to land Halladay in a separate deal. As such, the Angels shouldn’t put too much stock into his availability.
Cliff Lee would be a great compliment to Jered Weaver and John Lackey at the top of the rotation, but would probably require the Angels to move Brandon Wood and possibly top-prospect Jordan Walden, who has struggled since his promotion to Double A.
Halladay would be a great acquisition, but would cost a king’s ransom in return. Additionally, it has been reported that Halladay plans to test free-agency rather than sign an extension if he’s traded.
Halladay’s value cannot be ignored, but the potential cost to the organizational depth for a year and a half of Halladay might be too much for the Angels to endure.
Acquiring the former Cy Young-winner would likely cost Wood, Walden and right-hander Kevin Jepsen. And given how hard many teams are pushing to acquire Halladay’s services, it might require even more talent.
Even for a team with as much organizational depth as the Angels, that is a very steep price to pay.
As far as marquee names go, Lee is probably the best bet. He won’t cost as much as Halladay and has proven to be a legitimate big league ace over the last two years. It would also be beneficial to add another lefty to a predominantly right-handed rotation.
STARTERS—The Not-Quite Marquee Names
Cheaper options, both monetarily and in terms of talent required, are also available.
The Indians are no doubt willing to listen to offers for right-hander Carl Pavano, who is signed only through the end of this season. His numbers aren’t pretty, but he could definitely round out the back-end of the rotation.
Arizona’s Jon Garland—a familiar face from last year’s squad—has tossed a quality start in eight of his last ten outings and dropped nearly a full-point from his ERA over the same stretch.
Garland has a penchant for pitching deep into games and could save some wear and tear on the bullpen. He is familiar with the coaching staff and the Diamondbacks seem eager to rid themselves of his contract. Perhaps a reunion is in order.
The Mariners have yet to decide if they’re buyers or sellers, but if the decision comes in the next week it is very possible that Jarrod Washburn could return to Los Angeles or his current teammate the injury-plagued Erik Bedard could find his way to southern California.
In this pack—given the uncertain status of the Mariners—Garland may be the safest bet. He’s not going to set the world on fire, but he will definitely bolster the rotation and would require less time to adjust to Angels-style baseball than other rotation newcomers.
RELIEVERS—The Marquee Names
As is the case every year, all of the contenders are in need of bullpen help. Several big-names are rumored to be on the move. The biggest of those names are closers that include Baltimore’s George Sherrill, Pittsburgh’s Matt Capps and Cincinnati’s Francisco Cordero.
Both Sherrill and Cordero are unlikely to be moved unless their respective organizations receive an offer they can’t refuse.
Sherrill is under club control through 2011 and Cordero has nearly $30 million remaining on his contract, making him too expensive to use in a setup role.
Capps has been rumored to be on his way out—but who in Pittsburgh hasn’t—for most of the season. He is having his worst-season as a pro and could benefit from a change of scenery.
The prospect-loving Pirates might be willing to accept a Major League-ready middle-infielder—such as Maicer Izturis or Sean Rodriguez—to replace the soon-to-be-departed Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez.
Given the lack of other top-tier relievers on the market, Capps is the winner by default.
Capps is no slouch, however, and could provide a real boost to the Angels’ spotty bullpen. He has 60 career saves and a career 3.39 ERA to go with a 1.14 WHIP.
RELIEVERS—The Not-Quite Marquee Names
Every season, the trade deadline sees a flurry of activity involving middle relievers. Many of them are journeymen and veterans with a proven track record.
The list of potential options is a long one, but I’ve narrowed it down to a half-dozen that could have a real impact.
Cincinnati has two potential veteran options in David Weathers, 40, and Arthur Rhodes, 39, both of whom figure to be very available. Weathers currently has a 1.14 WHIP and has given up 23 hits in 33 1/3 innings, doing essentially what the Angels would ask him to do.
Rhodes is a big southpaw that owns right-handed hitters just as well as the lefties. Right-handers are hitting a paltry .200 against him while lefties only muster a .118 average against the veteran. His ERA on the season is a miniscule 1.67.
The Mets’ Pedro Feliciano is another lefty who has been a reliable member of many-a-beleaguered New York bullpen for several years now. He has a 1.08 WHIP and a 2.92 ERA this season.
Despite what the papers may say, Toronto has trade targets other than Roy Halladay. Two of those include relievers Jason Frasor and Scott Downs.
Frasor currently mans the eighth inning for the Blue Jays and is enjoying a career year doing so. He has a record of 5-2 with a 2.38 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP. He is averaging nearly a strikeout per inning on the season and would definitely help bridge the gap to closer Brian Fuentes.
Downs took over the closer role early in the season and has been lights out ever since. He currently has nine saves to go along with a sparkling 1.84 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP. He is also averaging better than a strikeout per inning.
The division-rival Oakland Athletics have the one reliever who could be the biggest difference-maker, right-hander Michael Wuertz. Wuertz is 5-1 on the season with a 2.78 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. He is currently averaging better than a strikeout per inning and has amassed 11 holds on the season.
His current contract pays him $1.1 million this season and he is arbitration eligible for the next two seasons and the budget-conscious A’s might be reluctant to move him without receiving a solid return, especially within the division.
Any of these arms could provide a big boost to the Angels relief corps, but Wuertz has proven he can pitch in the AL West and he has been absolutely dominant on the season. It may cost a little more to pry him away from the Athletics, but his contributions down the stretch could be worth every penny.
Obviously there are numerous options available for the Angels to improve the pitching depth down the stretch and into the postseason.
The team needs to add at least one arm to the bullpen and would be wise to at least kick the tires on some of the starters on the market.
The bullpen—as currently comprised—cannot survive the rest of the season. Due to overuse and general fatigue that sets in over the course of a 162-game season, they will need some reinforcements.
The rotation—as currently comprised—could survive the season if Santana and Saunders are both able to straighten things up over the next two months. If neither can regain last season’s form, the Angels will definitely be in a tough spot.
General Manager Tony Reagins is officially on the clock. He’s got one week left to decide where and how they’re going to improve.
The Angels are flying high right now, but if Reagins can’t find the missing pieces, the Angels may come crashing back to earth in a big hurry.