For a team that won 89 games, the Angels have a decent number of holes to fill this offseason. There is a good core there, but questions about the rotation and the kerfuffle about Vernon Wells could make this a particular trying situation for Angels’ fans.
Let’s start with Wells. Here’s what Alden Gonzalez had to say about it in his season wrap:
“[Torii Hunter] really wants to come back, and may do so for about half his 2012 salary ($18 million) on a one- or two-year deal. But his return will hinge on whether [Angels general manager Jerry] Dipoto is able to shed Vernon Wells, who’s owed $21 million over the next two seasons, and what he decides with regard to the young, high-upside Peter Bourjos.”
The Angels’ reluctance to kick Wells to the curb is maddening. That it could also cost them a chance to get back Hunter is downright infuriating. Not only is Hunter the type of team leader and universally regarded good guy that every team will want this winter, but he is also coming off a good season as well. And while he may want to come back, he isn’t going to need to wait by the phone all winter waiting for Dipoto to call.
That’s not to say Hunter is a sure thing going forward performance-wise. He did a good job of adapting his game this year, making a more concerted effort to hit ground balls, which helped his BABIP and helped aide his rejuvenation. But he also chased more balls out of the zone than he ever had, and as a result had his lowest contact percentage since 2002. He is a good bet to deliver on a 2 year, $20 million deal, but the longer Dipoto waits, the more the price will rise. I know I’ve said this before, but it’s time to cut bait on Wells. Waive him right now.
If the team waives Wells and gets Hunter back in the fold, they’ll have a nice little outfield rotation. Mike Trout obviously needs to play every day, and then Mark Trumbo and Hunter can start in the corners on most days, with Bourjos filling in for one of them two to three times a week. The optimal playing time allotment for Anaheim would involve Trout starting 160 games, Trumbo 130, Hunter 130 and Bourjos 60 or so. It might not divide up that evenly, especially if Trumbo and Hunter miss time simultaneously, but that should be the goal. To let Wells get in the way of that because the team wants to save face and net a Single A prospect for him would be a colossal mistake.
The Halos are in good shape in the infield. As Matt Klaassen detailed last week, the team smartly locked up Chris Iannetta last week, and while they will lose Maicer Izturis to free agency, Andrew Romine appears to be a younger version of Izturis. In 2,719 minor league plate appearances, Romine has a 9.19 BB%, and he didn’t show a discernible platoon split this year at Triple-A Salt Lake. Izturis was nearly worth his $3.8 million this year, but there’s no reason to give it to him again when they can get nearly the same production for a fraction of the cost.
Then, of course, there’s the pitching staff. Dipoto has already stated that he won’t be breaking the bank on the bullpen, which is the right call, so we won’t focus on the solutions that could potentially be found there. Let’s instead look at the starting rotation.
Anaheim has two starting pitchers that can be comfortably locked into starting spots, in Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, though with Wilson perhaps needing offseason surgery, he might not be 100% at the season’s outset. But for the moment, we’ll pencil him in to the two-spot. Elsewhere, Garrett Richards and Jerome Williams linger. You could lock them in as a combo to the fifth spot in the rotation, but in a perfect world, you’d want them to be rotation depth. Certainly, the team had no problem pushing them aside at the end of this season.
So that leaves the team needing two-three starting pitchers. Of course, Zack Greinke is and should be the priority, but he’s not guaranteed to come back to Anaheim. And if he is going to break the bank, the Angels may not have enough dough to scrape together for the rest of the rotation. Not counting Greinke’s salary, and assuming Hunter gets $10 million to return, the Angels will only save $16 million or so off of last year. Yes, Ervin Santana, Dan Haren, LaTroy Hawkins, Jason Isringhausen and Izturis come off the books, but Albert Pujols, Erick Aybar, and Howie Kendrick all have built-in raises next year, and the Halos will also have a few arbitration cases, including Kendrys Morales. So is the best strategy to sink a ton of cash into Greinke and go cheap on the other two starters? That’s debatable, but let’s go ahead and say that that’s what they do. Who would be good targets for the other two spots?
There are actually a lot of good pitchers on the market this offseason, so the Angels are in a good position. But rather than just picking off the top three players in WAR on the free agent leaderboard, let’s take a look at who might fit best for Anaheim. With a cavernous park that suppresses hits — and home runs in particular — along with a great outfield defense, flyball pitchers are a better fit for Anaheim than they are most teams. In 2012, Carlos Villanueva started 13 games at Rogers Centre, Camden Yards and Fenway Park. In those 13 starts, he allowed 18 homers. All three parks had a park factor of 111 or higher for right-handed batters (according to StatCorner), and Villanueva is a flyball pitcher, so those results aren’t that surprising. But in Angels Stadium, with its 80 park factor for right-handed hitter homers (and 82 for lefties), Villanueva — who otherwise has good peripherals — could be a great low-budget option for the Angels. Another such option is Jorge De La Rosa. If De La Rosa turns down his player option with the Rockies, he would be another high-strikeout, flyball pitcher that would fit well in Orange County.
Of course, neither of those pitchers have great track records as of late. Villanueva has never started 20 games in a single season before, and De La Rosa has essentially missed the last year and half recovering from injury, so either will carry a fair amount of risk. But what about Shaun Marcum? Yes, Marcum does seem to fade towards the end of each season, but a concerted plan to keep his innings count in check could help mitigate that, and he also fits the combination of good strikeout, flyball pitcher that should play well in Anaheim. Other pitchers that might fit well include Chris Young and Jeff Francis, though obviously they are older and come with a lower ceiling. Haren could of course be retained, but with his combination of his injuries this past year and his rapidly declining velocity, I’d gladly let him become someone else’s property.
It’s still early. Perhaps the Angels will find the money to go after not only Greinke, but also Hiroki Kuroda, Anibal Sanchez, Jake Peavy and/or Kyle Lohse. Certainly, if money is no object, few could fault them for trying to bolster the pitching staff quickly. The Angels were top three in the majors this year in most hitting, baserunning and defensive metrics. They thought the pitching staff was good to go last year, but it let them down. If they can jettison Wells, retain Hunter and find the right mix of starters, they may get back over the hump and into October, but achieving all of those goals at once may prove easier said than done.