As part of SB Nation United, you’re going to be seeing some new voices at Halos Haven, SBN featured site contributors writing about issues both local and national. Think of them as guests in the community. We’re beginning this week with Cee Angi, better known as one of the minds behind The Platoon Advantage.
By Cee Angi
The Angels split their Sunday double-header with the Texas Rangers to keep their post-season hopes alive. With just three games left in the season, according to the Baseball Prospectus playoff calculations, they have just a 0.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. It’s not the brightest of outlooks, but if the Game 162s of last season taught us anything, it’s that miracles are possible, regardless of what the percentages tell us. The Angels need to believe in miracles, not just because winning is the whole point, but because they’ve built the 2012 team to win now, leveraging the future and creating major weaknesses for next season.
There are many strategies to create the perfect roster, but the challenge is making decisions that not only add value to today’s roster, but don’t leave gaps for the future. Having been extremely aggressive both prior to the season (Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson) and in season (Zack Greinke), the Angels may someday look back to find that 2012 was their best chance to win for awhile, because the most stable part of this year’s team could be the most volatile next year: three-fifths of their rotation, Ervin Santana, Dan Haren, and Greinke, could be gone.
Santana, whose $13 million club option for next season could be bought out, has been inconsistent for years. Now that he’s posted a 5.16 ERA, giving up league-leading 39 home runs in the process, it makes sense that he’s out of chances with the organization, at least at that price. On the other hand, the Angels seem to be willing to part with Dan Haren, whose $15.5 million option can be declined in exchange for $3.5 million, much too easily. Though Haren has struggled this season, it seems largely related to a back injury. Back problems can sometimes pose chronic issues, but since returning from the disabled list on July 22nd, Haren has a 3.49 ERA in 12 starts (holding opponents to an odd .239/.279/.420, with 11 home runs allowed in 67 innings). Despite this year’s struggles, if Haren is healthy next season, he could be a valuable piece of a rotation.
Before you say "good riddance," consider: The Angels may be underestimating the likelihood that competition for free agents will be fierce given the limited talent available. The Angels will presumably make a play to sign Zack Greinke, but since he’s one of the top two free agents, along with James Shields, it might be much more difficult (and expensive) to keep him than they’ve considered. Should the Angels miss out on one of the top three free agents, they could be looking at second-tier possibilities like Jake Peavy and Edwin Jackson—who will be expensive and less consistent.
Looking for external candidates still seems like the best option, though it’s possible that Garrett Richards or journeyman Jerome Williams could get the opportunity to join the rotation, but there aren’t any minor league prospects ready to fill the gaps…at least not anymore.
This is where trades and the hunger to win now get tricky: The Angels bet the future on making the playoffs this season by picking up Greinke on a short-term lease. They gave up two of their better pitching prospects, Ariel Pena and John Hellweg, to do so. If they don’t get the big payoff and go into next season with a much weaker rotation, the chain of decisions will be harder to stomach.
It’s hard to rebuild a rotation in just one off-season, even when a team has money. Following a World Series loss to the Florida Marlins in 2003, the New York Yankees saw their rotation of Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, David Wells, Mike Mussina, and Jeff Weaver disbanded in the off-season, with everyone except Mussina departing. Having such turnover was more than even an organization with the Yankees’ deep pockets could deal with, and the following season’s rotation was considerably weaker, with pitchers like Javier Vazquez, Jon Lieber, Kevin Brown, and Jose Contreras trying to fill big shoes. Fortunately for the Yankees, and possibly the 2013 Angels, they had enough assets elsewhere to make up for the weakened rotation, but it certainly won’t be easy building a rotation if the only holdovers are Wilson and Jered Weaver.
Not only will the Angels have to fill holes in the rotation, Torii Hunter and Maicer Izturis will be free agents entering 2013. Realistically, the Angels have at least ten roster spots to fill next season, and lack the internal depth to do so. Perhaps Peter Bourjos could resume a starting role in Hunter’s absence, but while his defensive chops are well-established, his offensive bona fides are still in question. Other near-term outfield prospects, such as Kole Calhoun and Travis Witherspoon, don’t seem like frontline starters at this time, while utility infield candidate Andrew Romine seems likely to recapture Izturis’s versatility without duplicating his occasionally strong offensive showings.
It doesn’t get any more dire than being down to the last games of the season for the plan to succeed, and though the Angels certainly aren’t doomed to a future of losing; they’ve just created a reality that makes it more difficult. Regardless of this years’ outcome, there’s a cautionary tale in creating lineups for short-term success. There’s no sense in giving up hope until mathematically required to do so—but given the gaps in the future, hope may play a bigger role in the Angels’ future than they might have anticipated.