SBN Designated Columnist Michael Bates returns to speculate on Angels free agent possibilities should Zack Greinke choose to leave.
It's weird: For the last year, Jerry DiPoto has been rolling all sevens when it comes to getting what he wants. CJ Wilson, Albert Pujols, Zack Greinke -- anything the Angels needed, DiPoto was able to make it appear. Now, though, it looks like he's crapped out. With the offseason in full swing and the Angels desperately needing a rotation rebuild, DiPoto has already missed out on Hiroki Kuroda, Jeremy Guthrie (please, contain your disappointment), and reports last week had the Angels lagging behind the Dodgers on Greinke. Given the Dodgers are handing out Scrooge McDuck money bins to anyone who looks their way these days, it's probably safe to assume the Angels stand a significant chance of losing out there, and are close to moving on to Plan C, which is ... Well, what, is it?
Fortunately for the Angels, if they do miss out on Greinke, they have a safety net in the form of a relatively deep pool of secondary options. Here's who I would target, and why:
1) Brandon McCarthy
He's only healthy about half the time, but when he is, McCarthy is one of the pitchers on the market best equipped to take advantage of the Angels' incredible outfield defense and ballpark. His strikeouts have fallen off, but he's incredibly stingy with walks and home runs. A shift to a smaller ballpark would definitely hurt him, but Anaheim is one of the few places he could go and continue to excel. He should be amenable to a short deal because of his injury history, providing Los Angeles with more flexibility going forward. As a bonus, you keep him out of the hands of the A's, who are rumored to still be interested, even after re-signing Bartolo Colon.
2) Joe Saunders
Wait. Hear me out. Saunders and his agent massively misread the free agent market last year, and after rejecting a two-year, $12 million extension with Arizona, he signed for one year and $6 million. That turned out to be a pretty fortunate error as a seven-start stint with Baltimore at the end of the season strengthened his free agent case, and now he's back on the market. The Angels are familiar enough with Saunders to be wary, but their defense has largely been turned over since he left in 2010 and is indescribably better. It's well worth a return engagement for an inning-eating, fly-ball oriented pitcher who will probably cost less than Jeremy Guthrie will make over the next three years.
3) Carlos Villanueva
Villanueva is one of my favorite free agents this offseason. He was a man out of time until 2012, making his way as a swing man in a world that had passed swing men by. After everyone else on the Toronto staff came down with the Pharaoh's Curse, he stepped into the rotation and provided some desperately needed stability. Villanueva struck out 65 batters in 65 innings (against 17 walks) in his first 11 starts before tiring in September. He's going to be 29, has almost no injury history, and with an offseason of conditioning, he can be ready to handle a starter's workload in the spring. Villanueva is an extreme fly-ball pitcher who would disproportionately benefit from the homer-suppressing ballparks in the AL West and the Angels' outfield defense. Like Saunders, he will come cheaper than Jeremy Guthrie.
4) Ryan Dempster
This one is fairly obvious. Dempster, who might be the best pitcher left on the market after Greinke, would be a hell of a consolation prize for the Angels, and for less money and fewer years. He's a fly-ball pitcher who misses bats and has proven very durable since rejoining the starting rotation in 2008. Assuming his shoulder soreness is behind him, he would fit in very nicely between Jered Weaver and Wilson.
5) Josh Hamilton
You want to go all in, right? Hamilton is the best free agent on the market not named Greinke, DiPoto would be taking him from a division rival (as he did with Wilson), and he would significantly upgrade the offense and outfield defense over Mark Trumbo. With Hamilton in hand, the Angels could then use Trumbo or Kendrys Morales as part of a package to acquire (say) Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis from the Rays. Adding an outfielder doesn't upgrade the pitching staff much, but it puts the Angels in a better position to mash their opponents into submission and provides a live arm that the rotation desperately needs. A win is a win whether the score is 2-1 or 10-6. What the heck, right?