All is returning to how it once was: the Yankees are throwing money around again, surprise teams are dropping horrible contracts, and the Angels, once again, are left to be creative. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to the early 2000's.
In stark contrast to the 2011-12 offseason (Angels spend $354 million on major league contracts) and the 2012-13 offseason (Angels spend $174 million on major league contracts), the 2013-14 offseason has seen the Angels spend a grand total of $18.5 million on free agents. Handcuffed by the threat of hitting the luxury tax threshold, the team has gone into an almost hilarious state of austerity. If you'd like to give the Angels the benefit of the doubt and count salary assumed in trade, the Angels have then spent a maximum possible total of $25.37 million (counting the arbitration agreement with Fernando Salas and the maximum payout for David Freese). Still an unusual state of the team.
Masahiro Tanaka is no longer on the market; a Yankee now, to the tune of 7 years and $155 million. Matt Garza is no longer on the market; a Brewer now, to the tune of 4 years and $52 million. The team absolutely will not surrender its first-round draft choice, meaning no Ubaldo Jimenez, and no Ervin Santana reunion. There are plenty of players left to go into the rotation, with all other areas of the roster now set. Let's first look at the rotation as it is.
ANGELS 2014 ROTATION, AS IS
Jered Weaver, RHP: Declining fastball or not, he is the ace of the rotation until otherwise is stated and/or proven. He's set to earn $16 million in salary this season, as part of the VERY team-friendly 5-year, $85 million extension he signed in the summer of 2011.
C.J. Wilson, LHP: Number-two in the rotation, though last year he showed some very welcome reliability in Weaver's absence, a stark contrast to his inconsistent 2012 season. Like Weaver, he is also set to earn $16 million in salary this season.
Garrett Richards, RHP: After three seasons of being called up, sent down, shuttled back and forth between rotation and bullpen on an irritating basis, and never having full faith put in him in any one role, Richards finally gets his opportunity in a consistent starting role. Set to make somewhere slightly above league minimum, in the neighborhood of $540,000.
Hector Santiago, LHP: One of two young lefties acquired in the Mark Trumbo trade, Santiago brings a lofty K/9 rate to the rotation, though uncomfortably accompanied by a lofty BB/9 rate. With five years of club control left, it's likely that any issues he has will be worked on. Could become one of the league's best lefties in years to come. Set to make around $500,000 this season.
Tyler Skaggs, LHP: Ours from the start, with what was, technically speaking, a four-year interlude with Arizona's organization. Mechanical issues in Arizona never allowed him a consistent starting role with the major league club, and if those problems translate to Anaheim, he could find himself starting the season in AAA. Set to make around $500,000 this season.
POTENTIAL IN-HOUSE ROTATION ARMS
Mark Mulder, LHP: The Angels took an unprecedented risk on Mulder: a minor league contract with up to $6 million in major league incentives if he can prove that his six-year baseball layoff is part of the past. Best chance at making the rotation is a combination of a stellar spring showing and Skaggs beginning the season in AAA. He makes a guaranteed $1 million if he makes the major league roster.
Joe Blanton, RHP: Though nobody likes to admit or realize it, Blanton is still part of this team, though much more likely a long-relief arm if he stays. The team is said to be looking to deal him or give him his outright release before the end of spring training. If neither can happen, he finds himself in the bullpen. Set to make $7.5 million this season.
If the first five names are the ones that break the rotation, then we find ourselves in a better spot than last season. However, let's take a look at the options left on the free agent market before us.
REMAINING FREE AGENT STARTING PITCHERS
Bronson Arroyo, RHP: Likely the most expensive option left on the market. Arroyo is headed to his age-37 season and seeking a multi-year contract, which immediately causes several teams to turn away from him. However, aging or not, he has shown, since 2004, a great ability to stay healthy (making 326 starts in that span, an average of 32.6 starts per season) and provide, at the very least, an ability to eat innings (averaging 207.1 per season since 2004) and provide an average ERA (4.10 since 2004). In that time he has also pitched 14 complete games and six shutouts, and put up a 2.54 K/BB ratio. Alarming are his HR rate (a consistent problem throughout his career and his H/9 (a 9.2 number for his career). Signing him looks to be a Blanton-esque gamble, and a similar contract as well.
Chris Capuano, LHP: Capuano is headed to his age-36 season, and could likely be had on either a one-year deal with an option, or a two-year deal. He debuted in 2003 with Arizona and was traded to Milwaukee in the Richie Sexson trade after that season. After 2007, had a two-year layoff before resurfacing in 2010 with the Brewers. His brief 2010 was enough to secure him a contract for 2011 with the Mets, and thereafter a two-year, $9 million contract with the Dodgers, during which he experienced a renaissance of a season in 2012. Injuries claimed about a third of his 2013 season, so a one-year contract isn't out of the question for the aging lefty. He, like Arroyo, has put up a career ERA north of 4, though his career K/BB rate is higher than Arroyo's, as is his K/9 rate (by almost two more strikeouts per nine). His health, however, is much easier to call into question.
Paul Maholm, LHP: Going now into his age-32 season, Maholm is a more attractive option than the above two going off of age alone. A Joel Pineiro contract (2 years, $16 million) could secure Maholm for the Angels, but the problem there is this: Which Maholm shows up in each season? Only once in his career (2011-2012) has Maholm put up back-to-back seasons with an ERA below 4, and he has averaged just 29.5 starts in his 8 full big league seasons, succumbing to the injury bug more than once. He has also never pitched in the AL in his career, though pitching in Anaheim would be a bit easier a transition than, say, Boston or Texas. Though his strikeout rate is low and his walk rate hovers around 3 per nine innings for his career, one attractive thing about Maholm is his career HR/9 rate of 0.9, including two seasons of 0.6. Even if he is signed as back-of-the-rotation help, the need for him to be at least above average is crucial. Could he do it?
Jason Hammel, RHP: Headed towards his age-31 season, Hammel is not exactly an attractive option for the rotation, though we did give $15 million guaranteed to Joe Blanton, so anything is possible. Though his age would suggest otherwise, a simple glimpse at his statistics is shudder-worthy. Hammel's one good season (2012 with Baltimore) was interrupted by injury, and he missed 13 starts because of it. His career ERA of 4.80 is frightening, though aside from that his stats are very run-of-the-mill. A one-year deal would likely get him to bite, in an attempt to revamp his value and prove himself in a pitcher-friendly environment (Colorado and the AL East are not exactly helpful to a pitcher's career). Brief flashes of brilliance are marred by plagues of inconsistency.
Johan Santana, LHP: Arguably the most interesting option left, Santana could be had on either a one-year deal or even a minor league contract if he doesn't attract any attention soon. Once unilaterally considered the best pitcher in baseball, Santana's career spiraled down after a trade to the Mets before the 2008 season. Though he was a stud his first three seasons in New York, injuries began to shorten his seasons before eliminating his 2011 season altogether. And despite pitching the first no-hitter in Mets history in 2012, his overall body of work that season was not at all like the Santana of old. He missed all of 2013 as well due to injury. Santana could be one of the sneakiest pickups of the offseason if his injuries are behind him, and could wind up reclaiming his value and reviving his career with whoever signs him. The Angels could still be gun-shy when it comes to injured pitching, having been stung by Ryan Madson last offseason. But does the reward outweigh the risk on a Santana deal?
A.J. Burnett, RHP: Burnett, going into his age-37 season, actually appears to be the most attractive free agent pitcher left that isn't tied to draft-pick compensation. Though he is almost a guarantee not to pitch here because of his wife's indignance on not flying, one would have to wonder, should Burnett choose to play in 2014, if he would get desperate enough to play on the West Coast, in spite of his wife's wishes. The Angels made a token run for him in the 2008 offseason, and almost acquired him before the 2012 season in a proposed 1-for-1 swap in exchange for Bobby Abreu before he vetoed the deal. Though it looked as if his career was winding to an unceremonious end with the Yankees, a trade to the Pirates before 2012 revived his career, and in two seasons there he went on to post a 3.41 ERA in 61 starts, striking out almost a batter per inning while allowing just 0.7 HR/9. It's almost as if he's the forbidden fruit for the Angels. If he's on the market long enough, one has to wonder if his wife would cave on her travel demands. If that situation comes about, Burnett could be a very attractive one-year deal with a mutual option, in the neighborhood of $10 million.
Countless other options are out there for minor league deals, but the above options seem to be the pool of candidates for the Angels. Could it be that any of them come here? Or would the team simply be better off with the group they have, and just hoping for the best with as few growing pains as possible?