On June 21, starting pitcher Jered Weaver went to the 15-day disabled list due to a hip injury. At the time, the Halos were playing a boring, uninteresting brand of .500 baseball(they were actually 35-34 at the time, third place in the AL West), but in the time since then, they've become arguably the best team in the American League. They've outscored, out-played and out-pitched opposing teams, quickly climbing up not only power rankings galore, but also climbing into sole possession of 1st place in their division. They've officially turned things around, and have become the AL West title contenders that fans had been banking on before the season started. Amid all the acrimony or head-shaking moments this season has brought upon yours truly, they've gotten to the point where they are running problem free, with almost zero defects. The only problem on the horizon for the team? They have too many GOOD starting pitchers. Whatever the baseball equivalent of First World Problems is, the current Angels rotation puzzlement is a perfect example.
When Jered Weaver went down, the rotation stepped up in the interim, be it Garrett Richards, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago or fresh faced Andrew Heaney. These starters have been firing on all cylinders, a wonderful thing to see in action and a further tip of the cap to the team's former rotation architect, Jerry Dipoto. Here's the rub: Jered Weaver is set to return, after throwing some bullpen sessions and simulated games, and a decision from the coaching staff looms over the team like a brooding thundercloud...a brooding thundercloud with wins, low ERAs, strikeouts and Halo-lighting rainbows shooting out of it, but a thundercloud nonetheless. So what are the Angels going to do with this new-found wealth of SP studs? There are a few ways it could play out, but one thing is certain: someone is going to be VERY unhappy.
First, the moves that will NOT happen:
Hector Santiago is an all star, Garrett Richards is giving him a run for his money as the team's ace, and Mike Scioscia has already said that recent call-up Andrew Heaney isn't going anywhere. And nor should they, as they've all been totally and unrelentingly stellar as of late. This allows us to see who are the actual moving pieces in this story, and postulate and predict what may happen to them.
Scenario #1: Matt Shoemaker is sent to the bullpen
This has been the most easily-believed thing that will happen in the coming days regarding the Angels starters, but he's not only been quite solid in his past 4 starts, but then he goes and throws a gem of a game last night, keeping the not-too-shabby Twins to just two hits, no runs and striking out 10 batters over 6 innings pitched. In Shoemaker's last four starts, he has a stout 2.31 ERA and his season ERA is almost identical to what it was this time last year. In the second half of the season, Shoemaker really caught fire and ended up being in the discussion for Rookie of the Year. With the guts and determination showed while he is on the bubble, as well as the consideration that, judging from his 2014, he may just now be hitting his stride, it's excruciatingly tough to see him get moved to the 'pen. Ever the diplomat, he told Alden Gonzalez "Those decisions are out of our hands", and also intimated that he was in no way motivated by a possible demotion of some sort. He's lying. He has been on fire, and last night went four alarm, an obvious marker of what good competition and fighting for ones survival can do to a man's skill set.
Scenario #2: Jered Weaver is sent to the bullpen
Let's get real...this isn't going to happen. Well, it most likely won't happen. Will it? Honestly, Scioscia is playing coy, but in the past, he's been known to ride the jock of veterans and their assumed "roles" as hard as any manager in the MLB. This leads me to believe that there is no way he sends fan favorite and company man Jered Weaver to the 'pen, for fear of causing a riot at the stadium. But it should at least be heavily considered, right? Before hitting the DL, Weaver was already showing some spotty pitching and declining power. In his last four starts before getting injured, he had a 6.58 ERA, and in the month of June, opposing players were batting .292 against him. Many were having doubts about his fastball, which was already a point of contention for some to begin with, and it had dipped from an average of 86.8 in 2014 to 85.1 this season. Weaver can still get by on pure guile, we've all seen that and we've even seen it in 2015. But do we automatically put this guy back in a starting rotation that is currently firing on all cylinders? Again, it's extremely hard for me to picture this decision actually getting made, and on top of that, Weaver doesn't exactly have the sort of shut-down stuff that you want in a guy getting the bullpen call, as evidenced by his lack of strikeouts at the time he went down.
Scenario #3: Trade an arm for a bat
This option has been discussed a TON around these parts, and it's for good reason. The Angels, for all their recent glory and revelry, still have a hole to fill in their lineup and in LF. The farm system cupboard is bare, when it comes to top notch position players, but there are arms for days. Of course, that doesn't mean they can't find a home for a starting pitcher elsewhere, clearing the rotational log jam and making decisions easier for Mike Scioscia. The name on everybody's lips is C.J. Wilson, who has a decent 3.59 ERA, and is coming off of a string of very good outings(especially the 8 scoreless innings pitched against the Red Sox over the weekend). He's owed a lot of money still, and he can block trades to 8 clubs, but for teams that really think they can go all the way this year, but also find themselves in need of a good arm(Dodgers, for instance, or maybe even the Royals), going whole hog on some C.J. Wilson might make sense. It's not quite as far fetched as something as simple as Weaver going to the bullpen, but it still takes a bit of an imagination stretch to see a GM out there pull the trigger on Wilson. But desperate times make polo shirts do crazy things.
Scenario #4: Six man rotation, yay! Everybody wins!
This would be the heartwarming, crowd-pleasing, make-everybody-happy-as-can-be and hurt-no-feelings move the Angels could possibly do. Does it make sense? I don't know. Will it happen? Nope. Not according to Mike Scioscia, at least, who will not dare buck a long-held system. He much rather prefers to have the Good Problem of too many guys throwing the ball well, and having to relegate one of them to what is essentially getting knocked down a peg. Mike Scioscia is perhaps being a little too stubborn and old school in his thinking, though. I have an inkling that he's never really mulled the idea over, and that he thinks a five man rotation aint broke, so why fix it? The problem I have with that is the six man rotation has been proven to be effective, not only in performance but for keeping pitchers off the DL more. You have loads of talent at the starter spot? Trot six of them out there, giving your best guys a shot, but also giving more days rest. More rest, less injury? It seems to be that way. There are downsides, like losing more innings from your best ace, but the upside is there, too. If anything, you almost want Scioscia to experiment a little bit, play some free-form jazz with all these weapons at his disposal....see what happens, if only for a month or so. But this is Mike Scioscia we're talking about. It's a fun thought experiment, but he's more inclined to make the tough decision as opposed to the interesting one.
No matter what he does, Mike Scioscia will probably draw the ire and resentment of a portion of the fan base, beat writers, bloggers or even an actual Angels pitcher himself. Problems like this make us all put on our hypothetical Angels polos, and play GM or baseball big wig, thinking about what we would do if we were faced with a wealth of Halos hurlers, yet not enough places to put them. My idea? Just keep winning. I want Scioscia to make the right choice...but we'll only know what that is until that choice is made, analyzed and put into practice.