Billy Eppler is probably smiling right now; either that, or he's cringing. Those are really the only two options of emotion that could be emanating from the brain and plastered upon the face of our new Angels GM after news this morning of yet another surprising turn for the Angels' starting rotation. If Eppler is smiling right now, it's because he's been more or less put on the right side of history in his refusal to move any starting arms this off-season; a man who smartly held on pieces thought to be more valuable in what positional players they could net as opposed to the value they represent when suiting up for the Halos and getting out on the field. If he's cringing, it's because he's quickly realizing that all that potential starting rotation depth that fans were excited about just a few weeks ago is quickly diminishing in a storm of lingering injuries, newly acquired ailments or a slow, degenerative loss of MLB-level stuff. It's a quintessential good news/bad news situation that, in any given minute on any given day, could be seen as good news OR bad news for Billy Eppler: the Angels had a ton of starting pitching depth, but in just a few weeks of Spring Training, it's already been depleted or shown to be extremely troublesome.
Perhaps the most important positional battle that Spring Training was set to suss out was that of the starting pitching rotation, but here we are on March 14th and we've only been given more questions than answers. What was a boon and a source of optimism has become a bane, and a reason to be frightened to our very Angels fan core. There were supposed to be eight guys aiming for a spot, some more likely than others, but lots of question marks seemed to be leaning more toward the positive. Jered Weaver, Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Hector Santiago, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, C.J. Wilson and Nick Tropeano were all set to battle it out for starter supremacy, yet now the Angels find themselves wishing and hoping that nothing else befalls this group of hurlers, or else they may have to make a move or depend on a minor league arm to start off the season.
So what went wrong?
Well, let's start with C.J. Wilson. In a contract year, and coming off of elbow surgery in the off-season that cleaned out some bone spurs, Wilson was primed for a bounce-back year, if you were to buy into those accompanying narratives. Yet he got to camp and was unable to join in on the throwing festivities due to what was thought as a small case of tendinitis. Wilson missed some camp right off the bat(due to the tendinitis, but he also became a dad and had to take a few days off for that), and it was thought that he'd probably be ready to make his first regular season start in mid-April. Today, however, we learned that C.J. is still not progressing as the Angels would have hoped, and he'll be starting the season on the DL. What was a couple potential missed starts has now blown up into a scenario where we might not see C.J. until the end of May.
Tyler Skaggs is still not ready to get on the mound for some Spring Training games, but at least he has some good, positive news coming out of camp: he actually faced some hitters today in a throwing session for the first time since having Tommy John surgery in 2014. Still, he's another arm the Angels were hoping to get some life out of in 2016, yet he'll open up the season on the DL.
Tyler Skaggs faces hitters for the first time since Tommy John surgery. "Yeah baby." pic.twitter.com/9NES0cGoiC— Alden Gonzalez (@Alden_Gonzalez) March 14, 2016
Then, of course, there's Jered Weaver. By now you've probably made yourself all-too familiar with Jered Weaver's situation right now, but i'll sum it up quickly for you: he's throwing a 79mph fastball, has some neck issues resulting in some MRIs done and will be seeing a neck specialist today. None of those things are good, FYI. At this point, most fans will be surprised if Jered Weaver can throw over 80mph, let alone help the team win games. We've discussed it in great length, and utter sadness, on Halos Heaven, but Weaver's time to shine with the Angels may have already come to a close.
So right there, you have three guys taken out of the starting rotation equation, leaving you with a core group of Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Hector Santiago, Matt Shoemaker and Nick Tropeano. Those names alone aren't anything that should get us quaking in our boots, but if you've been watching the game, you've probably seen some far-too-long innings from Matt Shoemaker, some control issues from Santiago and some mistakes aplenty from Garrett Richards. I'd be lying if I thought these things were anything more than Spring Training kinks getting ironed out...that is, after all, the explicit purpose of Spring Training; getting guys ready for the long season ahead, not so much having good stats and winning games.
Still, it would be of some relief to see the remaining rotation arms being lights out on the mound, but I'm not nervous about anybody there other than perhaps Matt Shoemaker. Richards will be fine, Heaney has had a good Spring, and Santiago just looks like Hector Santiago. That said, I do have an overall foreboding sense of dread and terror when thinking about the 2016 starting rotation. It was a point of front office pride, i'm sure, to have so many viable big league arms, but it turns out we had been counting our chickens before they were hatched. The next couple weeks of camp will be huge; we need to be shown a hero, or the pitcher-friendly Big A is about to get tested and the Marine Layer will be depended upon nightly.
It's funny that we're in the middle of March, and nobody is currently all that concerned with the LF situation, which was the one thorn in the side of Angels fans everywhere the entire Winter. The rotation was an afterthought; a possible bright spot at best, more of the same from 2015, at worst. If we're lucky, it will stay that way and we'll have five guys, at least, to take the mound for the ever-important months of April and May, staving off that dreaded Slow Start from the Angels.
We're also one more injury or flare-up away from disaster. Starting pitching depth can be a great thing. Too bad, then, that whenever you find your team utilizing said depth, it's because things have gone south a bit. Such is the blessing and curse that Billy Eppler is dealing with right now.