The Angels signed possible ace Shohei Ohtani in December and welcome several pitchers back from injury, but the rotation is still a huge gamble. Billy Eppler has done a great job of shoring up left field and the infield, but the pitching still needs to be addressed.
A quick look at the innings pitched for the 2017 squad reveals all you need to know: the top three innings eaters from last year are either gone (Nolasco 181, Chavez 138) or on the mend (JC Ramirez 147).
The man entering 2018 with the most innings under his belt is Parker Bridwell with a whopping 121.
It doesn’t get better in the bullpen, either. The two biggest stalwarts in 2017 were Bud Norris and Yusmeiro Petit. Norris is still a free agent but Petit signed with Oakland about two minutes into the free agent signing period. Assuming neither comes back, that is 125 innings lost.
(I believe Ramirez could slide into Petit’s spot this year if healthy and he seems to be on track for a solid recovery.)
A grand total of 465.2 innings have been lost from the 2017 staff.
Projected 2017 Staff
Now here come the really scary numbers: 25.1, 27.2, 21.2, 85, 77.2. Those are the innings totals for Otani, Garret Richards, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, and Matt Shoemaker, respectively. That is a total of 237 1⁄3 MLB innings pitched among the entire rotation.
Granted, most of these guys threw rehabilitation innings in the minor leagues and are on regular throwing programs as I type this. However, expecting a guy to increase his workload by five to eight fold while remaining effective seems like a stretch to me. Asking all of Otani, Richards, and Heaney to do so looks like using hope as a plan.
Richards has proven his ability to throw a full season’s worth of innings. However, Heaney’s career high is 105.2 back in 2015. Skaggs lasted 113 back in 2014 for his career high. It isn’t like we are getting proven innings eaters back.
The Angels farm system is improving dramatically, but a quick look at the rankings shows a definite lack of pitching prospects. Outside of Jaime Barria there isn’t an arm likely to see MLB action in either 2018 or 2019 among our top 30 (assuming Otani is on the MLB roster).
A great way to establish depth is to push every current arm down a notch. A team can never have too much pitching depth and pitching depth can always be used to fill other needs.
The Current Market
The 2017-2018 off season is rather unique in that the largest payroll teams are attempting to shed payroll rather than play at the top end of the free agent market. This is the only time the Angels will likely be able to bid on the top available talent and not be forced to bid against the Yankees, Red Sox, or Dodgers.
Granted any free agent pitcher will be a risk and will be overpaid. But relative to the insane bidding wars that occur when the big squads are involved, a free agent signed this off season is likely going to hurt a little less.
The Trout Window
Mike Trout is only guaranteed to put on an Angels uniform for the next three years. As constructed, the team is likely competing for a Wild Card spot in 2018. Add in Darvish and suddenly the gap between the Angels and Astros gets a lot smaller. In fact, it might disappear.
The MLB roster is pretty set for the foreseeable future. The entire outfield is locked up for the duration of the Trout window. The Angels will only need one infielder next year, and with Cozart’s flexibility Eppler will be able to find value at either second or third to complete the unit. Pitching wise, only Richards will see free agency after 2018 and there are plenty of years of cost control with the rest of the staff.
Yes, the core of a winning unit is in place with Trout, Upton, Simmons, Cozart, and Calhoun. Might as well help them as much as possible.
What do you think? And if Eppler adds a starter, who would you prefer? Let us know.
For the record, I’d give Darvish the 5 year deal he seeks. We probably regret the last year or two but by then Pujols and Cozart will be off the books and the end of Upton’s contract will be in sight. It won’t sting too badly to have that dead money.