Anyone who has made a trip to the horse races with me knows I’m the guy that talks himself into and out of just about every horse on the card. And when the race is over, I’m the same guy that screams “I knew it!” and “I had that horse! I changed my mind, but I had him!” Well, the search for the Angel’s number four and five starters for the 2014 season is nothing short of the Kentucky Derby for Halo fans this offseason. I have thought of over 40 options. With the Winter Meetings fast approaching, it feels as if they’re all coming around the final turn, neck and neck, down the stretch they come! Now that I have your heart rate up, it’s time to evaluate the starting pitcher market and apply some logistics to our “back end exacta”. So let’s begin with the two scenarios in which the Angels can acquire starting pitching: free agency and the trade market.
To be frank, the free agency market this year resembles a small purse claiming race at Los Alamitos. Your favorites are Ervin Santana and Matt Garza. Yuck! Everyone in Halo Nation is familiar with Santana and nobody is buying his 2013 season success. He posted a respectable 72% quality start percentage that sits nicely between Wilson’s 73% and Weaver’s 71%; however, he has notoriously followed every good season he’s had with a dreadful one. Last I checked we are looking for solid pitching for 2014, not 2015. Garza is regarded as the top free agent pitcher out there and that baffles me. Coming off surgery, he made every single one of his starts after May but posted a quality start less than 50% of the time he took the mound. One might tie this to a post surgery pitch count, which does make it tougher to complete the sixth inning and qualify for a quality start; but for his entire career he only has a 53% QS percentage. Both these men are looking for $15 to $17 million this offseason.
With the recent additions to the bullpen, finding guys that complete the sixth inning without giving up more than three runs could really propel the Angels to the top of the American League. Free agency does offer up some candidates that have shown they can achieve a quality start on a consistent basis and at bargain prices. Below is a table containing a list of free agent pitchers with both their 2013 and career quality start percentages along with their expected 2013 salary (AAV for luxury tax purposes).
The first thing that comes to mind while looking over this list is, “WHY COULD WE NOT GIVE VARGAS A FOURTH YEAR!” But like the trade of Bourjos for Freese, what’s done is done. So let’s move forward. Over the last month or so, I have read tweets calling for the addition of just about every name on this list, with the exception of two, Bruce Chen and Paul Maholm. With 2013 average velocities of 87.7 and 88.8 respectively, one may want to shy away from these lefties that live on the outside black. But if you slot one of them behind Garrett Richards, a power righty, it could make for a nice change of pace. Factor in that both these “poo-chuckers” had similar quality start percentages as Ubaldo Jimenez and Ricky Nolasco, for about half the money, I think we have a possible long shot winner here. I like the possibility of either one of these two even more if we “box” him with import Masahiro Tanaka. It may cost as much as $70 million just to negotiate a contract with Tanaka; but that contract would be similar to the one given to Yu Darvish with a luxury tax friendly AAV of around $10 million. The Angels stay under the $189M luxury tax threshold with non tenders to JC Gutierrez, Tommy Hanson, Jerome Williams, Chris Nelson and Kevin Jepsen and without trading anyone else. Of course, that means keeping Howie Kendrick and Mark Trumbo which makes many Angel fans happy.
If the Angels decide to make a trade for an arm, the race can start looking more like the Steeplechase as the possibilities are numerous and the ride can be bumpy. For the sake of discussion, I will narrow the options down to recent trade rumors and interject my own ideas. The biggest name in the rumor mill, of course, is David Price. I am not sure if we have the arms the Rays usually covet in a deal for one of their front-line starters; but what I find more troubling, is that Price is only under club control for two more arbitration years. Those years could have AAVs of $13.1M and $17M. An extension would have to be agreed upon and I think Mr. Trout’s extenision is much more pressing. Chris Sale makes more sense to me in a blockbuster as his QS% and K rate are both higher than Price’s. Sale is also under club control until 2019 with an AAV less than $10 million and MLB network recently chose him as a possible “under the radar” trade candidate. Here is a table, similar to the free agency one above, that shows possible Angel trade targets:
As you can see, the expected AAV salaries for many of these pitchers are much lower than the free agent options touched on earlier. More importantly, guys like Nathan Eovaldi, Miguel Gonzalez and Wade Miley are currently pre-arbitration. For the next three to five years, they would be under club control and remain less expensive than signing a free agent. Mark Trumbo’s salary will continue to grow as he is in his first year of arbitration and Howie Kendrick will be a free agent in two years; both reasons you hear rumors of these big bats being shopped for "controllable pitching".
There is a third, much less popular option. The Angels could give Joe Blanton a chance for a bounce back season. They could give prospects Nick Maronde or Mark Sappington a shot. Whatever the Halos decide, I hope it’s intelligent and doesn’t set our farm system back any further than it already is. Most of all, it can’t get in the way of giving Kidfish an extension sometime in the next few years. It’s only a matter of time before he becomes a “Triple Crown” winner.