Los Angeles only has Mike Trout locked up for two more years and have yet to capitalize on his talent. One more arm could turn them into a 2019 wild card team.
Outside of winning the AL West in 2014 (where they would go on to be swept out of the playoffs by the Royals), they have zero other postseason appearances with Trout. If they want to cash in while they still have him, they need to make another move or two this year, and one glaring need is stability in the starting rotation.
In 2018, the Angels finished fourth in the AL West at 80-82, trailing the Mariners, Athetics, and, of course, the Astros. The Mariners have sold some key pieces and don’t appear likely to repeat their 2018 success, and Oakland hasn’t done much to impress this offseason. The Angels, however, have tried to make some key acquisitions, adding solid role players like Jonathan Lucroy and Justin Bour to the mix, along with Cody Allen to close out games.
The starting rotation, though, could still use some help. In 2018, the Angels had 15 different pitchers start games with only one—Andrew Heaney (180 innings)—topping 130 innings pitched. Pitchers like Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, and Garrett Richards haven’t exactly been the picture of health and consistency in their up-and-down careers. And Shohei Ohtani, as we know, is unable to pitch at all in 2019.
To address this issue, the Angels have already added Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill to the mix. Again, not exactly the most consistent starters. Cahill became more of a reliever the last several years prior to starting 20 games, with nice success, for Oakland last season. The most memorable thing Harvey has done in the last four years was force himself back onto the mound in the 2015 World Series, where he then blew the lead after a dominant start. Since that game, Harvey has made 63 starts and pitched to a 5.39 ERA in 340 1⁄3 innings.
The Angels could use help if they want to make a run at the second wild card. The good news is—there are still some available veteran arms.
The big splash would be signing a pitcher like Dallas Keuchel, who is exiting Houston after seven seasons. At age 31, Keuchel should still have some good years ahead. Coming off a 2018 season where he topped 200 innings with a 3.74 ERA and 3.69 FIP, MLBTR has him projected for a four-year contract at $82 million. A master at forcing hitters into weak contact, Keuchel would immediately become the ace of LA’s rotation. Steamer projects him to throw 196 innings in 2019, with an 3.69 ERA, 3.77 FIP and 3.2 fWAR.
The Angels could add Keuchel’s projected $20.5 AAV to their payroll and remain comfortably under the luxury tax threshold. The bad news is they’d be adding that to a payroll already saddled with a bloated Albert Pujols contract that doesn’t expire until after the 2021 season. The good news—adding this to the payroll shouldn’t hinder any efforts to keep Trout in the fold past 2020.
A less exciting Plan B would be to go after a lower cost veteran like Ervin Santana or James Shields. Santana is coming off an awful 2018 with the Twins, meaning he would likely come very cheap and on a one-year deal, especially at age 36. Keep in mind, while he was very bad in 2018, he was also injured and only started five games, throwing just 429 pitches.
If you believe that Santana’s awful peripherals in that short span were due to pitching through a finger injury, it might be worth it for the Angels to bring him back home. Santana had been good during his prior three years in Minnesota, throwing 500 2⁄3 innings with a 3.47 ERA while striking out 7.2 batters per 9 IP and only walking 2.7 per 9 IP. If he could bounce back to anything remotely close to those numbers, it could be a heck of a reunion for Santana and the Angels, and at a steal of a price.
Shields, on the other hand, was awful with the White Sox before having a slight bounce back year in 2018, topping 200 innings for a terrible team. He isn’t remotely as good as he once was, but ask the Royals how much he meant to the young pitchers on their 2013-2014 teams. If nothing else, Shields would be a source of innings and could teach pitchers like Heaney, Barria and Skaggs how to maintain themselves both mentally and physically. With a repeat of 2018, Shields could even be as effective as either Harvey or Barria, but with more durability and better leadership qualities.
Whichever direction the Angels might go—the important thing is they must do something. The current rotation is, frankly, not a reliable one, and they should proceed with caution until this group proves they can be consistently durable and effective.
If Mike Trout leaves the Angels after 2020, it will be a complete failure for the organization to have just one postseason appearance. They can’t stand pat if this team is going to compete in 2019. The front office should adopt an “all-in” mentality the next couple of years, and of the moves outlined above, only one of those is truly an “all-in” move.
Go get Keuchel, Mr. Eppler. You owe it both to Mike Trout and your fan base.