January 7, 2010

The Quest for a "5"

It appears the Angels are in search mode for a fifth starter I know, I know… I can see you yawning now because it’s not exactly the kind of headline grabbing news you expected this off season. Well, whether or not they’re actually looking depends on what you read or who you listen to. Clearly someone has to step up to join a rotation that will include Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver, Scott Kazmir and Ervin Santana.

Now, if you believe the company line from Tony Reagins about being “fine with the lineup they have” – the Angels will be looking internally among Matt Palmer, Sean O’Sullivan, Trevor Bell and Anthony Ortega. I can hear the “bor-ing” chants now.

Of that group Palmer clearly has the best chance to make the opening day rotation; however, I believe his best role would be in long relief.

Now if you don’t believe the “company line,” there are a number of possibilities still looking for work. The most popular rumor comes to us from Sam Miller of the OC Register, who posted on the OC Register’s Angel blog that sources have the Angels and Blue Jays as the front runners to land Aroldis Chapman from Cuba. Reports have contract offers at $21 million (as of yesterday).

Really, Toronto? They have money to spend? On a guy who would cost $21 million and be at least a year or two from making the bigs? The same team that recently cut payroll? I’m just asking… And is it really a choice between the Angels and Jays? I mean I could write a whole blog and then some about why if those are the two choices, the Angels have to be a slam dunk. Forgive me, I’m just thinking out loud here.

Even Peter Gammons believes the Angels will sign Chapman.

That being said, there are no sure things. We even learned today the Boston Red Sox are still in the mix, at least according to Gordon Edes of ESPN. There are also reports that a decision could come any day now. Of course (again depending on what you want to believe), you can probably even take that with a grain of salt.

The interesting thing about Chapman (again depending on who you believe, etc.) is that he’s either close to being ready for the major leagues or will have to start his career in the lower levels of minor league baseball. I find it highly unlikely that this 21/22 year old (I’ve seen him listed at both ages) could step on to any major league roster and contribute in 2010. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’d be a great sign and I do believe the Angels are interested; I just don’t think he’s an option for the 2010 rotation.

So, let’s move on; shall we?

Lyle Spencer of mlb.com answered questions from fans recently and was broached about the possibility of the Angels signing Jon Garland, who pitched for the team in 2008. Spencer wrote “My sense is that the Angels intend to acquire a fifth starter in free agency and nobody in the market makes more practical sense than Garland. There is the element of familiarity with the club and its catchers, from his 2008 season in Anaheim, and his remarkable durability. You plug the guy in and forget about that spot in the rotation. He never misses a start.”

Spencer continues, “Garland had a slightly better year statistically overall with the D-backs and Dodgers in '09 -- his ERA fell from 4.90 to 4.01 -- than with the Angels. He's 30, and he'll give you 200 innings and 10-15 wins. The only question is whether he'll accept a deal that will fit him into a relatively tight Angels budget with eight arbitration cases waiting to be resolved.”

I have to agree with Spencer; Garland makes a lot of sense. Now I know the majority of Angel fans are focused on whether or not the Angels can acquire a top of the rotation guy; however, I think it’s more realistic to see them going down this road. I know it’s not as “sexy” an option to most fans, but the Angels have never been about what’s necessarily popular with their fans (and I’m okay with that).

The question with Garland is most likely going to be about money (no big surprise, right?). Last year Garland made $7.25 million; that after making $12 million in 2008 with the Angels. He then hit free agency in 2009 (declining arbitration from the Angels) and found the market for his services to be not as lucrative as he believed it would be. He probably would have earned more than $7.25 million had he accepted arbitration. Live and learn, right? Well, given his improvement in 2009 (as noted by Spencer); he’s most likely looking for more money than he earned in 2009 and probably more than the Angels will be willing to pay him as well. I believe, if Garland does sign with the Angels, it will be because the market has proven to be a tough one once again.

There are a number of other free agent pitchers still out there as possible options. The most popular target among fans is probably Ben Sheets, who is coming off an injury, but has a lot of upside. Sheets missed all of 2009, but is a three-time all-star with a career 3.72 ERA. It’s easy to see why so many fans are interested in him.

That being said, I have to ask; why aren’t there any rumors about clubs being interested in Sheets? I mean the hot stove season has been basically void of news on Sheets. Am I missing something? Perhaps teams are a little gun shy. Who knows?

It would make sense to me if the Angels aren’t interested in the risk. Consider this; Sheets made his debut in 2001 along with C.C. Sabathia, Roy Oswalt and Carlos Zambrano to name a few and despite missing all of 2009, he has logged the fifth highest number of innings for his class (1,428). You can view that total two ways. One, he’s durable or two; he has a lot of miles on his arm.

Then again, if you look at his 2005, 2006 and 2007 seasons you will see that he only managed 22, 17 and 24 starts in each of those years; calling his durability into question.

In any case, I just can’t see the Angels going down this road. Sheets has enough upside that he will probably seek a guaranteed deal and the Angels don’t appear to be in the “lets take a chance” mode at the moment.

The next most intriguing free-agent might be Joel Pineiro, who is looking to cash in on his most productive season as a starting pitcher. In 2009 Pineiro tied his career high for games started with 32 (he last started that many games in 2003 with Seattle) and had a solid 3.49 ERA. However, Pineiro only struck out 105 pitchers and doesn’t possess the kind of power arm Mike Scioscia covets.

Like Sheets, Pineiro is 31 years old and has only a few more innings under his belt (1,456) despite making his debut a year earlier than Sheets. It should also be noted that Pineiro has spent some time in the majors as a reliever.

In any case (again depending on who you believe or don’t believe) the Angels have been speculated to have interest. I can’t see it. Besides, the last time the Angels signed a player after they had a breakout season they ended up with Gary Matthews, Jr. You’d think they’d be a little gun shy. I’m just saying.

Two other options Jarrod Washburn (35 yrs. old) and Doug Davis (34 yrs. old) are past their prime and don’t figure to receive much, if any interest from the Angels. You can also throw Erik Bedard into the mix, but he’s only managed 15 starts in each of his last two seasons. Others include Bartolo Colon (been there, done that), Braden Looper (and his 5.22 ERA from 2009), and two interesting options in Noah Lowry (who missed parts of 2008 and 2009 with injuries), and Vicente Padilla (the guy who threw deliberately at Vladimir Guerrero while pitching for Texas).

Now, my friend and fellow 514 Fanatic Bo, would love to see Padilla in an Angels uniform. Me? Not so much. You have to remember I have this thing about players who supposedly hate your team one day and then are on it the next. Besides, even though Padilla pitched well for the Dodgers (3.20 ERA), you can’t dismiss his 4.92 ERA while pitching for the Rangers in the same year.

Now, I am intrigued by Noah Lowry. What interests me is his 2005 season when he had a 3.78 ERA in 33 starts to go with 172 K’s in 204.2 innings. If he’s healthy (always a big IF), he could be a less expensive option than say Ben Sheets.

If you have a stomach for risk, there are actually plenty of options among the old and recently injured (that sounds like baseball’s version of a soap opera, doesn’t it?) – like Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Mark Mulder, yadda, yadda, yadda. Again, I don’t think the Angels are likely to roll the dice on any of those types of players.

Needless to say the prospects for a #5 starter aren’t looking very promising. I wouldn’t blame the Angels for looking internally for a solution because it would be cheaper and that role could rotate between several guys during the season and then be re-addressed by the trading deadline, if necessary.


  1. I completely agree that Palmer would be a very good long reliever for our BP and that we should be and are (I believe) for a fifth starter.

    My biggest concern is taking a NL pitcher and placing him in the AL. Past history has shown us that there is usually a tremendous difference in levels of success (Padilla is a great example) on pitchers between the two leagues. So even though Garland improved - I am not sure the improvement was much different than what could be the normal expectations between the two leagues.

    The league ERA average was:
    American League - 4.45
    National League - 4.19
    That's a pretty big differential; and as my friend James would say - I'm just saying we should be careful taking an NL pitcher and expecting him to perform the same way in the AL.

    I would be more interested in a risky player - specifically if they were open to signing a low base, incentive laden contract. Unfortunately most of them do not want that.

    As for Sheets - it has been very quiet regarding him for the coming year. The only thing I read (quite a while ago) was that he wanted a very large guaranteed contract - not going to happen.

    I actually wouldn't mind to have Pedro Martinez if the price was right and we could limit his starts/innings.

    Thanks James for all the great posts!!!!


  2. I wouldn't mind Garland. I figure if he was good enough for the Angels to offer him arbitration after 2008, he'd be good enough after his 2009 campaign because he didn't appear to regress any.

    My expectations for a fifth starter might be different from others. If gives a team 30 starts and gives them a chance to win, that's good enough for me.

    Not sure Pedro has enough left in the tank to make an impact and I would prefer someone else to take a chance on him.