As of Friday morning, it appeared that the Los Angeles Angels would head to MLB's winter meetings in Nashville on Monday in dire need of starting pitching. After buying out right-handers Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, and with Zack Greinke rumored to be seeking a C.C. Sabathia-type deal (seven years, $161 million) in free agency, the team was faced with the likelihood of having only Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson returning to the fold in 2013.
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto was going to have to head to Nashville and scare up some good deals, walk away from some bad ones and try to rebuild his starting rotation. But Dipoto didn't wait until the Winter Meetings started to get to work.
The second I sat down to write this piece on Friday morning, the news broke that the Angels had traded reliever Jordan Walden for Atlanta Braves right hander Tommy Hanson. Walden has struggled with control issues, never really seemed to have the makeup to succeed in high-leverage situations and lost the confidence of manager Mike Scioscia as a result. Hanson is an affordable back end of the rotation starter with a history of shoulder problems and a frightening velocity chart. If -- and that's a big if -- he can stay in shape, stay healthy and regain some of the velocity that made him a ~3 fWAR pitcher during his first three seasons in the league, this deal could be decent but not great. The hidden upside is that after last season, it didn't appear that the Angels really knew what they were going to do with Walden anyway, so getting something --even if it's a broken Tommy Hanson -- is better than nothing.
So, that plugs one hole -- even though it plugs said hole with a gob of Play-Doh rather than some quick-dry cement -- but if you're the Angels and you're trying to fill out your rotation without spending money that could potentially take you out of the race for Greinke, this is how you do it. You take a risk.
As it stands today, the Angels rotation looks like this:
If the Halos can manage to outbid the Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers for Greinke, that rotation becomes a bit easier to stomach, but if they don't -- and according to Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com they probably won't -- Dipoto will have to keep searching for answers.
The answer is not Kyle Lohse. The right-hander is a 34-year-old coming off his best season, who is primed to decline and wants a multi-year deal as good or better than the four-year $41 million deal he just completed. A signing of this nature would fit the ethos of the Angels teams of the 1990s (sign or trade for a veteran only to watch him crash and burn in the friendly confines of the Big A), and doesn't seem like the kind of move a savvy GM like Dipoto would make. We hope.
The answer is not Ryan Dempster either. He'll be 36-years-old next season, will likely command a two or three year deal in the $12-to-$14 million range, his velocity is declining and he was unimpressive in his 12 start stint with the Rangers last season (5.09 ERA, 1.435 WHIP, 9.7 H/9, 0.3 bWAR).
And they would probably be better off avoiding Joe Saunders II: The Return if at all possible.
There are a few fairly cost-effective, moderately risky middle-of-the-rotation arms that are available that might make more sense for the Angels than the trio of free agent arms posted above.
Right-hander Brandon McCarthy would be a nice fit. Not only because of his ability to throw strikes and induce ground balls (39.8 GB%), but because he could be available on a one or two year deal for less than half of the annual value of what Lohse and Dempster are seeking. The 29-year-old has been plagued by shoulder issues over four of the past five seasons, but -- as I mentioned above -- given the Angels situation (and that they just traded for a pitcher with a shoulder that Keith Law described as "hamburger meat") this is how you piece together a rotation. You take a risk. Another one.
A slightly pricier and equally risky move would be signing former Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Shaun Marcum. Over the past four seasons, the 30-year-old has posted an ERA of 3.57 a WHIP of 1.175 and shouldn't command more than the $7.725 million he earned last season. He doesn't throw hard and gives up a ton of fly balls, but Angel Stadium is fairly friendly to fly-ball pitchers.
Edwin Jackson could also be an option, but his situation is where things might get a bit tricky for the Angels. Jackson is seeking a multi-year deal, likely in the $12 million/per year range. While the 29-year-old would be a great fit for the middle of the Angels rotation -- he's durable, dependable and induces a ton of ground balls (47.3 GB% in 2012) -- the team might miss out on the right-hander if they get too deep in a lengthy bidding war for Greinke. Jackson could get swept up by a team that isn't in the Greinke sweepstakes, Greinke could sign elsewhere and the Angels could be left with their checkbook in their hand.
Of course the Dodgers could just give Greinke ALL OF THE MONEY on Monday and the entire paragraph I just wrote (and the concerns therein) could be blown to pieces.
Do me a favor and scroll back up to the Halos current starting rotation and tell me you won't be glued to your preferred baseball-media-gathering device from Monday to Wednesday. Well, more so than you usually are.
There is still a lot of work to be done.