While you are out with your sweetheart on Valentine's Day, the Angels' pitchers and catchers will be icing the first achy muscles of spring down in Tempe, Arizona. The most promising component of the 2011 Angels figures to be their starting rotation. Four men are guaranteed slots:
Jered Weaver (ERA+ was 135 in 224+ IP in 2011, 5.4 WAR). He might have just lost his arbitration battle with the Angels, but the major league strikeout king of 2010 will still be raking in a Verlandersesque $7.3 million and owner Arte Moreno has more than hinted that contract extension talks loom for the Angels ace. He can be a free agent after next season, so look for Weaver to stay focused on his status as the best starter on this team. Weaver is 28.
Dan Haren (ERA+ of 142 in 84 IP as an Angel, 2.8 WAR) would be an ace on just about any other major league team, but the comfort of being a number two should yield a great year. He is familiar with the American League fro his years in Oakland and had two months to get acclimated to the So Cal way of playing under the energy of the Rally Monkey. Haren turns 31 in September and is signed through next year with a club option for 2013.
Ervin Santana (ERA+ of 104 in 222+ IP last year, 3.1 WAR) has yet to consistently fulfill the potential that helped give him the nickname Magic (in SoCal, his first name of course made that choice a slam dunk). He could be a lights-out candidate for Ace and he could be the second coming of mid-decade Ramon Ortiz. Ya nevah know... the kid's lack of consistency is an enigma wrapped in a mystery, but that fastball on the corner sets up a dramatic slider. Problem is when that fastball is not on the corner, it is a batting practice pitch worthy of Single A. Santana turned 28 in January and is signed through 2012 with a club option for 2013.
Joel Pineiro (ERA+ of 106 in 152+ IP last season, 2.9 WAR) had an injury in late July to the muscles around his ribcage. He came all the way back and started three games in late September, so he should be healthy. Pineiro pitched alright for a 4/5 starter. Unlike the above three arms, he is much less of a flyball pitcher and so his presence in the rotation can be used to spell defenders near the fences (not that Mike Scioscia is known for logical player rotations, just throwing it out there). Father Time Pineiro turns 33 at the ned of September and this is the final year of Pineiro's two year deal.
The fifth starter position is where the Angels may have to call on Triple A Salt Lake before the season is through...
Scott Kazmir (2011 stats too embarrassing to print) is in a career make-or-break position. If he heals from old injuries and recaptures some lost form, there is no reason he would not rival Weaver and Haren to be an All-Star caliber starting ace. The problem with this scenario is that Angel Stadium of Anaheim is near, but not located IN Disneyland, where Tinkerbell's fairy dust might actually help such a dream occur. Kazmir will be given a deep look in Spring, but the Angels could just eat his expensive contract and move on. If his strikeouts are up in Tempe and his pitches show movement reminiscent of his great September of 2009, he will be given the fifth spot in the rotation on a short leash. Kamr just turned 27 at the ned of January and is a free agent after this year if the Angels cut him or do not exercise their club option for 2012.
Waiting in the wings:
Trevor Bell started seven games for the Angels in 2011. Underwhelming and still raw around the edges, he just turned 24 in October and will likely be sent to AAA to stretch out as a starter in case one of the above arms goes down.
Matt Palmer turns 32 in late March, and the only question is: Will he be on the Major League roster that late into the spring. Injuries ended his Anaheim tenure in May last year. He was a surprising salve to the staff in 2009, winning eleven games out of nowhere, but was bumped in the Kazmir trade in August of that year. Will he reclaim the fifth starter's spot from Kaz in 2011? Stay tuned...
Hisanori Takahashi was acquired as a free agent for the bullpen and may step into the fifth starters spot, but I am of the belief that the Halo pen is going to need him more than the rotation.
After that, it will take a surprising Spring performance from an Angels arm to be considered for the 2011 rotation, be it the young, raw Garrett Richards or the journeyman non-roster invitee Eric Junge. The Angels have the luxury of that solid 1-3, but as close as they might be to glory, a few sore elbows could put this team into the pitching abyss.