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Surveying the Post-Richards Pitching Situation

August 21st, 2014

It strikes again.

You know that nightmare scenario we all dreaded where the Angels’ rail-thin rotation fell to pieces right before they made the final push for the playoffs? Well, it’s here. First, it was Tyler Skaggs and an ominous appointment with Dr. James Andrews; now it’s Garrett Richards and a gruesome knee injury at the hands of the club’s arch-nemesis this year, first base. (You may remember it from such episodes as “Calhoun Twists an Ankle” and “Hamilton Stubs his Thumb.”) An MRI revealed that Richards tore the patellar tendon of his left knee in Boston on Wednesday, meaning that he’ll be sidelined until at least Spring Training next February.

I suppose it could have been worse — i.e. at least it’s not his ACL, throwing arm, etc. — but there’s no dancing around the fact that the injury is a crushing blow to the team’s title hopes this season. Richards was the glue that held the rotation together and was easily the club’s best shot at surviving a one-off Wild Card game, should it come to that. What’s more, a playoff rotation of Jered Weaver/C.J. Wilson/??? is a far more frightening proposition for the Angels than anyone they might face in a best-of-[number] series.

So, yeah, the Angels are in a pretty rough spot, even as the team currently with the best record in baseball. Rather than pull a Jeremiah and lament for thousands of words, though, let’s take a (slightly) more productive approach and survey the club’s best options for replacing down the stretch and into October.

First, the few in-house guys:

Lefty-with-a-pulse Wade LeBlanc will get the first shot to play the role of Garrett Richards surrogate on Monday against the Miami, but it’s unlikely the lefty will be the only “Really? Him?” guy to get a spot start before the regular season ends. Two other 2010 rotation stalwarts (and former Marlins), Chris Volstad and Randy Wolf, could get an opportunity as well if LeBlanc falters. None of those three inspire anything in the way of confidence, and their ceilings are pretty much capped at replacement level, so it’s worth digging a little deeper to see who else might be available.

/forages around
/finds, like, one potentially useful thing

That the Angels lack organizational pitching depth shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it’s been a running theme for about three years now. Drew Rucinski, 25, is the closest thing the Angels have to an MLB-ready starting pitching prospect. He’s the owner of a 3.07 ERA in 24 starts at Double-A this year, but he’s already thrown 137⅔ innings so there’s no telling how many more frames he has in his arm. Prior to this year, the right-hander’s high in innings pitched as a professional was 129, so he’s already well into uncharted territory. Rucinski has decent velocity with his fastball (~94 mph), but seems to derive a lot of his effectiveness from the deception created by his wacky-waving-inflatable-arm-flailing-tube-man delivery.

Beyond Rucinski, there’s really no one who’s healthy who is worth noting. Jose Alvarez would be a great fill-in candidate, but he’s been out since early May with an elbow strain. Jarrett Grube helped out in the bullpen briefly a few months ago, but he’s got a 5.65 ERA in 25 starts at Salt Lake this year, has never started a big-league game, and his odds of becoming into a second Matt Shoemaker are slim to none. Michael Roth, the only guy other than Rucinski already on the 40-man roster, is young and somewhat promising but has the strikeout rate (4.8 K/9) of an aging Aaron Cook in a league that’s typically a pitcher’s haven. Such an extreme peripheral doesn’t usually translate well into the big leagues.

Mets starters Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon appear to be the club’s best outside options, if the Internet is to be believed. Both guys are signed through at least 2015 to relatively cheap contracts, and both would give the Halos a reliable mid-rotation arm they sorely need. Niese has the clearest path to Anaheim, as he’s already passed through waivers, but that doesn’t mean actually getting him would be simple in any way. The Halos have little left to offer in the way of talent they can afford to give up, and have absolutely no promising players on the farm that could fill New York’s biggest need: shortstop. So even if the two sides want to make a deal there, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to agree on terms. As for Colon, he not only hasn’t cleared waivers, he hasn’t even been put on the wire. If/when the Mets do put Colon on the line, the likelihood he’ll make it through the other 29 teams unclaimed seems slim. Everyone knows the Angels are in dire need of pitching, so an old-fashioned block claim would probably be in the works to prevent the Halos from even getting a chance to work out a deal.

Another complicating factor is that any trade would have to be completed before September 1 if the Angels want the player to be eligible for October baseball. That gives Jerry Dipoto just a 10-day window to work out a deal, which, depending on Arte’s thoughts on the situation, may or may not put him in desperation mode. Let’s hope it’s “not.” A trade for Niese or Colon would be nice, especially with Skaggs out until 2016, but not at any cost. This isn’t a repeat of 2012, when acquiring a starting pitcher was paramount to have any hope of reaching the postseason. The Angels already have at least a Wild Card spot on lockdown, so even though they do need help they might be better off looking for it over the winter.

The three-headed mediocrity monster of LeBlanc, Volstad, and Wolf should be able to hold the fort for what would have been Richards’ final seven regular season starts. After that, it’s up to Weaver, Wilson, and probably Shoemaker to lead the Halos to the promised land. Hold on to your butts.


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