The notion of a perfectly constructed ball club doesn’t really exist. In 2012 the closest thing we have is the Texas Rangers, and even they have question marks in their starting rotation: will Yu Darvish hold up over a full MLB season; does Roy Oswalt still have something in the tank; will Derek Holland emerge as the ace many people thought he would become before the season? Of course, many of these problems are mitigated by Texas’ elite offense, bullpen, and depth. And don’t forget about the farm system; if Texas wants to make a move, they certainly have the resources to do it.*
* If they acquire Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke before the deadline they’re about as close to a lock to win the World Series as you can get in baseball.
If the best team in baseball has weaknesses, then obviously the Angels do. With the extra wild card in both leagues this year, that means more teams are in contention and fewer teams are sellers. Even the Pirates, who usually serve as the world’s saddest K-Mart during the trade deadline, lead the NL Central race and may have built up enough good first half vibes to try and go for that elusive postseason berth. Impact players will be harder to come by this month, so if the Angels can acquire a serviceable player at the deadline, it could be a leg up on other AL squads that may not be able to find a suitable trade partner.
As we head into the season’s second half (which officially starts tonight for the Angels), below are my thoughts on what I would like the Angels to do, namely signing Albert Pujols to a 6-year extension.** To be honest, there’s not a whole lot they can do because they have quite a few guys that aren’t going anywhere due to new contracts or because they’re too damn good: Pujols, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson, Scott Downs, Ernesto Frieri, Torii Hunter (because he’s the “team leader,” which doesn’t mean anything but I would be shocked if he is moved), and even though he’s down this year Dan Haren likely is staying put for the remainder of the season because he has ace potential.
** Kidding, kidding.
So anyway, here’s what I would like the Angels to acquire in order of importance. I also made some hypothetical trades because people seem to enjoy doing that.
Easier said than done. If you ask all 30 teams who wants a starting pitcher, all 30 will raise their hands. But as the Rangers have showed, there is no such thing as too much starting pitching, especially in a pennant race. It’s weird to say the Angels, who sit second in the AL in starter ERA, need more pitching, but all of that ERA is deflated by Weaver and Wilson. Haren has been miserable this year despite K and BB rates that jive with career norms (getting killed by BABIP and home run rate), Ervin Santana is an automatic loss at this point and is playing himself out of a 2013 roster spot with the Angels, and the #5 spot is an enigma, unless you trust Garrett Richards based on 5 starts or Jerome Williams to come back healthy and maintain his 57.5% groundball rate.
The dirty secret with the Angels starting staff is though they’re very good, they’re not as dominant as many expected them to be. Amongst AL teams, they’re only 9th in K/9 and they’ve walked the 5th most batters (per 9 innings). While I expect Weaver and Wilson to keep pitching well, they’ll both likely taper off from their low ERAs, especially with the meat of their 2012 schedule quickly approaching. If we use Wilson as one example, there’s a 1.20 difference between his ERA and FIP and he’s walking 1 more batter per 9 than he did in 2011 with the Rangers.
But even with Weaver and Wilson regressing a bit (And I expect/hope Haren to become a good pitcher again at some point during the second half, especially since he finally fessed up to back soreness that’s bothered him since his last Spring Training start. A DL trip or skipping a start with the All Star break coming up could do wonders), the Angels are set in the top of the rotation. Yet, they are woefully thin on the big club and on the farm. Their only real viable big-league ready plug in, Garrett Richards, is already on the big club filling in for Jerome Williams. What if, say, Wilson sustained an injury and missed 2 months? Do you really trust Brad Mills to fill in? Me neither. The Rangers are currently without 3/5 of their Opening Day rotation, and they’re still kicking ass. If 3/5 of the Angels rotation went down, they’d be done. They don’t score runs consistently enough to overcome that type of blow.
This is all a really longwinded way of saying the Angels would be well-suited to find a starter at the deadline. Plug him in to the #5 spot, send Richards back to Triple-A and use him as depth in case of injury, send Jerome Williams (or Santana) to the bullpen to create depth there. It’s an overly simplistic analysis, but finding even an average-to-slightly below average starter would give the Angels depth they don’t have at the moment.
Trade idea: Andrew Romine, Jean Segura, Mike Trout autograph for Justin Verlander
Power bullpen arm
Despite having Ernesto Frieri for two months now, the Angels relief corps still possess a pretty mediocre K rate (7.59 per 9, 11th in AL). When you consider that Frieri’s rate is 15.53 K/9, that means he’s doing all the heavy lifting for the team and the Angels lack a stable of relief pitchers that can strike guys out. Jordan Walden is the only other Angels pitcher with a rate above 8.40, but since he also walks 5.88 batters per 9, it’s hard to trust him in high leverage spots.***
*** Frieri is also prone to walk guys, but he’s also striking out more than 4 batters per 9 innings than Walden so it’s easier to forgive.
Interestingly, the Angels bullpen has the AL’s third highest LOB%. As with all relief pitching stats, they need to be taken with a grain of salt since the sample size is significantly lower than that of a starting pitcher. With that said, the high LOB% combined with the relatively low K/9 for the pen probably isn’t a sustainable correlation for the Angels. After all, it’s easier to strand runners when you strike out more batters; the more balls put in play, the greater the likelihood the runners will score. If the Angels don’t acquire a strikeout relief pitcher, it will be interesting to see how this shakes out over 162 games. But there’s a reason that of the 11 relief pitchers currently sitting with a fWAR of at least 1.0, all but two of them have a K/9 above 8.4.
Trade idea: Peter Bourjos (bobblehead) for Tyler Clippard
According to Baseball Prospectus, that would be a Lefty One Out GuY. LOOGY. At this point I’m being picky, because the Angels already have Scott Downs, an elite relief pitcher. And for years the Angels had great pens that survived with Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields, Brendan Donnelly, and no lefties. Nevertheless, in a pennant race having lefty relievers enter the game in a high leverage situation against Josh Hamilton, Prince Fielder, or Robinson Cano is huge. The more dependable lefties you have, the better.
And no, Hisanori Takahashi doesn’t count. His numbers say he’s not bad but I think he’s terrible. I think I’m just anti-Takahashi.
Trade idea: Jar of Mike Scioscia loogies for Aroldis Chapman
Man, is Bobby Wilson bad. I don’t want to knock the guy because it’s not his fault he’s playing. For years Angels fans clamored for Jeff Mathis to get the boot. When he did, we got stuck with Bobby Wilson, who makes me miss Mathis. At least Mathis would think about hitting a home run sometimes and could kinda sorta work a count and would save some runs on defense. But Wilson doesn’t really do any of that. To date, he has a -0.4 fWAR with a .181/.237/.200 line,**** offensive production that is so bad it’s inexcusable Scioscia plays him unless he’s providing 1998 Pudge Rodriguez defense (he’s not). Especially when John Hester, the other catcher getting time in Chris Iannetta’s absence, is hitting a not terrible .258/.329/.409 line while also providing not-Pudge defense.
**** But hey his BABIP is .213 so he should turn into Matt Wieters any day now.
Iannetta will mercifully come back from injury at some point. He won’t hit for average, but he’ll walk and hit a couple homers a month. Ideally, Iannetta is the everyday starter while Hester backs him up once or twice a week, leaving Wilson the odd man out. But I have a hunch Wilson will remain on the 25-man roster once Iannetta comes back, sending Hester back to Salt Lake.
There’s three things I would be fine with the Angels doing. First, keep Hester. Second, send Hester down but call up Hank Conger so we can finally start to see if he’s a real player or not. Third, look outside the organization for catching help if you don’t believe in Conger — after all, the Angels could let Iannetta walk after the season so looking for a young catcher to backup this year and take the reigns full time next year would be a smart idea.
There’s three things I wouldn’t mind the Angels doing at catcher. I bet they do none.
Trade idea: Vernon Wells for Mike Napoli
I’m not as gung-ho about the need to acquire a new third basemen as a lot of people. In a perfect world Mark Trumbo would have stuck there, but it was evident after just a few games he was going to be take a bad hop to the face eventually if he didn’t switch positions.
Fixing third base is more of a long term issue for the Angels. For the time being Alberto Callaspo has filled in decently. He has a 1.1 fWAR and a has improved his average each month, his season line now sitting at .264/.330/.385 with 6 home runs while playing average defense. Nothing fantastic and certainly not production a third basemen should provide, but it’s at least passable and not an automatic out like Bobby Wilson at catcher.
Having said that, I do understand the desire to acquire a slick fielding third basemen with pop in his bat. Someone like Adrian Beltre comes to mind — too bad he hasn’t recently been available in free agency. A third basemen shouldn’t be a priority, but if the Angels can find one to upgrade over Callaspo, then sure why not.
Trade idea: Bobby Cassevah and Kevin Jepsen for a living human that has a vague notion of what third base is.
There you have it. All the Angels need to do to become World Series favorites is acquire Justin Verlander, Tyler Clippard, Aroldis Chapman, and Mike Napoli. Piece of cake. Enjoy the rumor mill, which will be in full force any day now.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewkarcher