With the Ryan Madson signing, Jerry Dipoto is officially underway spending Arte Moreno’s money in this crucial offseason. As the Free Agent Fits series has shown, the Angels desperately need pitching. It doesn’t really matter what kind of pitching, just that they need it. High leverage relief pitcher? Yep. A starting pitcher (or three)? Unless they want to look up at Texas and Oakland again in 2013, this is a must. This? Can’t have worse results than Bobby Cassevah.
With all the efforts the Angels are making trying to acquire quality pitching, I just hope the offense isn’t completely ignored, though I expect this to be the case. Keep in mind that the Angels offense could be in line for significant regression in 2013. Mike Trout probably won’t be as good and Pujols is another year older.* You never really know what you’re getting with Erick Aybar and Mark Trumbo. And Torii Hunter is now manning the outfield in Detroit — while Hunter and his ridiculous .389 BABIP is all but guaranteed to regress, Hunter is still a better offensive player than either of his two likely replacements: Peter Bourjos (career 97 OPS+ in 940 plate appearances) and Vernon Wells (shudder).
* He’ll turn 38 in January, said the Cynic.
Also, the Angels tended to score in spite of themselves, as they had the fourth worst walk rate in baseball. The Angels often got away with that fact because they had the fourth highest BABIP in baseball and during the summer months were one of the best home run hitting teams in the game. But what if Pujols continues to decline, or Mark Trumbo proves his true colors are more like his post-All star Break slump than his pre-All Star Break video game evisceration of baseballs? And, remember, Trout was one day projected as a 30-home run guy. It’s possible 2012 was just a homer happy fluke and he becomes more of the 20 HR per year guy we expected.
This is all a very long-winded way of saying I endorse the Angels signing former Yankee Nick Swisher, who for the past several seasons was one of the best bargains in baseball. Since joining the Yankees in 2009, Swisher has earned a shade under $8M per season (on average) while serving as a 4-win type player with complementary skills that would fit perfectly into the Angels plans.
Swisher will never be a high average guy and he does tend to strike out a bit much, but inserting him into right field would almost assuredly be an offensive boost for the club over someone like Bourjos. With Hunter gone, a question Angels fans like to ask is who will bat second now? Swisher would be ideal for this role, given his career 13.3% BB rate (12.3% last season) and ability to get on base ahead of Pujols. But pitchers can’t just attack Swisher either, as he is a pretty safe bet to hit about 25 homers and 30 doubles, both of which may be tempered just a bit because of Angel Stadium.
Swisher is also a switch-hitter that will help balance the top of the lineup, important for a team whose only real source of left-handed power is Kendrys Morales. And while you may be concerned he benefited from Yankee Stadium’s criminally short porch in right field, Swisher actually hit two more home runs on the road last season, not to mention a weighted on-base average that was nearly identical home and away (.363 home, .362 road).
Swisher, like all free agents, does come with risk. He is 32 and reports I’ve read said he wants a 4-year deal. By the end of that deal, will he even be able to play the outfield? The Angels have enough 1B/DH types as it is — paying another would be redundant. Even now, he isn’t the best defender, costing the Yankees 12 runs (according to defensive runs saved) over the last four seasons with his often clumsy right field defense.
However, it’s beginning to look like the Angels may not be able to afford Greinke, not with the Dodgers and their $6-$7 billion TV deal meaning they can afford to literally buy any free agent they desire and hardly bat an eyelash. If the Angels don’t sign Greinke, then maybe a more creative approach should be taken. Sign someone like Brandon McCarthy on the cheap,** and bring in Swisher. I’m completely guessing, but I think something like 4 years for $35-$40M gets that done (note: Swisher turned down the Yankees $13.3M qualifying offer, but would likely take a smaller annual sum if it meant a longer deal). Then, with Swisher in tow, the Angels can deal Bourjos or Trumbo while both are still young and inexpensive. An intriguing idea I read was to package Bourjos and Hank Conger to the Mets for R.A. Dickey if he doesn’t sign an extension with them. Or maybe trade Trumbo to pitching-rich Tampa Bay for a starter not named David Price or Matt Moore. I don’t know, I’m terrible at making fake trades. But I would be surprised if Dipoto couldn’t fetch something nice for either player. It might be risky to trade them, but it’s also risky to not trade them and watch them lose value if they tank in 2013.
** And maybe bring back Joe Saunders with a 1-year deal to man the #5 spot in the rotation, too. I’m just not sold on Garrett Richards as a viable starting pitcher. I think he has the stuff to be a dominant late innings reliever, though.
It’s possible that signing Swisher would improve the offense directly and the pitching staff indirectly. How many 32-year old free agent right fielders can you say that about?
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewkarcher.