The Los Angeles Angels come into this offseason with glaring holes at multiple positions in the field, but they have a surplus of major league-capable starting pitching.
The righties (Garrett Richards, Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker and Nick Tropeano) and lefties (Andrew Heaney, C.J. Wilson, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs) have all proven themselves to be deserving of a spot in the rotation. But since only five can make up the 2016 rotation, at least three of these candidates will be on the outside looking in (or watching from a new franchise).
Richards, 27, is the probable opening day starter. Recovering from a torn patellar tendon that cost him the end of the 2014 season, Richards posted a 3.65 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 176 strikeouts in the 207.1 innings that he threw in 2015. While those numbers are impressive, the statistic that gives the most compelling case as to why Richards could someday be among the league’s best is the spin rate he posts on his pitches.
His average two-seam fastball spin rate of 2,498 RPM is 300 RPM higher than any other qualified major league pitcher, while his four-seam fastball, cutter and slider spin rates all rank among the top seven in the majors. Richards certainly has the highest potential of any of the Los Angeles Angels starters. Count on him being at the top of the rotation in 2016.
Heaney is another young starter full of potential. Acquired last offseason in the deal that sent Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers, the 24-year-old exceeded the Angels’ expectations. He posted a very impressive 3.49 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, while surrendering just 28 walks in the 105.2 innings he pitched in his first full season in the MLB. Alongside Richards, expect Heaney to have a spot in the 2016 rotation and beyond.
The 10-year Angel veteran Weaver regressed considerably in 2015. He posted a career-high 4.64 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and just 90 strikeouts in his 159 innings, while struggling to throw a fastball over 85 MPH. The former Cy Young runner up’s merit should be enough to land him a spot in the rotation, but he may have a short leash should his struggles continue in his final year of his expensive contract.
Hector Santiago may be the most likely Angel to be traded.
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While Weaver was enduring his worst career season, Santiago was having his best. The only pitcher to represent the Angels in the All-Star game posted a 3.59 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 162 strikeouts in 180.2 innings pitched. While Santiago did make great strides in 2015, the Angels may be looking to trade him while his value is high coming off an All-Star season.
The 27-year-old’s second half of 2015 was considerably worse than his first half, yet he still may be very appealing to teams due to his two more years of cheap team control.
MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez has reported that Santiago is the player teams have inquired the most about this offseason. Expect Santiago to be in the Angels’ rotation in 2016 should he survive the offseason, but he may very well be most valuable to the Angels if he is sent elsewhere.
Wilson and Shoemaker are the next two most likely trade candidates. Wilson is coming off a shortened year due to injury in which he posted a 3.89 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 132 innings pitched. He is owed $20 million in an age-36 season that is following elbow surgery, but has the potential to return to the All-Star form he displayed in his time in Texas.
A trade involving Wilson will certainly force the Angels to pay for a portion of Wilson’s 2016 salary, but will free up a considerable amount of money to potentially allow the Angels to afford a premium free agent.
Shoemaker had a down year in his second year in the Angels rotation following a breakout 2014 campaign. A meager 4.46 ERA caused him to be sent down to triple-A Salt Lake in August, just a season after finishing second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting (though he would return shortly after).
If Shoemaker is still an Angel come Opening Day of 2016, he’ll likely be on the fringe of making the rotation. If not, the Angels could use him in the bullpen for long relief.
Skaggs and Tropeano, age 24 and 25, respectively, will be looking to establish themselves as everyday major leaguers in 2016. Skaggs posted a 4.30 ERA in 113 innings in 2014, but missed the final two months of that season as well as the entire 2015 campaign due to Tommy John surgery.
Skaggs impressed in his first full season, but may well be on the outside looking in to begin 2016 if the Angels stand pat with their rotation. Regardless, the lefty will very likely be a mainstay in the Angel rotation in the near future.
Tropeano is the least likely to be in the starting rotation come Opening Day. The former Astro was better than expected in 2015, producing a 3.82 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. He pitched just 37.2 innings, though, serving as a replacement for injuries. Another probable future member of the rotation, look for Tropeano to begin the season in a role similar to what he had last year.
General Manager Billy Eppler would prefer to keep the Angels’ pitching depth, especially following the trade for Andrelton Simmons that sent the Halos’ top two pitching prospects to Atlanta. But as the offseason progresses, it is slowly appearing more and more likely that the Angels may have to address their weaknesses through trade due to owner Arte Moreno’s unwillingness to surpass the luxury tax threshold.
We should learn lots more about what the 2016 Angels will look like as the Winter Meetings wrap up and dominoes continue to fall in the very near future.