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The LA Angels’ Budget Pitching Rotation

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OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 23: Trevor Cahill #53 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Minnesota Twins in the top of the first inning at Oakland Alameda Coliseum on September 23, 2018 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 23: Trevor Cahill #53 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Minnesota Twins in the top of the first inning at Oakland Alameda Coliseum on September 23, 2018 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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It’s hard to tell if the LA Angels are being budget-conscious, or if it’s that no one will take their money.

While the Seattle Mariners outbid rivals for Japanese lefty Yusei Kikuchi and the Phillies were doing the same with reliever David Robinson, the LA Angels were busy getting outbid for both arms. The one arm they did sign was attached to a familiar face: Alex Meyer was signed to a minor league contract this week, just six weeks after the Angels released him in November.

The likelihood that General Manager Billy Eppler signs one of notable remaining names available in free agency is slim. According to Ken Rosenthal in The Athletic, “The Angels are staying opportunistic in their search for bullpen help, but the emergence of righties Hansel Robles and Ty Buttrey last season reinforced the team’s preference for bargain-basement types over expensive free agents.”

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In other words, if you were hoping the Angels were going to break open the piggy bank to land a free agent whale, you can stop hoping. While rumors of the Angels chasing Dallas Keuchel are still in the wind, it seems unlikely that Eppler — after a winter where every signing he’s made has been of the one-season, low-cost variety — would agree to the five-year contract that Keuchel is demanding. The same goes for Craig Kimbrel, though the veteran closer has made it clear he only wants to go to a real contender.

And a “real contender” is not something too many people think the Angels are right now. While the team’s early rotation depth is significant, quantity is only quality at Vegas buffets. Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Cahill, Matt Harvey, Jaime Barria, Felix Peña, and Nick Tropeano give the Angels plenty of arms to throw out there in the first inning. Heaney is the default ace of the staff, and two years removed from surgery, it’s an open question as to whether he can step his game up to actual ace levels, or if he’s merely a solid starter.

Barria and Skagg can be expected to provide mid-rotation depth, Peña looked good in his extended audition last season, and it is certainly reasonable that the good Trevor Cahill shows up. Harvey’s velocity has returned, even if his movement hasn’t. Tropeano, Meyer, and the reclaimed Parker Bridwell will presumably start the season in the minors in case of injuries. (It’s the Angels, so you know there’s gonna be injuries.)

On paper, that’s not a terrible rotation, but neither does it inspire sonnets. The Angels have a lot of question marks and few concrete strengths. With no big, expensive free agent start expected to join the team this off-season, the Angels will go into the 2019 season hoping that the starting rotation, as a group, find their way to the upper end of expectations.

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It’s a very affordable approach to staff-building, and it continues to provide Eppler and the Angels with the payroll flexibility to buy someone at a later date. It also means the Angels will not be sporting a high-end rotation on Opening Day, and that means the margin of error for this budget rotation will be very thin indeed.

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