LA Angels: 3 former LAA free agent pitchers to target
By Justin Gideon
With the LA Angels still on the hunt for pitching, 3 former Halos pose as intriguing free agent options.
The word “reunion” may send shivers down some people’s spine. Just hearing that word may make you want to stop reading, but please, give it a chance. Just to be clear, to any of my family reading this, this does not include me, as all of our reunions have been delightful and ripe with jubilation. Thank you for sharing my articles, by the way.
With my reunions being only positive, I am willing to give a different type of reunion a chance. That of course is the reunification of the LA Angels with some former players, who currently happen to be free agents. While there are many former Angels who are free agents, this article will be focusing on players that would fill a hole. Position players like C.J. Cron, Andrelton Simmons, Tommy La Stella, and Mark Trumbo are all highly unrealistic options for the Angels to sign.
It’s well-known that the Angels are desperate for pitching, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. With the Padres picking off two of the top available pitchers on the trade block in Blake Snell and Yu Darvish, the already-thin market for arms is continues to be increasingly scarce. It will be interesting to see if the revamped Angels front office would be willing to look to the past to fill the holes. If they do, here are three options that could help.
Former LA Angels pitchers to target: Garrett Richards
Garrett Richards began his Major League career with the Angels. In his first three seasons from 2011-2013, he was used predominantly as a reliever, while making the odd spot start. During his time in the bullpen, he pitched to the tune of an unceremonious 4.42 ERA, 1.430 WHIP, 4.16 FIP, and 6.1 K/9 over 230 innings. In the final two months of the 2013 season, Richards was implemented exclusively as a starter, making 12 starts, he recorded a 3.99 ERA, 1.401 WHIP, and a 6.1 K/9 over 72.1 innings. Despite Richards not exactly impressing in his rotation audition, the Angels were willing to give him a chance as a starter heading into the 2014 season.
They would not regret it.
Richards broke out as one of the best pitchers in the league and earned the title of the ace of the team. In his first three seasons, his fastball consistently averaged around 95.5mph (95.4, 95.7, 95.4). In 2014, however, his average fastball velocity jumped to 97.2 mph. Whatever Richards did during the offseason worked out for him, as he held a record of 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 2.60 FIP, and 8.8 K/9 over 168.2 innings pitched.
In devastating fashion, and news that is all too common for Angels fans, Richards’ season ended after he tore a tendon in his left knee covering first on a groundball. At the time of the injury, Richards, alongside Mike Trout, who would go on to win his first MVP award that season, led the Angels to a record of 75-50, which held them atop the AL West.
Richards would be back for the 2015 season. In his return, he wasn’t able to repeat his lights-out numbers before the injury but was still able to provide quality pitching. He had a record of 15-12, a 3.65 ERA, 1.240 WHIP, 3.86 FIP, and 7.6 K/9 over 207.1 innings pitched. The Angels had their ace back.
Unfortunately, 2015 would be Richards’ last fully healthy season. During the 2016 season, he suffered a high-grade UCL tear in his throwing elbow. Instead of undergoing Tommy John Surgery, he elected for the experimental stem-cell therapy, which allowed him to get back on the field just 11 months after the procedure. Over the course of the next few seasons, however, he had other issues including a right-biceps strain, a left-hamstring strain, ultimately he suffered more UCL damage, cutting the final year of his Angels contract short. This time around, Richards opted for the Tommy John surgery, saying “I kind of had made up my mind that if there was something going on related to my UCL, then this time around, I was going to get the surgery. Just move on. Just get the surgery and move forward, get back to the second half of my career, hopefully, and get back to doing what I do best.”
During his recovery, Richards signed a two-year deal with the San Diego Padres. He didn’t expect to return until the 2020 season, but as he progressed better than originally thought, he was able to make three starts at the end of the 2019 season. As a Padre, Richards has not been able to prove himself, as he had limited chances in both 2019 and 2020, due to the shortened season.
Although Richards didn’t replicate his numbers from 2014 and 2015, he was still able to prove that he is a more than capable pitching option, whether it be in the rotation or bullpen. In 2020, he had a respectable 4.03 ERA, 1.247 WHIP, 4.28 FIP, and 8.1 K/9 over 51.1 innings (10 starts and 4 relief appearances).
With the Padres acquisitions of Snell and Darvish, they have filled out their rotation and no longer look to be an option for Richards, leaving him looking for a new place to pitch. For Richards, that ‘new’ place could also be an old place. The Angels should seriously consider looking into a possible reunion with the 32-year-old.
While the Angels shouldn’t expect Richards to walk on and reclaim his title as the ace of the team, he would make for a solid mid-tier option. His 2020 numbers suggest he won’t be competing for any Cy Young awards, but his statcast numbers suggest he can still bring it. His fastball velocity ranks him in the 82nd percentile, his fastball spin ranks him in the 97th percentile, and his curve spin ranks him in the 99th percentile.
Angels manager Joe Maddon went on record this offseason expressing that the team was looking at adding two starting pitchers. While Angels fans have their eyes set on a Trevor Bauer signing or Joe Musgrove acquisition, Richards would be the perfect “second pitcher”.
For those skeptical of Richards’ ability in the rotation, as it currently stands, Dillon Peters is currently projected to serve as the Angels long-relief man. Even if Richards is the odd man out of the rotation, he would definitely be an upgrade over Peters.
Despite Richards’ injury history, I think Angels fans would be more than thrilled to hear of a reunion with the flamethrower. Not only that, but Mike Trout would get his old roommate back, and honestly we owe it to him to make him happy.