No cutting corners, no ands, ifs, or buts about it, the Los Angeles Angels need at least one more quality starting pitcher to be an elite team this upcoming season.
There are starting pitching prospects coming up through the system that have strong Major League potential such as Mark Sappington, but Sappington has yet to even see Triple-A ball, and needs to develop his slider and curveball a little more.
We saw Matt Shoemaker make an appearance for the Angels late in the season, where he allowed just two hits and struck out five with one of the best splitters in the system. However, one start isn't enough to know if Shoemaker has a future in the Angels full time rotation.
Over the season, Angels fans saw 11 different starting pitchers, seven that were seen more often than others. Those seven included four standouts. Ace, Jered Weaver, corner cutter, C.J. Wilson, lefty with an outstanding changeup, Jason Vargas, and young talent, Garrett Richards. The other three were pitchers who were very hit-or-miss; Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson, and Jerome Williams.
Garrett Richards has worked his way into the rotation, but it is still unanswered as to if he will be in the bullpen or rotation at the beginning of the 2014 season. Tommy Hanson had his struggles and was sent to Salt Lake for to fix those struggles. Jerome Williams had a routine pink glove season, starting hot, and ending poor. Joe Blanton... well, Joe Blanton was not good this year. There's not really another way to put it.
Long story short, the Angels need at least one more starter to add to the rotation. General Manager, Jerry Dipoto, will be a busy man this off-season looking for free agents across the market to bring to Angel Stadium, but the market isn't near as strong as it has been in years past. The trade and foreign market is an alternative to the MLB free agent market, but this article is focused strictly on who is a free agent that has already pitched in the Major Leagues.
I took a look at the upcoming off-season and the starting pitcher free agents that will potentially be available, and came up with an idea of what Angels fans could possibly see next season.
One issue with this market is that a lot of free agent pitchers want to re-sign with the team they were with. Examples such as Bruce Chen, Jorge De La Rosa, Colby Lewis, Ricky Nolasco, Ervin Santana, and James Shields are looking to re-sign with their 2013 club, taking them away from the upcoming "targeting" of Dipoto. One example that is yet to be determined is former Angel and Cy Young Award winner, Bartolo Colon. Colon is coming off a stellar season with the Oakland Athletics, and is looking to return, but money is an issue as always for Mr. Billy Beane in the Athletics Front Office, which could be a benefit to teams like the Angels.
The Angels will more than likely avoid pitchers that are possible "projects" or sign veteran pitchers that are within a year or two of retirement. Also, you can imagine that the Angels will not try to sign pitchers who need work developing their pitches or location despite being Major Leaguers for years. With that, you can scratch names like Tim Hudson, Johan Santana, A.J. Burnett, Chris Carpenter, Derek Lowe, Barry Zito, Chris Capuano, Roy Halladay and Aaron Harang from Dipoto's call list.
So now you're probably asking, what now Taylor? That's a lot of pitchers the Angels won't sign. Well you're right, that is a lot of pitchers that the Angels shouldn't target, but there are still a good amount of quality free agent pitchers left. Here's six that I found to standout above the rest:
Early season rumor mill had Jon Lester on his way out of Boston at the end of the 2013 campaign. Lester's playoff numbers however, have to make the Red Sox want to keep him. Problem with that? Paycheck gets a little bit bigger with better numbers. I see Jon Lester staying in Boston, but if they let him hit the market, boy-oh-boy, he will be a gem for a team with a big wallet.
Shhh, don't tell anybody, but a source close to Phil Hughes told me he grew up an Angels fan. Also, he went to school and lived within ten minutes of Angel Stadium. The former 23rd overall pick by the Yankees hasn't had the best numbers in his career, but what you see is what you get with this local boy. Don't be surprised if we see Hughes in an Angels jersey come next season.
I grew to be a tad bit bitter at Mr. Haren because my ex-girlfriend said we looked like twins. Despite that, I do like him on the mound. Haren had troubles in the nation's capital at the beginning of the season, and said part of it was not knowing anyone in town and feeling like a "loner." Well, Haren grew up about a thirty minute drive from Angel Stadium, and also spent three seasons with the Halos. A reunion tour might be something that could work to the benefit of both Haren and the Angels pitching staff.
Over the playoffs, we've seen the success of Cardinals young pitcher, Michael Wacha, and his fastball/changeup combo. Well, the Cincinnati Reds have a young pitcher like that, his name is Tony Cingrani. Cingrani took over Bronson Arroyo's spot in the rotation, which could be a god send for the Angels if they can find a way to sign him. He looks like Jered Weaver. He may not be the same quality of pitcher Weaver is, but he's about as much of a "sure thing" as you can get. Over the last nine seasons, Arroyo has pitched two-hundred innings or more, except for one season where he missed the mark by one inning, has a career 4.19 ERA and career WHIP of 1.292. I mean, he's no hall of famer, but if I was a general manager, I'd love to have this guy on my team.
Kuroda is like a fine wine. He'll be 39-years-old come February, and somehow has managed to get better with time. Kuroda has gone over two-hundred innings in each of his past three season, along with managing a 3.23 earned-run-average and 1.17 WHIP over that same span. If you don't like this guy, I couldn't understand why. Kuroda is about as perfect a fit as a three starter for any team. How nice would it be if the Angels managed to be that team?
You had to know I'd be putting him in this article. Matt Garza will probably be the most desired pitcher this off-season, and for good reason, the guy is good. Consistency is the key to Garza. You're going to get six to seven innings, or more, two or three runs, about eight base runners, and that's Garza for you. Angels are rumored as the number one target for Garza, but the Giants are right behind them. Garza is from Fresno in Northern California, and the Giants are willing to spend quite a bit of money to bring in another starting pitcher. Angels will have to dig deep into their pockets to find extra nickles and pennies to nab Garza. Something the Angels aren't used to is a player with off-field and clubhouse issues. Garza has taken shots at opposing players through Twitter and has bad blood with quite a few players in the league, which will be something Angels fans and players will have to deal with if Garza becomes a part of the Halos rotation.
Obviously, we won't know who goes where until it actually happens. But, the Angels need to sign someone, or trade for someone, or find someone on the foreign market that will be a big upgrade in the pitching department if they want to regain a presence in the American League. Any of those six listed above would be a great upgrade from what is currently in place. The Angels have the bats, but with good pitching, this team could be a very serious threat to win it all.
For more updates on the Los Angeles Angels, follow me on Twitter, @TaylorBlakeWard, and don't forget to follow @ScoutAngels as well.