With the World Series on the verge of beginning, that means we are mere days away from the free agency market opening for business and the Angels sure have themselves some business to get done if they want to end their playoff drought. To prep you for the ensuing craziness, we're previewing how the market could unfold for the Halos, position-by-position.
Up next, we wonder what Jerry Dipoto has up his sleeve tor rebuild what once was the backbone of the roster but instead has become something of an Achilles heel. With so many pending free agents, the only thing we know for sure about the rotation is that it will look very different a few months from now.
Who we got?
Jered Weaver, ever the rock of the rotation. There is a little concern that maybe he is starting to decline just a tiny bit, but certainly not enough concern for the Angels to consider doing anything with him other than once again thanking him for signing a contract so wildly below market value. Seriously, with the numbers they are saying Greinke could get this off-season, Jered could likely have landed a deal almost twice as big as the one he signed at the end of the 2011 campaign.
Last off-season's big rotation addition C.J. Wilson will hopefully be back healthy after surgery to clean up his pitching elbow. But will his rough start to his Halo career scare off Jerry Dipoto from dropping another big chunk of change on a pitcher on the wrong side of 30?
The only other in-house rotation candidate is Garrett Richards. He was inconsistent during his brief audition in a starting role during 2012 and might be better off in relief long-term, but at some point the Angels need to find some cheap labor for the rotation and Richards is really the only option. They probably won't guarantee him a rotation spot, but they aren't very likely to bring in signficant competition for him either.
Which brings us to the Big Three. Greinke, Haren and Santana are all just days away from hitting the open market. Perhaps the Angels spin off Haren or Santana in a trade to some team willing to gamble on their 2013 team options, but in all likelihood, they will get their buyouts, a firm handshake and get escorted to the door. Few will be sad to see Ervin go, but Haren will be missed by many. In fact, many, himself included, had hoped he'd re-sign at a lesser price, but getting shopped on the trade market hardly seems like something you do to a guy you want to then convince to come back on the cheap.
As for Greinke, the Angels paid a hefty price to acquire him at the trade deadline in hopes of locking him up long-term, but they never really had any substantive contract talks with Zack (that we know of, at least). That's a shame, because he will now get to test the free agent waters which I am sure he will find very much to his liking as the best available pitcher by far. There is no doubt he'll get well over $100 million, but the question is whether or not he'll go to the highest bidder or steer himself to a location that the peculiar hurler is most comfortable. With available budget and a few months of proving themselves to Zack, the Halos should have the inside track on both fronts, but there really is no predicting what a personality like Greinke will do.
Who we want?
Well, the Angels really want Greinke back. Jerry Dipoto has a lot riding on getting him to return since he gave up so much to rent him. Plus, Arte Moreno didn't cotton too well to the last player the Angels rented and watched walk away. If Greinke bolts, JeDi might lose rental privileges for a long time.
Let's presume that Greinke does come back though. If that is the case, the Angels simply need a fourth starter to eat up some inning behind Weaver, Greinke and Wilson. That's good, because they won't be able to afford anyone of real notoriety. By that I mean pitchers along the lines of Joe Saunders (and that might even be asking too much), Carl Pavano and Joe Blanton. A trade is also a real, and probably more likely, option. The Angels have some spare parts that they can shop around to find a nice low-cost option to plug the final hole in the rotation.
Now, let's scare ourselves to death and presume Greinke signs elsewhere. That's where things get interesting. Dipoto has a few options here. He can pursue another big-time arm, as he seems to covet one, but looking at this market, that almost certainly means making another big trade. He could revisit the talks he once had with Tampa over James Shields or even up the ante and try and pry loose David Price. It wouldn't be a surprise if they took a run at Cliff Lee either. If they land someone like that, they can then go back to the aforementioned list of low-cost back-end alternatives. I wouldn't count on this route though since the Angel farm system is severely lacking in blue chip prospects to use in such a deal.
The back-up plan to that would likely be Dipoto splitting the baby and signing two mid-tier starters rather than one top-tier and one low-tier. This actually could prove to be the optimal path as the free agent market has a fair number of such mid-level talents. Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Shaun Marcum and Brandon McCarthy would all fit in nicely in Anaheim. Trades are also an option here since the Angels can probably afford mid-tier guys like, well, any of the other Rays pitchers or Jon Niese or really any multitude of pitchers.
What I wouldn't expect the Angels to do is roll the dice on a reclamation project a la Daisuke Matsuzaka. They quite simply don't have the organizational depth to absorb another season of injuries and erratic performance. Starting pitchers are never sure things, as we know all too well, but it would be reckless for Dipoto to entrust a rotation spot to a volatile commodity.
Why we care?
Because pitching wins. It was supposed to be their ticket to a World Series in 2012, but the rotation fell apart and so did the Angels. Starting pitching is also where big mistakes are made. You might have noticed that I failed to mention names like Kyle Lohse, Jake Peavy or Anibal Sanchez up above. That was intentional because they are the group of free agent pitchers that are considered to be the next step down from Greinke. They are all very likely to get big paydays. They are all quite possibly the pitchers that are going to end up being considered great, big busts. If Dipoto panics in the wake of losing Zack Greinke, he could well pursue one of those big names and in so doing put the Angels' already shaky long-term financial flexibility in greater jeopardy.