Pitching. Pitching. Pitching. This offseason was supposed to be all about starting pitching for Jerry Dipoto's Angels. It is now less than a week before the start of the Winter Meetings and… no pitching. As Jerry has fallen over himself to tell the fans, there is still plenty of time left for his grand plan to deliver, but what he hasn't mentioned is if there is still the right opportunities.
The plan was a simple one. Dipoto would trade Howie Kendrick, Mark Trumbo or Peter Bourjos for a cheap, young starting pitcher with big potential and then use the team's remaining room under the luxury tax to sign another more reliable veteran to round out the rotation. It was simple and straightforward. It should work. Yet as we sit here surveying the hot stove landscape after the flurry of activity of the last two days and it appears that Dipoto's plan has already begun to unravel in a very distressing way.
You'd think that at least one component of the plan would be able to come to fruition without much trouble, but as of right now, both are in jeopardy. The easiest thing to do should've been landing that reliable back-end starter at a reasonable price. But then the Royals gave Jason Vargas a three-year contract offer. Then the Twins overpaid for Ricky Nolasco. Then the Twins went and gave Phil Hughes the exact same deal that the Angels didn't want to give to Vargas. Suddenly the crop of available back-end starters isn't looking so hot. The Angels continue to reluctantly stay in contact with Bronson Arroyo, but they've yet to really reach out to anyone else.
Who could blame them? With the budget space they have left after dealing for David Freese and signing Joe Smith, they are now in the market for uninspiring names like Paul Maholm, Chris Capuano and Jason Hammel. None of those names figure to be difference makers in 2014 and all of them are quite likely downgrades from the recently departed Jason Vargas.
Of course, the Angels could free up some spending space by executing the other part of their plan and trade Howie Kendrick or Mark Trumbo. Doing that could put them in the market for more intriguing arms like Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Hiroki Kuroda. The only problem is that making that trade for young pitching is looking pretty bleak itself right now.
The Angels already decided they couldn't get quality pitching for Peter Bourjos, so they moved him in the David Freese deal. They've also recently made it known that they don't think they can get the pitching they want in return for Mark Trumbo, so he's off the market now. That just leaves Howie Kendrick as their lone big trade chip. Only the problem now is that there may not be much of a market Kendrick either.
There just aren't that many teams left with a need at second base. The Tigers traded for Kinsler. The Yankees signed Kelly Johnson as Cano insurance. The Orioles traded for Jemile Weeks. The Dodgers signed Alexander Guerrero. That doesn't leave a lot place left for Kendrick to land.
The Royals are an option, but they already spent on Jason Vargas and seem intent on using the rest of their budget space on Carlos Beltran. That's a shame because they are on of the few teams that actually has the pitching the Angels want. Other teams like the Rockies and Twins have a need at second, but don't have the pitching prospects. That really just leaves the Jays and maybe the Marlins or Rays if either of them manage to find $9 million under the couch cushions. That's it.
Making matters worse is that there are other options at second for teams to pursue. Omar Infante and Mark Ellis are still available as a free agents. Brandon Phillips is still being shopped. We haven't even mentioned that Robinson Cano is still unsigned. If he winds up in Seattle, as it now appears, then the Mariners will have a young second baseman or two to offer in trade in the forms of Nick Franklin and Dustin Ackley.
It is all shaping up for the Angels to get stuck holding the bag with Kendrick. That isn't the worst fate as Kendrick is a much better hitter and defender than Grant Green, but it completely screws up their pursuit of rotation help. Without moving Kendrick in return for a young starter and salary relief, they have inadequate assets to fill their two rotation spots in a manner that actually improves the team over the 2013 squad.
The issue here is that as it currently stands, the Angels are on the hook for about $152 million in payroll and have roughly $17 million in average annual contract value to hand out before they hit the luxury tax. Splitting $17 million across two pitchers in free agency means the Angels are either going to get two below average starters or one above average starter and one garbage starter. That assumes they even have $17 million to spend. It might actually just be $8 million as Moreno has not given any indications that the team can breach the $160 million payroll ceiling.
if $160 million is really the payroll cap, then that puts Dipoto in the unenviable position of possibly having to salary dump players like Kendrick or Iannetta just so they can sign two sub-standard starters. The alternative is signing one back-end starter and (gulp) sticking Blanton back in the rotation.
That, my friends, was definitely never supposed to be part of this plan. It probably still isn't, but the fact that it is even a consideration is distressing, to say the least.
Before this doomsday scenario incites full-blown panic, keep in mind that there is still plenty of time for Dipoto to make something happen. The Hot Stove League nearly set itself on fire yesterday, but the Winter Meetings haven't even happened yet and that is where a lot of Dipoto's wheelings and dealings have gone down the last two offseasons. Maybe he can talk the Jays into a deal then or maybe the Royals will strike out on Beltran and turn their eyes toward Kendrick, saving Dipoto's plan in the process.
If all else fails, Dipoto can just wait for Moreno to have his annual loss of sanity and get ordered to damn the luxury tax in order to sign Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez.