When does four weeks feel like four years? When Jered Weaver is missing four weeks, at least, of action for the Angels. Sure, the Halo ace may not have been on top of his game in his first two starts of the 2013 season, but losing him to a broken left elbow for over a month is a big blow to the Angels' chances of getting out of the gates quickly for the first time in a long time. Now the Angels have to try and find a way to get by without the best pitcher in their already suspect group of starters for as many as seven turns through the rotation. While daunting, that is not an insurmountable task, a lot will depend on how the Angels try to handle this setback.
As Mike Scioscia announced yesterday, Plan A is to see if Garrett Richards can finally have the kind of success in the rotation that they've been waiting for him to have for what feels like forever. In reality, he has only really had two real shots at it. I guess pitching time works differently than real time.
Letting Richards fill in is definitely the easiest and most logical solution to this problem. He's been looked fantastic in spring training and, with the exception of one hung slider, has been a revelation in the bullpen. If anyone has earned this opportunity, it is Garrett Richards. That doesn't necessarily mean it is the right decision though.
The biggest issue with promoting Richards to the rotation isn't his effectiveness as a starter, which is certainly a question, but rather how effective he had been in the bullpen. With the Ryan Madson on the disabled list and Scott Downs and Sean Burnett both looking shaky early, Richards was playing an unexpectedly major role for the relief corps. One could argue that he was the second or third most important arm in the 'pen the first week of the season. For a team that saw their 2012 playoff hopes submarined largely because of a leaky bullpen, that isn't a decision to make lightly. Given that this is probably a temporary move to the rotation, it only exacerbates the pro and cons of shaking up Mike Scioscia's late-inning gameplan with the bullpen.
Is getting 40 innings of Richards in the rotation that big an upgrade over someone like Jerome "Plan B" Williams? If Richards realizes his potential, it absolutely is. We can't discount the possibility that Garrett will finally put it all together in the next month and pitch so well that he gets to remain a starter after Weaver comes off the DL. But we also can't rule out that he will struggle again, in which case his value over Williams would be marginal if not totally non-existent. That marginal upgrade comes with the opportunity cost of the 20 or so innings of high leverage relief work he would have been doing. Those are innings that will get soaked up the likes of Mark Lowe and Dane De La Rosa instead, which could be a significant downgrade especially if Kevin Jepsen has more meltdowns like he did last night.
Of course there is always Plan C, an option getting a lot of play because it is always more fun to suggest trade targets. If someone like Matt Garza were available on the trade block now, then the Halos should be all for it. But that isn't the case. Instead they are looking at Aaron Harangs and Chris Capuanos of the world. These are pitchers who might be a little bit better than Jerome William but with the added "benefit" that they will probably become disgruntled when they get moved to the bullpen once Jered Weaver gets healthy again.
In a perfect world, the Angels would have Plan D at their disposal. That, of course, is reaching down into the minors to call up a high-ceiling pitching prospect, thus allowing them to have their cake and eat it to by seeing if a youngster can't hit big while filling in for Weaver with Richards still dominating in the bullpen. That would require a real farm system though and, unfortunately, the Angels forgot to grab one of those when they went to the grocery store the other night, much like they failed to pick up that Kyle Lohse that was on sale at Costco last month that would've made this whole scenario much less of a mess.
So while it certainly comes with some drawbacks, there ultimately is no real other choice than to tab Richards as Weaver's replacement. His loss in the bullpen will be felt, but given that the bullpen could be a disaster even with him in the fold, the Angels are clearly better off trying to get the most out of their rotation so that the shortcomings of the relievers aren't as pronounced. Add in the potential pay-off of Richards becoming a permanent upgrade to the rotation and the opportunity is simply too good for the Halos to pass up. Besides, if he falls on his face in his first two or three starts, swapping him out for Jerome Williams can happen with minimal pain.