Hey, look! That's a picture of Joe Blanton up above. Man was that guy terrible. So was Tommy Hanson. Remember when those two were supposed to help revamp the Angel rotation? Yeah, that didn't really work out. Now the Angels need to tear it all down and start over again, only this time they need to do it without a lot less money in a shallow free agent market. What could possibly go wrong?
What they already have: Jered Weaver (3.27 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 2.4 fWAR), C.J. Wilson (3.39 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 3.3 fWAR), Garrett Richards (4.16 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 1.5 fWAR), Jerome Williams (4.57 ERA, 4.60 FIP, 0.3 fWAR), Tommy Hanson (5.42 ERA, 4.65 FIP, 0.4 fWAR), Joe Blanton (BARF)
If Arte Moreno loses his mind… will give the six-year, $147 million contract he wouldn't give to Zack Greinke to Matt Garza instead just so he can screw over the Rangers, only Garza is overrated and kind of an asshole.
If the Angels are creative and aggressive… actually forget creative, they just need to be aggressive and find a way to navigate the new posting system to make sure that they are the ones that get to sign Masahiro Tanaka. 27-year old potential aces don't just hit the open (well, semi-open in this case) market every year and we all know far too well that the Angel farm system won't be growing one anytime soon. With their top two starters both 32 or older, the Halos need Tanaka if they want to avoid seeing their window to win a World Series slam shut with a vengeance after 2015 when Jered Weaver's velocity drops so low that Jamie Moyer starts referring to him as a soft-tosser. Landing Tanaka might prove to be a Herculean effort, but one that they must absolutely undertake with every fiber of their being.
As urgent as their need is to land Tanaka, it still probably isn't enough. After all, the Angels have two rotation openings not one. As we've heard a great deal about already this month, the Halos have been shopping Howie Kendrick, Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos and both Hank Conger and Chris Iannetta. The assumption all along has been that they'd make two separate trades with those various pieces to land starting pitching, but if Tanaka is in the fold, that isn't really necessary. That doesn't mean they should stop shopping all of those players though. Each of them on their own can fetch a nice return, but none of them are going to bring back a top 50 prospect. But if they were to be packaged together, that might get the job done. Roll Kendrick and Trumbo into an offer and that could convince the Orioles to cough up Kevin Gausman. Or maybe they could get creative and add Aybar to a Trumbo offer to get Jameson Taillon from the Pirates, who covet Trumbo. Those are longshot trades, at best, but they are the sort of bold moves the Angels should be trying to make rather than settling for the consolation prize pitching prospects from teams.
If the Angels are savvy and conservative… then they might as well give up. There is no way that the Angels are going anywhere next season if they don't dramatically improve their rotation. Jered Weaver is only going to decline and there is no certainty that Garrett Richards will be as good as he flashed in the second half of 2013. They need major upgrades, not high risk gambles (like Tommy Hanson) or yeoman inning eaters (like Joe Blanton).
There is one school of thought that the Angels could get away with re-signing Jason Vargas and taking a flyer on someone like Phil Hughes or Roberto Hernandez as guys who underperformed their peripherals and could have a big bounceback in 2013. It isn't that it is a bad plan, it just isn't one that has the kind of upside the Angels require. As bad as Hanson and Blanton were, signing two, at best, league average starters isn't going to jump them from a 78-win team to a 94-win team.
Even if the Angels split the baby between the aggressive strategy where they trade a bat for a quality young pitching prospect and fill their other rotation slot with an inning eater like Vargas, it still doesn't seem like enough. Vargas is just fine, but it places an insane amount of pressure on this unnamed pitching prospect to reach his ceiling immediately. There are only so many Michael Wachas in this world, other young pitchers can sometimes take a year or two before they really deliver on their promise. Those aren't years that the Angels have given the state of their farm system and their long-term contract commitments.
What the Angels will probably do is… split the baby. The problem with the Tanaka plan is that pretty much every other team in baseball is on the Tanaka plan as well. If the new posting system really let's the player choose from the top two or three bidders, I have a hard time seeing how the Angels come out on top. Coming off a losing season with rumors of front office tension and a low international profile and without the kind of footprint in Japan that other teams have built, I just don't see what would compel Tanaka to pick the Halos over the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Mariners or Rangers, all of whom will likely be major bidders.
That leaves them to hit up the trade market to fill out their rotation. We already know they intend to shop Kendrick, Trumbo and Bourjos but what we don't know is how many of them are they willing to move to get controllable starting pitchers. Is it an either/or scenario with Kendrick and one of the outfielders or would they move both to bring in two young pitchers? Or will they move Kendrick for one starting pitcher and Trumbo/Bourjos for relief help?
My guess is that they trade Kendrick and one of Trumbo or Bourjos, but only get one real starting pitcher in return. Both trades need to go down in order for the Halos to get their luxury tax situation under better control. Kendrick should be good enough to get a high quality starting pitcher prospect but Trumbo/Bourjos (probably Bourjos) might not be. What either of them could fetch is a pitcher who is one of those borderline guys who could be a decent starting pitcher but could also be a high-end reliever. They could pull off those deals and then hedge their bet by signing a swingman type like Hernandez or Hughes to compete with those two kids for the final rotation spot with the loser ending up in the bullpen. After all, the Halos need starting pitching depth beyond the standard rotation. Heaven forbid they suffer an injury and end up having to put Blanton back in the rotation.