Here we go again. Another year, another Angels rotation being weighed down by one particular anchor. Last year, it was Joe Blanton. This year it is Hector Santiago. And just like last year, no matter how bad that pitcher is, the Angels might not have any other choice but stick with him and hope he suddenly gets better.
When the Halos made the off-season trade of Mark Trumbo, the acquisition of Hector Santiago was trumpeted as the centerpiece of that deal. That’s over former top 100 prospect Tyler Skaggs, who has acquitted himself nicely this year despite him being the one who the organization wasn’t sure was good enough to hold down a rotation spot on Opening Day. There was surprisingly little concern about Santiago even though he had very little practical experience in the rotation and during that brief time, he was plagued by high homer and walk rates and an ERA-FIP gap that made you wince.
Through seven starts this season, Santiago has pretty much been what he was with Chicago: a starting pitcher with high homer and walk rates except this time his ERA isn’t wildly outpacing his ugly FIP. Santiago might be awful, but at least he does lead the league excuses for being awful. We’ve heard about back issues that plagued him early on. We’ve heard about how he has just been the victim of bad luck (even though he has a perfectly normal .307 BABIP and 10.7% HR/FB). We’ve even heard him bemoaning the fact that he had yet to pitch on regular rest. He too rested!
Well, last night was supposed to be a night where a lot of those excuses were not available. His back, supposedly, is feeling better and he got to start on regular rest. It wound up being his shortest outing of the year as he recorded just seven outs before getting the hook. That marked the third time this season he got pulled before pitching five full innings.
So, now what? Where do the Angels turn?
Their minor league starting pitching depth, to the surprise of exactly no one, is almost non-existent. Matt Shoemaker has an ERA of 7.71 at Salt Lake where he is joined by Jose Alvarez, who has walked more people than he has struck out so far. Their best bets are Wade LeBlanc, who has a 5.35 ERA but respectable strikeout and walk rates, and Jarrett Grube, though their is very little reason to believe he is anything other than a 32-year old minor league journeyman.
If those options don’t fill your cup with hope, you aren’t alone. The Angels’ need to find rotation depth was a top storyline all off-season long (I think there was a solid month straight where I mentioned it in the Halo Headlines). Unfortunately, Jerry Dipoto was unable to do much about it. He never even managed to sign that veteran free agent that he could stash in the minors for a month or two in case of such a scenario as this one should unfold. Scanning the free agent market now, the “best” options are Jair Jurrjens, Jeff Karstens (both of whom are coming off injuries and not pitched at all in 2014) and Alex Sanabia, a pitcher the pitching-starved Diamondbacks just DFA’d.
What’s a real shame about this is that it also costs the Angels an opportunity to solve two problems at the same time. If they had someone who could step into the rotation and be something other than terrible, they’d get an upgrade their. They could then slide Santiago to the bullpen, where he has had success in the past. As we all know, the Angels need whatever bullpen help they can get, especially from the left side.
Instead, they really have no other choice but to keep running Santiago out there every fifth day and hope for better results, at least until the trade market opens up. That isn’t the worst plan in the world as the franchise would really be better off in the long-run if Santiago can be a solid rotation member for the next three-plus seasons that they have him under cost control. However it means taking a very big risk in the present that he is going to keep costing the Angels games and this team just doesn’t have much margin for error left if they intend to make the playoffs.