Late last night, the Angels finally made the big move everyone had been waiting for. Actually, it was two moves, but they were very closely related. First they traded Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers for top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney, then they dealt relief prospect Jairo Diaz for infielder Jairo Diaz. It was a combination of moves that almost everyone loves for the Angels.
That’s great. Dipoto earned himself internet cookies for “winning” a trade. Those cookies don’t count for much though. What really matters is what these two moves actually mean for the Angels. That comes in three stages.
The first stage is Heaney himself. He is a highly touted prospect, but what role is he really going to play in 2015? As of right now, he’s the Halos’ sixth starting pitcher. He can fill in for Richards the first month of the season, but even then he’ll have to compete for that gig. Heaney is probably ready, but he also got shelled in his 29 innings in the majors last season, so there is good reason to believe that he might need more time in the minors. If so, that doesn’t do much to improve the Angels’ 2015 World Series odds.
If he is ready though, Heaney can help. He already projects to be as good if not better than Hector Santiago, the guy he would displace if he were to stick in the rotation after Richards returns. But what then happens to Santiago? Do the Halos slide him to the bullpen? That’s an idea I’ve long been in favor of. He’d appear to be a much more impactful arm than their only current lefty, Cesar Ramos. I’m not so sure Santiago is going to be on board with that plan though. As such, they could always trade Santiago. He’s not great, but he’s a viable MLB starter, so other teams will have interest in him.
Where a MLB-ready Heaney really comes in handy is as insurance for Garrett Richards not having to rush back or even as protection against Richards suffering a setback. Heaney doesn’t have the kind of ceiling to think he can replicate Richards’ production, but having quality depth can help the Angels survive whatever happens with Garrett.
I know people still want the Angels to pursue a big name starter like Scherzer or Shields, but they simply don’t have a need for them now. To sign one of those guys would blow up the payroll (Scherzer especially) and create a logjam in the rotation that would require salary dumping C.J. Wilson (highly unlikely) or burying the newly acquired Heaney in the minors, which sort of defeats the purpose of trading for him.
The second stage is trying to figure out the situation at second base. Losing Kendrick really hurts both offensively and defensively. Let’s talk about the offense first.
Kendrick wasn’t an offensive dynamo, but he was a very consistent force. Kendrick has been between 103 and 123 wRC+ the last four seasons. I’ve seen some people who think that losing Howie is a major threat to the offense. Relax, he’s not that good. The guys in place to take his spot certainly aren’t on par with him, but they aren’t massive drop offs. More importantly, the Angels offense was one of the best in the league last year. Downgrading from Kendrick to Green/Rutledge isn’t going to lower the bar that much.
The bigger issue, in my opinion, is the defense. Kendrick was a very good defender up the middle and the Angels rotation has become more groundball-heavy the last few years. Rutledge and Green are both poor defenders. Rutledge had better reports coming up on his glove, but in three seasons as a part-time player, his defensive ratings are astoundingly bad. Green hasn’t gotten much of a chance to see what the metrics say about him, but defense has long been considered an issue for him. This portends to be a real problem.
Well, maybe. I don’t think the Angels are done addressing second base. That brings us to stage three which is the sudden influx of luxury tax breathing room they got by dealing Kendrick. That space virtually doubled with the deal and now stands at approximately $18 million. That’s a lot of room to work with.
The Halos can make one big move or a few smaller moves. They’ve maintained overt interest Gordon Beckham ever since they non-tendered him. He apparently made quite the impression in the few weeks he spent on the Angels roster. Beckham has been an offensive sinkhole throughout much of his career, but he is at least an above average fielder. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they brought back Beckham to compete for the starting job because of his defensive ability and the off chance that Don Baylor is able to unlock that long lost potential in his bat.
They could go a bit bigger, as I’ve suggested, and pick up a more established veteran like Jed Lowrie or Asdrubal Cabrera, neither of which are on Kendrick’s level but also represent big upgrades offensively and defensively over the Rutledge/Green combo.
Or the could go even bigger and make multiple moves. One scenario that I can’t get out of my head is spending a little bit to bring back Beckham and then using most of the remaining luxury tax space to sign one of the best remaining bats on the market and plugging them into the lineup at DH or sliding someone else to DH. For example, sign Melky Cabrera and have him and Hamilton rotate through left field and DH. Or maybe add Nori Aoki, have timeshare with Hamilton, but move Aoki to leadoff and slide Calhoun to cleanup so that Hamilton can be bumped down in the order.
Or they could just sit on that tax space until the trade deadline when the holes in their roster become more obvious. I actually think that is most likely. They’ll sign Beckham and then close up shop until July. Dipoto has been pretty adamant about the fact that he is not talking to any free agents. I probably shouldn’t believe him, but I do.
Either way, it looks like the Angels are, for now, worse in 2015 than they were before yesterday. Maybe not much worse, but worse. The good news is there is still plenty of time, and now financial flexibility, to fill in the holes and make up the short-term value they just gave up.