The Angels are one of the most injury-plagued teams in Major League Baseball this year. While they currently run sixth in most DL stints, the teams ahead of them have not lost a Garrett Richards–Andrew Heaney 1-2 punch or a 4-5 win player in all-world shortstop Andrelton Simmons. Understandably, this has gone from a young, competitive Angels team to an injury ravaged wasteland of also-rans. The Angels sit dead last in a competitive division and are in wait and see mode with some of their best players being benched with ailments.
Except new Angels GM Billy Eppler has done anything but wait and see. He’s been as active as any GM this season, delivering shades of his predecessor Jerry Dipoto. I’d argue that no GM in baseball has done as much to build depth as Eppler has, and it’s showing. Signing Gregorio Petit during the offseason has paid dividends. Once Simmons went down, Petit has stepped in and has made some dazzling defensive gems of his own. Eppler even brought in another defensive specialist in Brendan Ryan to backup the current defensive specialist, who is filling in for our first string defensive specialist. This will tell you how much Eppler values defense at shortstop.
The Rafael Ortega signing over the winter didn’t exactly make waves, nor did bringing in Shane Robinson during Spring Training. Yet here we are in June, and they’ve logged more time in the OF than the Nava-Gentry platoon which received more ink. While Ortega and Robinson haven’t hit the ball much lately, they have provided premier defense, giving the Angels perhaps the best defensive outfield unit in the majors.
But it’s the pitching side of things that Eppler has truly left his mark with the Angels. It isn’t common for a team to be 8+ deep in starters, but that’s the position the Angels found them in this winter. It was widely expected that Eppler would deal from this position of strength to help boos the offense, yet it never happened. Eppler received considerable flak for it, but now this decision looks to be the right one. What was once Richards-Heaney-Wilson-Weaver-Santiago-Shoemaker-Skaggs-Tropeano has been decimated by injuries. Richards is trying just about anything to avoid Tommy John surgery, the same with Andrew Heaney. Wilson still hasn’t come off the shelf this season since reworking his devilry and going down with continual bicep tendonitis. Skaggs is still on the comeback trail from his own Tommy John surgery and is being handled with kiddy gloves on top of kiddy gloves.
But Eppler responded by trading basically a bucket of balls to the Braves in return for Jhoulys Chacin, and signing former Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum for 2.5 million. Chacin has paid immediate dividends as he’s resembled the former Colorado Rockies ace he once was before injury. Anyone that can post an ERA south of 3.50 on multiple occasions in Coors Field has to be doing something right. Tim Lincecum just had his first rehab assignment last night and was spotted using an effective mix of 90 mph fastballs with wicked curves and changeups, all coming from his signature, unique delivery that provides a great deal of deception.
The end result of all of this is that the Angels can go one of two ways. They can compete, or they can lose, it appears there is no middle ground with this team. Perhaps Richards and Heaney do make it back, as do Simmons and Nava and the Angels start winning some ball games. Or perhaps they don’t. Regardless, it appears the Angels suddenly have some trade chips at the deadline. Without a properly well-stocked farm system, the Angels are hurting for prospects. Everyone and their mother knows this. But what Eppler has done is create enough depth via rentals to swing some prospect grabbing deals at the trade deadline.
Chacin hits free agency next season, and if he continues to pitch the way that he has, the Angels could flip him for a couple of decent prospects from a team in contention like the Dodgers or Cubs. If Lincecum can post even a 4.00 ERA with the Angels, he could be dealt for prospects at the deadline, and could be marketed as either a starter or reliever. These guys can be added to the growing list of Angels already on the market, like Hector Santiago, Joe Smith, Yunel Escobar and Huston Street.
The Angels farm system has the opportunity to go from barren to bountiful in just two short months after the June draft and July trade deadline. If that happens, it may soften the blow of another losing season from the Angels, and also provide hope for the future.