SAN DIEGO — On Wednesday night, the Angels reportedly committed $245 million over the next seven years to a player who, if we’re being honest, doesn’t address the club’s most pressing need in 2020 and beyond.
That’s not to say Anthony Rendon won’t make an impact, because of course Anthony Rendon will make an impact. He’s an elite third baseman who just finished third in the NL MVP voting, and who hit .328 with three homers, 15 RBIs and a 1.003 OPS in 17 postseason games as his Nationals claimed a very unexpected World Series title. Rendon is also an above-average fielder who will be a benefit to Angels pitchers.
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Rendon makes the Angels a better team. Opposing pitchers trying to navigate an LA lineup that includes Rendon and best-player-on-the-planet Mike Trout will have nightmares in the weeks leading up to their showdowns. And right-handed hitters trying to find holes in the left side of an infield with Rendon at third base and glovework guru Andrelton Simmons at shortstop aren’t going to find much success.
But the truth is this: The Angels’ biggest need this offseason is on the mound, not in the lineup. The club finished last in the AL with a 5.64 starters’ ERA and 10th out of 15 clubs with a 4.64 relievers’ ERA. Only one pitcher (Trevor Cahill) even hit triple digits in innings pitched, and he’s a free agent who probably won’t be back.
That’s why the news of Gerrit Cole’s decision one night earlier, to sign the richest contract for a pitcher, stung the Angels so very much. He’s a Southern California product who just happened to be a perfect match for the franchise, and the Angels couldn’t make it happen. Their reported offer didn’t match the Yankees’ accepted offer.
And so even though the club just signed a 29-year-old MVP candidate to a $245 million contract, the original offseason question hasn’t changed, at all.
And really, with Cole and Stephen Strasburg and Zack Wheeler off the board, the Angels’ shopping list of potential rotation additions is shrinking. They’re in a worse position, pitching-wise, than they were a couple weeks ago.
They, of course, know this.
Source: #Angels still planning to add a significant starting pitcher. They’re pursuing Bumgarner, Ryu or Keuchel in free agency or #Rockies RHP Jon Gray (among others) on trade market. @MLBNetwork @MLB
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 12, 2019
So what can they do? They’ve taken flyers on pitchers in the past, but it’s hard to imagine that satiating fans this time around. Trout has played eight full seasons in an Angels uniform, won three AL MVP awards, finished second four other times and appeared in exactly one playoff series, when the Angels were swept by the Royals in the 2014 ALDS. He’s saying all the right things — with his words, and with his contract-signing actions — but it’s time for the Angels to get back into postseason contention.
And while Rendon is a step in that direction, if they don’t make rotation upgrades (and bullpen upgrades), that five-year October drought isn’t likely to end in 2020.
As Morosi tweeted, Madison Bumgarner will be a target. MadBum’s track record is brilliant, though he’s had a couple seasons truncated by non-throwing injuries. And even though his ERA was up a bit in 2019, his peripherals were still career-average solid. He’d cost a draft pick, though.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has no pick compensation attached, has a 2.21 ERA in 44 starts over the past two years for the Dodgers, which means he’d likely be comfortable staying in the Los Angeles area. Speaking of the Dodgers, they wanted Cole and they wanted Rendon and they wanted Strasburg, too, which means they’re pretty motivated not to strike out on MadBum and Ryu, too. Nothing like a little local competition.
So we’ll see how the rest of the offseason plays out for the Angels. The early free-agent activity has been high compared to the past few offseasons — thankfully — but there’s still plenty of time for the Angels to make impact pitching moves, plural, and they might need to get creative if forced to dip into the trade market.
But the truth is this: As the roster currently stands, even with Rendon, it’s hard to imagine the Angels finishing higher than third, at best, in the AL West. They’re still behind the division heavyweight Astros, and the A’s, too.