COMMENTARY | Though we have praised the Los Angeles Angels all winter for their prudence, we also should be wary of squeamishness.
The Angels are the one team that stays out of the free-agent market and everyone agrees that it's probably for the best. Just last winter, the Angels made three bad free-agent signings. The winter before, they signed Albert Pujols to a $240 million contract that paid for itself with the club's subsequent television deal. But Pujols hasn't been Pujols.
So, we're kind of glad the Angels haven't indulged in this winter's free agency. Turns out, the Angels
never were serious about Masahiro Tanaka. Turns out, they never went hard for Matt Garza, even though he's only costing the Milwaukee Brewers $52 million.
We appreciate the restraint. We love the trade that puts Hector Santiago in the rotation and brings Tyler Skaggs back to the Angels. We like what we're hearing about Pujols and Josh Hamilton. We've got our fingers crossed about David Freese at third base, which is a refreshing change from complaining about Alberto Callaspo. We don't suppose the Angels are a finished work. We just like their offseason.
But it's probably safe, now, to go back into the free-agent market. We're past the point of risking big money on uncertain pitchers. Now, we're risking small money on uncertain pitchers. It's different.
Of course, the Angels flopped at precisely this point in free agency a year ago. They thought two years at $15 million for Joe Blanton was a good idea. Right after Ryan Madson made $10 million with the Cincinnati Reds from the disabled list, the Angels contracted with Madson for a similar arrangement.
We need to forget about all that and move on. There's a guy out there, right now, who is a solid 200 innings every year at a little better than his league's ERA; in most years he is a handful of games better than a .500 pitcher, and he won't be expensive.
The catch is that Bronson Arroyo is going on 37 and he wants a three-year deal. That and the Angels may not be intrepid about free agency at this point.
At stake for the Angels is the possibility of assembling, by far, the deepest rotation in the American League West. Based on 2013 WAR (by Baseball-Reference.com) for pitchers now in the division, the Angels are looking pretty good. Jered Weaver is fourth (3.7), C.J. Wilson is fifth (3.3) and Santiago is seventh (2.8). Arroyo (2.5) would rank ninth.
With Arroyo, then, the Angels would have four of the top nine starting pitchers in the division by 2013 bWAR. With Garrett Richards (0.8) and Skaggs next down the line, the Angels would have depth and flexibility with the No. 5 spot. Hey, it's even a new year for Joe Blanton. If injuries don't become a concern, the Angels would win a lot more than they lose within the division, just looking very broadly at how pitching matchups would play out.
That's another topic for another day.
The more immediate question is how the market will play out for Arroyo, and whether the Angels will be serious participants. Recent reports say the Baltimore Orioles and the Arizona Diamondbacks are the two finalists. One hopes the Angels are truly involved and will prevail in that mix. It's unlikely that Arroyo will receive the three-year deal he wants at his age, but two years with a vesting third would make sense for anybody.
Some might wonder if Arroyo isn't somehow of a piece with Blanton, another right-handed free agent signed to take a back spot in the rotation. He's not. You can stand the two next to each other and see it. You can watch them throw and see it. You can look at the stats and see it.
From the time Arroyo joined the Reds in 2006, he leads all major league pitchers in starts (265) and he leads all National League pitchers in wins (105) and innings (1,690). In each of those seasons, Arroyo took at least 32 starts and pitched at least 199 innings. For four of the last eight years, he led a strong Reds rotation in quality starts, hitting 22 of 32 in 2013. His delivery is free and easy, apparently with minimal strain on his arm since he never misses a turn. At 37, Arroyo still is doing it.
The Angels should know better than to sleep on players who are about to turn 37. Last year, they let Torii Hunter go entering his age 37 season, and they lived to regret it.
The Angels seem to have learned some lessons in the past year. It is to be hoped that the education doesn't keep them from bringing in a pitcher who can make them much better.
Bill Peterson has covered and written about Major League Baseball for more than 30 years in Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Texas and Los Angeles, where he now lives and writes a baseball blog, Big Leagues in Los Angeles. He is a lifetime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Angels
- Bronson Arroyo
- Albert Pujols