Angels first baseman Albert Pujols won’t suit up again this year after undergoing “shockwave therapy” to treat plantar fasciitis in his right foot, as Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times was among those to tweet. Pujols previously dealt with that malady in his opposing foot back in 2013. Certainly, he’ll have plenty of time to rest and recover, though it’s yet another nick for a player who’ll soon turn 37. The legendary slugger continues a slow decline at the plate, though he’s still a useful hitter who has scarcely missed any time in his 16-year career. Over 650 plate appearances in 2016, Pujols posted a .268/.323/.457 slash with 31 home runs. The Halos will hope that he can at least maintain that level of productivity, as he’s slated to earn another $140MM over the next five seasons.
- Any improvements made to the Angels’ farm system in the past year have been slight, at best, writes Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. GM Billy Eppler vowed to turn around what was the game’s worst-rated farm system when he inherited it last year, but as Fletcher notes, things are still bleak on the minor league front. However, the process of reestablishing a farm system is a lengthy one, and Eppler has made multiple changes, as Fletcher explains, focusing on higher-ceiling (but perhaps riskier) high school prospects in the draft and going over the team’s allotted draft pool by the maximum amount allowed without forfeiting a future pick. Eppler tells Fletcher he plans to spend opportunistically on next year’s international market once the Halos are out of the penalty bracket that prevents them from signing players for more than $300K. Fletcher also breaks down several changes throughout the Angels’ minor league system, including the adoption of Trackman software and an increased focus on diet and nutrition for the team’s minor leaguers.
Angels ace Garrett Richards tossed a simulated inning against live hitters on Wednesday, writes Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. The injured Halos ace reported that he felt good while warming up and while on the mound, where he threw 20 pitches, including fastballs, curveballs and sliders. Richards was diagnosed with a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament back in May but has been undergoing stem cell treatment in hopes to avoid Tommy John surgery, knowing that if he’d simply undergone TJ back in May, he’d have been a long shot to contribute much in 2017 anyhow. If he’s able to successfully avoid the procedure via the stem cell treatments, then Richards could conceivably contribute to the Halos for much, if not all of the 2017 campaign. Per Fletcher, he’ll head to the instructional league and make three appearances there, building up to 50 pitches before followup testing to determine whether he can have a normal offseason and be expected to pitch next year.
- Angels righty Garrett Richards will test his stem-cell-bolstered elbow out against live batters for the first time tomorrow, as Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. Richards is brimming with confidence in a joint that once seemed certain to cost him all of the 2017 season after already taking most of 2016. Now, he says, “I feel like I could go pitch in a game right now.” Assuming the one-inning simulated game goes well, Richards will throw two instructional league innings and begin ramping up his innings before shutting things back down for what he hopes will largely be a normal winter.
Veteran Angels right Jered Weaver suggested last night that he is still not sure whether he’ll pitch in 2017 and beyond, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. Weaver says his focus at present is getting his back ready for one final start in the current campaign, which could be his last with the Halos as the open market beckons.
Weaver has largely been available this year for Los Angeles, turning in 31 starts, even if the results haven’t been there. And he tells Fletcher that he still feels capable of pitching at the major league level as a starter.
“I feel like I can,” said Weaver. “I feel like my body is responding to what I’ve been doing over the past year and a half, two years. I haven’t really thought about next year, to tell you the truth. I have been focused on getting through this one.”
While he may not yet have really drilled in on the question of whether he’ll carry on, the 33-year-old does seem to have given at least some thought to the process. “It’s a decision I’ll have to make in the next couple months,” he said, seemingly indicating that he won’t be rushing into any final call right at season’s end. Weaver had said that he’d sit down with the media this week to discuss his future, but Fletcher tweets that the session won’t involve any announcements of his intentions.
Weaver is currently sitting on a career-high 5.06 ERA over his 178 frames in 2016. That follows a rough 2015 season and ongoing questions about his velocity and back health. Before that, of course, Weaver was one of the league’s more reliable, top-of-the-rotation workhorses.
While the Angels and other possible suitors surely won’t look upon Weaver as much more than a back-of-the-rotation depth piece, there’s certainly reason to believe that he’d be pursued. Whether any club will promise him a rotation spot, or offer much of a guarantee, is less clear. Even as the results have improved somewhat over the second half of this year, Weaver has allowed a troubling .300/.350/.525 batting line to the last 331 hitters to dig in against him, which is actually a bit worse than his first-half numbers.
- The Mariners have announced that they’ve named Justin Hollander their director of baseball operations. The 37-year-old Hollander had previously worked with Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto with the Angels, and last year Hollander served as that organization’s director of player personnel.
Angels right-hander Garrett Richards’ May decision to eschew Tommy John surgery in favor of a stem-cell therapy treatment on his elbow has produced positive results thus far. Richards threw his first bullpen session since May 1 on Saturday and came away from it encouraged about his chances to make an impact in 2017, saying, “There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll be able to pitch” (Twitter link via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register).
Richards’ next milestone is to face live hitters Oct. 1, per Fletcher, who adds that the 28-year-old will then pitch in instructional league if that goes well. Should Richards emerge from those steps unscathed, he’ll have an opportunity to help the Angels next year. That Richards has currently progressed to such a degree is remarkable, as it appeared he was headed toward Tommy John surgery after receiving word in May that he had a significant tear in his elbow. Surgery is still a possibility if Richards’ recovery hits a snag, of course, and that would substantially delay his return to a big league mound. However, had Richards chosen surgery over stem-cell therapy in the first place, he would have had difficulty coming back in 2017, anyway. By taking the route he has, Richards has given himself a chance to pitch next season.
Before succumbing to injury, Richards posted mostly stellar numbers this year, logging a 2.34 ERA, 8.8 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in 34 2/3 innings. Over the previous two seasons, Richards started 58 games and recorded a 3.18 ERA, 8.14 K/9 and 3.09 BB/9 across 376 frames. Injuries to him and fellow starters Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano have helped sink the Angels this year and could damage the team’s odds of bouncing back next season.
Heaney underwent Tommy John surgery in July after first attempting an unsuccessful stem-cell treatment. Tropeano, meanwhile, required the surgery in August after tearing his UCL in July. With few contributions from those three and Tyler Skaggs, who has only thrown 48 innings this year and had his own Tommy John scare earlier this week, the Angels have stumbled to a 63-84 mark. Their record puts them last in the American League West and tied for second worst in the AL.
While Heaney and Tropeano will most most or all of next season, Richards is so far on track to return to the Angels’ rotation. Richards should be in line for an increase over his $6.425MM salary as he makes his third of four possible trips through arbitration in the offseason. Of course, a serious setback before then would leave the Angels to decide whether to tender Richards a contract for next year.
6:42pm: Skaggs’ MRI revealed no damage to his surgically repaired ulnar collateral ligament, tweets Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times. General manager Billy Eppler told reporters that Skaggs has a “mild flexor pronator strain” and will sit out for the next week (also via Moura, on Twitter). The southpaw could still pitch again in 2016, tweets Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register.
7:52am: Angels lefty Tyler Skaggs has been scratched from his outing today with tightness in his forearm, as Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times was among those to tweet. Instead, he’ll head in for an MRI on the trouble area.
The organization is surely holding its breath while awaiting the results of the imaging. Skaggs, 25, finally returned recently from his August 2014 Tommy John surgery. After two years of recovery, another scare in the elbow area is the last thing anyone wanted to go through.
Things had been progressing rather well for the talented southpaw before this news. In his nine starts on the year, he logged 48 frames with a 4.13 ERA and excellent 9.4 K/9 against 3.9 BB/9. The hope, surely, is that he will be able to log thirty-plus high-quality starts in 2017.
For the Halos, any questions surrounding Skaggs are yet more concerning given the healthy-related uncertainty of other key arms. Andrew Heaney is already out for all of 2017 after his TJ procedurew, while Garrett Richards remains a question mark as he tries to stave off a UCL replacement. As I just explained in assessing three key needs for the organization, securing pitching depth is essential — but figures to be a challenge with a low-supply free agent market.
It’s certainly too soon to jump to any conclusions about Skaggs, who is obviously and understandably being handled with added care. As MLBTR contributor Bradley Woodrum has written in explaining his statistical assessment of Tommy John likelihood, prior TJ surgery is a significant indicator of future susceptibility, and Skaggs had already been slow to make his way back.
At this point of the season, the focus for many teams has largely shifted to the upcoming offseason. While ten American League clubs are still within shouting distance of postseason position, only six teams are clear contenders for the five N.L. berths (with the Marlins, Pirates, and Rockies all hanging on by a thread with losing records).
After the season concludes, we’ll be looking at every team in the league in depth with MLBTR’s annual Offseason Outlook series. For the time being, though, we’re taking preliminary big-picture looks at what some of the non-contending clubs will need to focus on in order to reverse their current standing.
We’ll start with a disappointing Angels club:
1. Increase the flow of the talent pipeline.
If you check in on the Angels’ top prospect list on MLB.com, you’ll find that the first four players listed were all taken in the first two rounds of the 2015 and 2016 drafts. That’s representative of the state of the Halos’ farm, which is in the beginning stages of a much-needed farm restocking. A top-ten pick in next year’s draft will help — plus, it’ll be protected if the club signs a qualifying offer-bound free agent — but GM Billy Eppler will need to find ways to ramp up the talent intake beyond waiting for the team’s turn to draft. Unfortunately, the Angels are still disqualified from handing out $300K+ bonuses in the current international signing period owing to the seemingly ill-fated signing of Roberto Baldoquin. As Ben Badler of Baseball America explains, the team has been trading its slots for speculative minor leaguers rather than spending all its available funds on even younger international talent. Whether that particular strategy will pay off remains to be seen, but it seems incumbent upon the Angels to turn over all the stones they can find to load up the pipeline with future big league assets — both to get cheap players onto the roster and to generate trade pieces. Taking on cash in trades to pick up prospects may be tough given that the organization already has $100MM on its books for 2017 and about $75MM for each of the three seasons that follow, but that’s something of the approach that they took in acquiring Ricky Nolasco and Alex Meyer from the Twins. If some kind of partial reboot can’t be pulled off while still trying to contend, the nuclear option — trading Mike Trout — will be increasingly plausible.
2. Build up rotation depth.
Matt Shoemaker was having a nice season before his unfortunate injury, but he is the sole member of the Angels’ rotation who has been worth even a single win above replacement in 2016. Health obviously played a major role, but that’s not exactly a surprise given the attrition rate of major league pitchers. The cross-town Dodgers also lost a host of starters, but managed to stay afloat; the A.L. entrant from Los Angeles simply wasn’t able to reach into the reserves that its neighboring N.L. competitors were. The Angels ended up making mid-season acquisitions (Tim Lincecum, Jhoulys Chacin) in a desperate bid to find useful innings, and it just didn’t work out. Whether Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs can turn in full seasons will obviously be critical to the 2017 campaign, but the organization needs to find a way not only to plug in quality rotation pieces, but also to fill in when the arm problems all-but-inevitably arise. There’s going to be plenty of competition for the few appealing free agent pitchers available, and the Angels already dealt away their two best pitching prospects last winter to get Andrelton Simmons. Eppler and co. will need to do a better job of identifying the right under-valued hurlers to cobble together a serviceable staff. Plus, the team will need to find a way to complete the development of upper-level pitching prospects such as Meyer, Nate Smith, and Victor Alcantara.
3. Improve on the bases.
The Angels’ position players have combined this year to produce the league’s ninth-best results at the plate (by measure of wRC+) and were collectively slightly above-average on defense, but the club as a whole ranks dead last in Fangraphs’ total baserunning metric (BsR). That hasn’t been the case in recent years, but many of the team’s roster changes have brought in poorly-rated baserunners (Yunel Escobar, especially). Clearly, the Halos need to consider much more than wheels in filling in their numerous areas of need, which (still) include second base, left field, and catcher as well as the bench. But perhaps infusing some speed — and contemplating ways that the organization can improve its general approach — would be a somewhat subtle way to find value with a limited supply of talent available on the upcoming free agent market.
- Jered Weaver is dealing with more uncertainty than he ever has in his professional career, writes Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, as the lifetime Angels right-hander doesn’t know whether he’ll be back with the team next season. “It’s definitely a ball of confusion going on in my head, but I’m trying to focus on going out and pitching,” said the 33-year-old. Per Fletcher, even the Angels may be uncertain as to whether they’re truly interested in re-signing Weaver, as that interest level is likely dependent on whether ace Garrett Richards ultimately requires Tommy John surgery or not. Weaver’s diminishing velocity has been a notable storyline in Anaheim for the past couple of seasons, though as Fletcher points out, it’s actually ticked upward late in the 2016 campaign. Weaver has a 3.97 ERA and a 21-to-5 K/BB ratio over his past four starts, so perhaps even getting his heater back up into the mid-80s is enough for him to rediscover success. However, he’s also currently leading the league with 195 hits and 35 homers allowed, which has resulted in a 5.25 earned run average.