With the Angels hard up for starting help and Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole a pending free agent who hails from Southern California, they’ll be a speculative landing spot for the Cy Young candidate. Cole tossed a bit of fuel on the fire after dominating in Anaheim on July 17, saying (via Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times): “I grew up here, watched games when they still had bleachers. It’s a really unique park. Driving up the 57 today, seeing the Big A, it’s always cool. It’s always special. In an industry where you don’t always get to see your family as much as you would like, getting to hug your mom after the game is nice.”
As one of the game’s preeminent aces, the soon-to-be 29-year-old Cole is a solid bet to land a $200MM-plus contract in the coming months. However, as DiGiovanna points out, the Angels have never even handed out a $100MM deal to a pitcher. But that doesn’t mean the franchise that signed off on (ill-fated) contracts worth a combined $365MM to hitters Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton several years ago will shy away from a gargantuan outlay for a pitcher.
“We haven’t secured one, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t explored one,” general manager Billy Eppler told DiGiovanna on Wednesday. “There is not a philosophy or a directive in our organization to avoid sizable investments in pitching. The circumstances need to warrant such an investment.”
The Angels did think one starter, Patrick Corbin, was deserving of that type of investment last winter. They offered Corbin a little over $100MM, per DiGiovanna, though that still fell well short of the winning bid for the left-hander. The Nationals ended up securing Corbin on a six-year, $140MM guarantee, and he now looks as if he’ll help pitch them to the playoffs in his first season in D.C. The Angels took less risky routes, inking Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill to one-year commitments worth a combined $20MM. The phrase “no risk, no reward” applies in those two cases. The Angels released Harvey on July 23 after he tossed a dreadful 59 2/3 innings for the franchise. Cahill’s still a member of the Angels, but he’ll also go in the books as a failed signing. He lost his place in their rotation weeks ago and has logged a 6.28 ERA in 81 2/3 innings.
Thanks in part to the abysmal performances of Harvey and Cahill, the Angels are on track for their fifth straight non-playoff season. Their rotation has been a sore spot, ranking 28th in the majors in ERA (5.45) and 29th in FIP (29th). Heading into 2020, two-way star and 2018 Tommy John patient Shohei Ohtani will return to the mound, which will be an invaluable boost. Tragically, though, the Angels lost a key part of their staff and team last month when Tyler Skaggs passed away. Now, in all likelihood, Ohtani, Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning are the only surefire bets for next season’s rotation.
The Angels’ dearth of quality starters could lead them to free agency – not necessarily just to Cole – as “the market will have some pitching on it,” Eppler said. “I’m sure we’ll be sitting with [free agents] and seeing if something can be worked out.”
Cole may end up as the lone starter to break the nine-figure barrier during the offseason, but he won’t be the sole high-profile arm available. Lefties Madison Bumgarner (Giants), Hyun-Jin Ryu (Dodgers), Cole Hamels (Cubs) and Dallas Keuchel (Braves), as well as righties Zack Wheeler (Mets), Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson (both Twins) could represent other options for the Angels. While Cole’s the ultimate prize, anyone from that group should be able to upgrade the Angels’ rotation and give them a better shot at a playoff berth in 2020.