After agreeing to terms on a one-year contract with Noah Syndergaard earlier today, the Angels are still in the market for rotation upgrades but are focused on impact arms available on short-term deals, per MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link). Heyman suggests Justin Verlander as a potential match in that regard, and the Halos were in attendance at Verlander’s recent showcase.
That said, it’s not clear whether Verlander would be amenable to a one-year pact. Astros owner Jim Crane said last month that he expected Verlander to pursue a contract “of some length,” suggesting at least a two-year deal with those comments. A two-year deal for a pitcher of Verlander’s caliber doesn’t seem outlandish, even with the future Hall of Famer’s lengthy layoff due to 2020 Tommy John surgery. Verlander received an $18.4MM qualifying offer from Houston last week and is widely expected to turn it down.
Any multi-year pact at all would require a philosophical change for an Angels team that hasn’t signed a free-agent starter to a multi-year deal since then-GM Jerry Dipoto (now the Mariners’ president of baseball operations) inked Joe Blanton to a modest two-year contract. The only multi-year deals the Angels have given to any pitchers since that time have come in the form of a two-year extension for closer Huston Street in 2015 and a two-year deal that bought out Shohei Ohtani’s first two arbitration seasons. Prior to this morning’s agreement with Syndergaard, the last time the Angels had spent even $20MM to sign or extend a pitcher came in Dec. 2011 when they signed C.J. Wilson to a five-year pact.
The Angels have now cycled though several different general managers in that time. Dipoto resigned in 2015 following a highly publicized spat with former Halos skipper Mike Scioscia and was replaced by veteran executive Bill Stoneman on an interim basis. Billy Eppler ran baseball operations for the next half decade in Anaheim, and he was replaced last offseason by Perry Minasian — now in his second offseason as general manager.
It’s unlikely that all of those baseball ops leaders were staunchly against multi-year pacts for free agents — particularly not when rotation needs were often so obvious. The common thread throughout the aversion to pitching commitments of any length is owner Arte Moreno, who has shown a clear willingness to spend heavily on bats (e.g. Anthony Rendon, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Justin Upton) but not on arms.
Only time will tell whether Minasian will be given the latitude to issue a multi-year deal of even minor note, but this morning’s deal with Syndergaard seemed straight out of the playbook from prior offseasons: a one-year deal of note for a pitcher with a strong track record and/or a fair bit of upside. That’s the same formula that led to signings of Matt Harvey, Julio Teheran, Jose Quintana and Trevor Cahill, though the Halos will surely hope for better results from their sizable investment in Syndergaard.
If the ostensible insistence on one-year arrangements for starters continues, there are certainly some notable names on the open market who could potentially be had at that term (e.g. Zack Greinke, Danny Duffy, Johnny Cueto, Rich Hill). However, a strong ownership preference for short-term deals could also conceivably push Minasian to the trade market, where the Reds, Marlins and division-rival Athletics ought to all have notable arms on which they’re willing to listen.
After signing Syndergaard, the Angels owe $129.95MM in guaranteed contracts to six players. Add in a modest arbitration class and pre-arbitration players to round out the roster, and they’re projected for around $150MM in 2022 payroll, per Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez. There’s plenty of space between that sum and last year’s franchise-record $182MM Opening Day payroll — which Moreno could well be comfortable raising. But for Angels fans hoping to see a match with Robbie Ray, Marcus Stroman or Kevin Gausman, reports of a continued fixation on short-term deals don’t bode especially well.