José Quintana, Julio Tehran, Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, Jesse Chávez, Tim Lincecum. That’s a list of free-agent starting pitchers the Los Angeles Angels have signed over the past six years, all in an effort to plug glaring holes cheaply. Each of them landed one-year contracts guaranteeing no more than $ 11 million, and they combined for a – bitter gulp – 6.62 ERA in an Angels uniform.
Angels starting pitchers produced the second fewest FanGraphs wins over replacement during that six-year window, surpassing only the group sent by a Baltimore Orioles team that lost more than 100 games three times between 2016 and 2021. Home pitchers didn’t develop well enough, and minor weapon trades that were closer to free agency helped only marginally. And so the Angels languished, spending more of Mike Trout’s prime without seemingly learning from his own miscalculations.
That led us to Tuesday morning and a $ 21 million deal with Noah Syndergaard, and this astute analysis from Trout himself:
– Mike Trout (@MikeTrout) November 16, 2021
Syndergaard is still relatively fresh from Tommy John surgery, having made two appearances in the past two seasons. But he represents the first truly positive bet the Angels have made on their rotation in a long time, and he has the ability to become their first true ace since Jered Weaver, who essentially stopped being one nine years ago.
The Angels probably aren’t done, and definitely shouldn’t, focus on their pitching staff. But this is the kind of move they needed to make, after six losing seasons in a row, the last of which ended with notable frustration from both Trout and Shohei Ohtani. Trout, who is famous for not having won a single postseason game in a brilliant 11-year career, is heading into his 30-year season and missed the final four months of 2021 with a persistent calf injury. Ohtani, 27, is on the books for just two more years, with no certainty that it can remain a two-way powerhouse. Anthony Rendon, who signed a seven-year, $ 265 million contract two seasons ago, is now 31 years old and coming off hip surgery.
Perry Minasian, now in his second year as a major league general manager, recently downplayed the popular narrative surrounding the Angels, saying, “I know there is a lot of stuff done, ‘Is this a window?’ Do we have to do something in the next year, two years? Obviously, we want to improve the team. We want to be competitive. That is a goal. But I have a different mentality. In the long term, when you have special players (Mike is one of them , Anthony is another), I hope those guys will be more productive than next year. “
But Syndergaard’s signing speaks volumes about the team’s immediate urgency, the kind that Trout, Ohtani and Angels manager Joe Maddon clamored for through their public comments in September. Syndergaard comes with only a one-year commitment, but it will cost the Angels a second-round draft pick because he turned down the New York Mets’ qualifying offer and will significantly obstruct a roster that has nearly $ 102 million committed for three players in 2022. (Trout, Rendon and Justin Upton, who may or may not be part of the team’s plans next season.)
Syndergaard joins Ohtani and a host of young pitchers, including Patrick Sandoval and Jose Suarez, who made good strides forward in 2021. Jaime Barria, Griffin Canning and Reid Detmers will also be part of the mix, but the Angels need more. They need another arm from the top of the rotation to throw them into contention as their young pitching unfolds. (For evidence of the Angels’ desperation for homegrown pitchers, look no further than a 2021 draft in which their 20 picks were starting pitchers, 19 of whom were pulled from college ranks.)
Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer would obviously be ideal, but they’re probably unlikely too. A change for a younger, more controllable arm is probably the most practical route.
Syndergaard was a dynamo early on, posting a 2.93 ERA and 573 strikeouts in 518 1/3 innings from 2015 to 2018 despite losing significant time with a torn lat muscle. In 2019, which was his last full season, he posted a 4.28 ERA and a 3.60 fielding independent pitching in 197 2/3 innings, striking out 202 batters and walking 50. His four- and two-seam fastballs still posted speeds in excess of 100s. 90 mph, but he didn’t get as many swings into the air as he should have.
Then came Tommy John surgery in March 2020, then a setback stemming from elbow inflammation in May 2021, then a comeback in late September. It amounted to two one-inning stints, where his fastballs sailed into the mid-90s. But it’s probably best not to get any of that out, which means Syndergaard is moving forward, and specifically, what can it be for the Angels in 2022, is a mystery. It also means that it is not known whether this deal will ultimately help a pitching-deprived Angels rise above the top or if it will leave them near the middle of the table.
But it’s the kind of move they needed to make.