Inbox: Could prospects be traded for an ace?

Beat reporter Rhett Bollinger answers fans' questions

March 3rd, 2020

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Angels are roughly halfway through Spring Training, with Opening Day a little more than three weeks away.

New manager Joe Maddon has kept things loose in camp and has raved about the arms he’s seen so far. But with right-hander Griffin Canning out with elbow problems, an already thin rotation could be taking a big hit. It brings us into the first question of this week’s Inbox on how the Angels could acquire more pitching:

It’s a little early to predict how things will go, but it is clear that if the Angels are in the race at the Trade Deadline, they will target the best starting pitchers available via trade. Taking on salary shouldn’t be much of an issue, it’s more about which pitchers will be available. And as far as prospects, Jo Adell is their only one considered untouchable, although they’d have to be wowed to move Brandon Marsh.

Those who could be available at the deadline include Detroit’s Matthew Boyd, Colorado’s Jon Gray, Pittsburgh’s Chris Archer or Miami’s Caleb Smith. It’ll also be interesting to see if the Cubs make veterans such as Yu Darvish or José Quintana available. So it’s too soon to predict what will happen but it’ll be worth monitoring as the season goes on.

General manager Billy Eppler said on Friday that he’s not currently looking to add another starting pitcher via free agency or trade, but that can always change, especially if Canning is out for an extended period of time. Eppler noted that clubs rarely make trades this time of year, so it would likely be a midseason acquisition.

Chris Rodriguez has arguably the best stuff of any pitcher in the Angels’ system, but he's had trouble staying on the mound because of back issues that have limited him to 9 1/3 innings over the last two years. The right-hander, though, is currently healthy, and tweeted out that he threw a live bullpen session on Tuesday.

Rodriguez, ranked as the Angels' No. 7 prospect by MLB Pipeline, opened last year at Class A Inland Empire and is likely to repeat there again this year. The 21-year-old currently has an ETA of reaching the Majors in 2022.

From how Maddon has described it this spring, Tommy La Stella will mostly start at second base against right-handed starting pitchers, with David Fletcher playing all over the diamond, including both corner outfield spots. It also looks like either could serve as leadoff hitter ahead of Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani. But on days when they both play, Fletcher seems more likely to lead off, with La Stella further down in the lineup because of his power.

La Stella is likely to sit against lefties and could see some action at first base to back up Albert Pujols, as well as limited action at third to back up Rendon. Fletcher is more the super-utility player who will see time at second, short, third, right field and left field.

The Angels love Fletcher, and there really isn’t much of a reason to trade him because of the versatility he brings. He was second on the team in Wins Above Replacement behind Trout last year, per, and is also a favorite in the clubhouse. The Angels value him, and that’s why it was Luis Rengifo who was included in the trade talks with the Dodgers that would’ve netted them Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling. Fletcher, 25, also remains under team control through 2024, which is another reason why there’s not much sense in trading him.

The Angels don't have too many players where that will be a factor, but right fielder Brian Goodwin, catcher Max Stassi and relievers Cam Bedrosian, Noe Ramirez and Mike Mayers are out of Minor League options and would have to be placed on waivers before being sent to the Minors. Goodwin remains the favorite to be the starting right fielder and is considered a lock to make the roster. Stassi is also a lock to be the backup catcher, as long as he proves he’s healthy coming off right hip surgery. Bedrosian and Ramirez are both expected to be a part of the bullpen, while Mayers is fighting for a roster spot. Mayers, 28, has a career 7.03 ERA over four seasons with the Cardinals and has posted a 3.38 ERA with four strikeouts and three walks in 2 2/3 innings this spring.