Angels banking on pitching depth for 2015
Young, affordable arms hold key to extending championship window
ANAHEIM -- Barring a turn of events, the Angels won't be signing any high priced or even moderately priced free agents this winter. The same club that stole the headlines by landing Albert Pujols in December 2011, and shocked the industry by acquiring Josh Hamilton in December 2012, took a prudent approach last offseason and expects to be even quieter in this one.
Look a little closer, though, and you'll find that the Angels may have extended their championship window in the process.
It's all about the pitching.
The Angels currently have 25 pitchers that can conceivably contribute in the Majors next year. Twenty-three of them have emerged since the end of the 2013 season, either because they were acquired from the outside or they reached a crucial stage in their development. And 19 of them are controllable for at least three more years.
That's a pretty good 14-month stretch of accumulating young, affordable, optionable pitching.
For an Angels team with so much money tied to position players and a budget that requires to stay below the luxury-tax threshold, it's vital.
"It's been huge," general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "And it's been a primary focus for what we've done the last couple of years."
Dipoto remembers his first season in 2012, when the Angels finished with a star-studded staff of Jered Weaver, Zack Greinke, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, but were "crossing our fingers that nobody got hurt" because reinforcements for their rotation and bullpen were few and far between. Then came the 2013 season, when he watched all four of his offseason pickups -- Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson, Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett -- either underperform or hardly pitch.
Since then, the Angels' Major League pitching depth has finally started to take shape.
Huston Street, Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs, Fernando Salas, Nick Tropeano, Cesar Ramos, Vinnie Pestano and Jose Alvarez have been acquired via trade.
Joe Smith, Jeremy McBryde, Yoslan Herrera, Alex Sanabia, Atahualpa Severino and Brooks Raley have been acquired either through free agency or the waiver wire.
And Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Cory Rasmus, Mike Morin, Cam Bedrosian, Jairo Diaz, Dan Reynolds and Drew Rucinski have emerged, either by graduating to the upper levels of the system or coming into their own as Major Leaguers.
Nineteen of them make up the 23 pitchers that are on the Angels' 40-man roster (the others are Weaver, Wilson and Kevin Jepsen, along with likely non-tender Wade LeBlanc). Four of them make up their top six starters (not including Skaggs, who won't return from Tommy John surgery until 2016). Six of them make up their projected seven-man bullpen (not including Rasmus, who may be tried out as a starter next spring).
And only two of them made seven figures in 2014: Street (in the second of what became a three-year, $21 million deal after the Angels picked up his option) and Smith (in the first of a three-year, $15 million contract).
That last figure is perhaps most important.
Even by saving roughly $6 million by likely non-tendering LeBlanc and infielder Gordon Beckham on Tuesday, the Angels will be less than $10 million below the $189 million luxury-tax threshold for 2015.
Keep in mind that five players -- Pujols, Mike Trout, Hamilton, Weaver and Wilson -- will make up nearly 56 percent of that threshold over the next two years. Then consider the fact that the Angels' farm system has been ranked dead last by Baseball America each of the last two years, and that teams used 24 different pitchers on average last season, and you'll realize just how important it is to stock up on young, cheap, controllable and talented pitching.
That's what these last 14 months have been about.
"You can't really downplay the value of those depth-type trades and signings that allow you to start putting together a depth chart, because two years ago we just didn't have one," Dipoto said. "Our depth chart consisted of what you were watching on the field at Angel Stadium, and we've been working really hard the last couple of years to extend it beyond just what you watch here."