It was only a matter of time before the question came up. Given the fact it was the 2016 Winter Meetings, the Angels were coming off a 74-88 season and the club was already well into an offseason remodeling project, topics of conversation were mostly relegated to the roster.When it
It was only a matter of time before the question came up. Given the fact it was the 2016 Winter Meetings, the Angels were coming off a 74-88 season and the club was already well into an offseason remodeling project, topics of conversation were mostly relegated to the roster.
When it comes to the Angels, the most burning question about that roster happens to also be the most burning question for the team for 2017, and probably beyond:
Can the pitchers stay healthy enough to perform better than last year?
The question remains because it sprung up without warning in 2016, and derailed a season of high hopes for the AL West team before it had even started warming up in April.
Right-hander Garrett Richards, who was supposed to be the team's ace, pitched his last game on May 1 because of a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament that he elected not to repair with Tommy John surgery. Andrew Heaney, a left-hander with a big arm and a big future, pitched his last game on April 5, which also happened to be his first. He suffered a full UCL tear, and had the Tommy John procedure. Lefty Tyler Skaggs, another starter the team expects to be a high-end performer, didn't return to the mound until July 26 because of his own Tommy John in the summer of 2014.
Of course, this was only the beginning of the team's pitching woes. The Angels never got a single start from expected No. 2 or 3 man Christopher Wilson, whose shoulder problems never subsided. Righty Nick Tropeano, who was expected to be a key figure in rotational depth, put up a 3.56 ERA over 13 starts last year, only to bow out because of his own torn UCL and subsequent Tommy John surgery in mid-July. And righty Matthew Shoemaker, who stayed healthy through most of the season, suffered a skull fracture after taking a 100-plus-mph line drive to the head in a game in September, ending his season a few starts early.
As if all that weren't enough, veteran closer Huston Street and emerging setup man Cam Bedrosian both suffered season-ending maladies of their own.
"What happened last year to us, if that's the norm, we're in trouble," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said at the Winter Meetings. "You can never build in for all the things that happened to us. You can't build in for Garrett, Heaney, Tropeano, Skaggs not coming back. And I'm not only talking about Shoe in September, but you can't build deep enough to absorb that. You can bring guys up, but they are not going to be to that level."
So, what happens this year? Can they get just a little bit luckier on the arm health front? Or maybe a lot? They know they have the best player on the planet in center fielder Michael Trout, and a solid cast of position players around him. They just need to be able to get consistent innings from able pitchers.
Richards rehabbed his partial tear, and will hope to enter 2017 healthy and ready to do his part, although the team might not push him to 200 innings. All reports on him and Shoemaker have been positive thus far.
The Angels liked what they got from mid-season pickup Ricky Nolasco, who will take up another rotation slot along with Skaggs and new free-agent signee Jesse Chavez. There are plenty of options for the fifth opening, including Alex Meyer, Nate Smith, John Lamb, JC Ramirez, Daniel Wright and others. There's also time for general manager Billy Eppler to make more moves, if he so chooses.
"We are going to be better," Scioscia said. "I don't think there's any doubt in my mind that we're going to be better. To what extent we're better, we're going to be ready in Spring Training and hopefully get ourselves contending."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.