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Santiago over Garza? Angels wouldn't trade it

Failure to land Brewers pitcher resulted in acquisition that's paying dividends

TEMPE, Ariz. -- There was a fascinating convergence of what might have been and what actually is Wednesday at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Fortunately for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, this meeting was won by what actually is. In fact, the result was a landslide.

What might have been was Matt Garza, starting pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers. Shortly after the Winter Meetings, the Angels offered him a four-year, $52 million contract. When Garza did not act upon this offer promptly, the Halos withdrew it.

They subsequently made attempts to sign Garza for fewer years and less money. But the Brewers finally signed Garza in late January, to a four-year deal for almost the same guaranteed money that the Angels had offered.

On the side of what actually is, there's Hector Santiago, obtained by the Halos in a trade. Garrett Richards, Santiago and Tyler Skaggs will take the three rotation spots behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.

We'll get back to that rotation in a moment, but first the results from what might have been vs. what actually is. Garza pitched 1 2/3 innings on Wednesday, giving up nine hits and 10 runs, six of them earned. It was true that the Brewers' defense behind him was next to nonexistent, but this was not a performance that shouted "$52 million" at anybody. In three Cactus League starts, Garza has an ERA of 19.06.

Garza was asked Wedenesday if it crossed his mind that he had been close to pitching for the Angels, as opposed to pitching against them.

"I'm happy where I am," Garza said with a smile. "I'll be happy here until they kick me out. God works in mysterious ways, and he brought me here for a reason. Let's hope it's to bring a championship home."

Meanwhile, Santiago pitched capably and more. He gave up two earned runs over 4 1/3 innings, walking only one and striking out six. Santiago has a 1.64 ERA over three Cactus League starts.

This underscored a point that Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto was making just before Wednesday's game. His young trio of starters at the back of the rotation may not be established, but in each case, they are highly talented. And Santiago, 26, does have a big league track record. He has a 3.50 ERA over 156 appearances, 27 of them starts.

"In the case of Hector Santiago, and I've said this before, I guess for 29 different markets, they might not know that Hector Santiago was pretty good before we got him," Dipoto said. "Hector comes here and it's the next entry into his career journal. He's had a couple of pretty good big league seasons already. This is just his first crack at starting from Opening Day forward in the rotation.

"I wish I could take credit for unearthing Hector Santiago," Dipoto added with a smile, "but he was already pretty good."

Richards, who will be 26 in May, isn't an unknown, either. He pitched well in the second half of last season for the Angels, after getting a regular spot in the rotation. Richards' fastball has been up to 99 mph this spring, Dipoto said, while averaging about 96.

"When Garrett starts, he holds his fastball velocity as well as almost any starter in the league," Dipoto said. "His breaking stuff, his curveball and his slider, are both outstanding pitches. His changeup is not a big part of what he does, but it's a weapon he has. And he made a terrific step forward for us in the second half of last season when he got the opportunity to start every fifth day. He's young, he's resilient and he's throwing the ball extremely well now."

Skaggs, 22, is obviously the least tested of the three, but his prospect pedigree and his ability make his potential truly impressive.

"Tyler Skaggs is very talented," Dipoto said. "Former first-rounder, performed his way through each Minor League level as an All-Star, we've seen him through two spring starts get better with each inning pitched."

There are good and valid reasons to expect that the Angels will once again be genuine contenders, even in the ever-increasing degree of difficulty that embodies the American League West. The Halos have more depth in the bullpen and more talent in the rotation than they did in 2013.

Any team that has Mike Trout gets to feel good about itself on general principles. And if all you saw Wednesday was Albert Pujols swinging the bat and moving around like a younger, healthier Albert Pujols, that would create some genuine Angels optimism all by itself.

On the Matt Garza $52-million miss, Wednesday that didn't look particularly tragic, either, for the Halos. It is possible that Garza could reach the top of his form and put together a big season for Milwaukee.

"I will be ready when the bell rings, man," Garza promised.

But it may be just as possible that Hector Santiago, for instance, could put together a big campaign for a resurgent Angels team.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs