Whoever coined the term "Man plans, God laughs" wasn't referring to the Angels' starting rotation. It only seems that way.
No team has been more snakebitten by injuries and other pitching adversity lately than the Halos have.
Garrett Richards was one of the hardest throwers in baseball, a supremely talented right-hander on his way to a career year in 2014 before a late-August knee injury wrecked the rest of his season. He tore his ulnar collateral ligament two years later, missed most of that season, opted not to have Tommy John surgery, missed most of the following season with a nerve injury in his right biceps, then ended up having the surgery in the end last season. Now he's a Padre.
Matt Shoemaker looked like a rising star himself in 2014, going 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA and a six-to-one strikeout-to-walk rate, good enough to nab second place in Rookie of the Year voting. After a bumpy 2015, he rebounded to post a fresh set of solid peripheral numbers in 2016, fanning nearly five batters for every one he walked. But he never got to finish that season, ending his campaign in early September after getting hit in the head by a comebacker. He suffered serious forearm injuries in each of the next two seasons, limiting him to just 21 combined starts across the 2017 and 2018 campaigns. He's a free agent, and he too might not be back.
- 2018 Result: 80-82, fourth place in AL West
- Key free agents: Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Jim Johnson, Chris Young, Eric Young Jr., Blake Parker, Blake Wood, Junichi Tazawa
- Needs: Starting pitching, catcher, relief pitching, second base
Even with pitchers still on the roster, it ain't pretty. Tyler Skaggs missed all of 2015 after Tommy John surgery, recovered slowly and got shut down in late 2016 due to forearm soreness, then missed half of 2017 with an oblique injury. Fellow lefty Andrew Heaney missed nearly all of 2016 and 2017 with elbow and shoulder injuries. Right-hander J.C. Ramirez? Currently recovering after TJ. Want to loop in relievers? Hard-throwing righty Keynan Middleton briefly claimed the closer job last season before he too got to sample Dr. Frank Jobe's surgical creation.
The kill shot happened last season. That's when Shohei Ohtani, a player with a skill set so unusual people started making Babe Ruth comparisons and weren't laughed out of the room, suffered his own crushing setback. An early-season UCL injury caused panic, followed by hope that Ohtani could go the Richards route and use alternative measures to heal, followed by the cruel realization that this would be yet another Tommy John surgery for an Angels starter. The Angels will still have Ohtani's potent bat in the lineup as he rehabs, but we might not see him pitch in the big leagues again until 2020.
With Mike Trout now just two years away from free agency, we've been treated to a litany of articles on how the Angels are on the verge of wasting the prime years of this era's Willie Mays. There's some truth to that notion, of course. The Halos have made the playoffs just once since Trout broke into the majors in 2011, and that one postseason berth resulted in them getting swept in three games by the Royals in the League Division Series. That's right: seven seasons of the Angels employing the best player on the planet, and not a single playoff game won in all that time.
What's misguided is the notion that the Angels haven't tried to do anything about it. If anything, they seem to fail more and more spectacularly the harder they try.
From the moment Albert Pujols took a quarter-billion dollars of owner Arte Moreno's money, you had to ask the question: Can one player carry a baseball team to glory? The answer, with Pujols then as it is with Trout now, is a resounding no. Pujols' $250 million deal looked increasingly heinous with each passing day, and has been a perennial entry on the list of worst contracts in the game. The $77.5 million Moreno splashed at great-haired left-hander C.J. Wilson during those same 2011 winter meetings also proved to be a disaster.
We can keep going with this theme. When the Angels needed outfield help with Trout still in the minors, they gladly took on the huge contract signed by former Blue Jay Vernon Wells, then watched Wells' numbers immediately nosedive (giving up a young Mike Napoli in that deal only made matters worse). When they needed infield help after the 2017 season, they splashed a three-year, $38 million deal on buy-high former Red Zack Cozart, only to see Cozart play in just 58 games, hitting an abysmal .219/.296/.362 in the process. And when they needed a supremely talented player with the kind of shady past and injury issues that made him a colossal gamble (much less for a jarring $125 million), they amazingly rolled the dice on Josh Hamilton. We know how that turned out.
So yes, the supporting casts around Trout have ranged from bland to downright terrible. But it's not clear that throwing money at the problem is the solution, at least not if Moreno continues to involve himself in the process, the way he did with Pujols and Hamilton. Patrick Corbin features the double bad juju combo of Tommy John surgery on his resume, as well as being a former Angel. If you're GM Billy Eppler, are you actually going higher than the six-year, $140 million the Nationals gave Corbin, in the hopes that, approaching his 30th birthday, he'll somehow dodge the bullets that have felled so many big-ticket Angels signings before him?
Maybe this is veering into spiritual territory, and away from analytics. But it's become difficult over the years to trust a Moreno-led and Moreno-controlled team to wisely spend its money, no matter how savvy the man in the GM job might be at the time. So color me not at all disappointed that the Angels took a pair of one-year flyers on talented right-handers Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill, who could end up providing numbers that compare decently to Corbin and Dallas Keuchel, the two lefties at the top of this year's free-agent class who are both far from perfect.
The Halos could likewise benefit from the market souring on capable offensive catcher Yasmani Grandal. Buying low on Sonny Gray or Julio Teheran could be worth a shot too, since flooding the zone with arms at least gives you some insurance when those inevitable injuries strike. And with so many second basemen and relief pitchers on the market, filling those positions shouldn't cost the Angels much in the way of dollars, or prospects.
Of course the bigger cause of the Angels' problems, and the reason they're scrambling to fill multiple holes, is that the farm system has done an awful job of surrounding Trout with premium teammates. A glimmer of hope has finally arrived on that front, with the Angels system looking stronger than it's been in years. Twenty-two-year-old right-hander Griffin Canning and 20-year-old southpaw Jose Suarez are both candidates to at least bolster the back of the rotation in 2019. Meanwhile, top prospect Jo Adell is so damn talented, the 19-year-old outfielder could go the Juan Soto route next season, making his major league debut and possibly excelling right away.
These are the Angels, though. Buy loads of insurance on those young arms, stick Jobu in Adell's locker, and pray to whichever God who's willing to stop laughing.
Jonah on the MLB offseason
Braves: May be offseason's most compelling team
Marlins: Finding where to send Realmuto
Mets: How Mets could jumpstart BVW era
Phillies: Harper or Machado might not be enough
Nationals: What will the Nats do if Harper leaves?
Cubs: Keys to a Cubs rebound in 2019
Reds: Can Cincy revamp its pitching staff?
Brewers: Why Milwaukee should dig deeper in its war chest
Pirates: How Buccos can get aggressive
Cardinals: St. Louis can close the NL Central gap
Diamondbacks: How drastic will the rebuild be?
Rockies: Colorado needs bats to match pitching staff
Dodgers: How L.A. can spend big this winter
Padres: San Diego is the biggest mystery team of the offseason
Giants: Trading MadBum and others makes sense
Orioles: Nowhere to go but up for new O's leadership
Red Sox: Active offseason could lead to World Series repeat
Yankees: Machado fits Yanks' wants and needs
Rays: Tampa in position for unusually aggressive winter
Blue Jays: Toronto needs to embrace rebuild
White Sox: Compelling dark horse in Harper, Machado races
Indians: Why a Kluber or Bauer blockbuster makes sense
Tigers: Detroit facing plenty of rebuilding competition
Royals: Rebuild will rely on homegrown talent
Twins: Could be a big surprise team in 2019