The offseason is nearly 50 days old and the Angels have not added another MLB-caliber starting pitcher.
To be fair, this is more of a byproduct of a slow offseason that was on full display in the recent Winter Meetings that were utterly dull and uneventful. The combination of a pandemic, economic struggles, player-owner strife, and the uncertainty around the 2021 season had led to a halt on major activity this offseason. To the Angels’ credit, they’ve been one of the few active teams who have spent real money, adding roughly $11 million in payroll for a pair of Iglesiases: shortstop Jose Iglesias and reliever Raisel Iglesias.
The need for adding starting pitching is still there, however. The club is on the heels of two disastrous rotation performances for the past two seasons. While the Fangraphs ZIPS Projections are surprisingly optimistic about the Angels rotation, it’s obvious that the club needs to add one, if not two, legitimate starters. The question is: who will that be?
Following are the best starting pitchers the Angels can acquire based on their 2021 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) projections from the Fangraphs depth charts. Only two of these starting pitchers can be signed via free agency, while the remaining eight can be acquired via trade from teams who are likely sellers or have pitchers involved in trade rumors. You can nitpick the rankings in terms of order but these are the likeliest impact starters the Angels can acquire this offseason.
1. Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs
- Projected 2021 WAR: 4.4
- Projected 2021 innings: 199
- Contract: 3 years, $59 million
After Darvish’s disastrous 2017 World Series and his injury-riddled 2018 season (40 innings), there were legitimate concerns about his production moving forward. Instead, he’s performed as one of baseball’s best starting pitchers over the last two seasons. If you narrow that down to his production since the second half of 2019 (157 2/3 innings), Darvish ranks fourth in fWAR (5.4) and fifth in ERA (2.40). Notably, he’s coming off of a (shortened) season where he had a career-best 95.5 mph fastball, 14.3 percent swinging-strike rate, and 4.7 percent walk rate. Darvish is on the hook for nearly $60 million from age 34-36 so he’s not without risk but he’s a durable frontline starter who is showing no signs of slowing down.
2. Trevor Bauer, Free Agent
- Projected 2021 WAR: 3.9
- Projected 2021 innings: 206
#BauerToAnaheim is a full-fledged staple on Angels Twitter right now and it’s obvious why the fanbase is rabid for his services. He’s coming off of his best inning-per-inning performance of his career, whether you look at ERA (1.73), strikeouts (36 percent), or walks (6.1 percent), which resulted in Bauer’s first Cy Young award. Bauer, however, is a complicated pitcher with on-field concerns (shaky track record of production, his history with the Diamondbacks and Indians, and his likely use of pine tar in 2020) and off-field concerns (his previous history on social media). That being said, Bauer is the clear-cut best option in free agency and won’t cost the Angels a Jo Adell or a Brandon Marsh in a trade for a frontline starter. The So Cal native remains one of the most obvious fits for the Angels.
3. Germán Márquez, Colorado Rockies
- Projected 2021 WAR: 3.8
- Projected 2021 innings: 202
- Contract: 3 years, $33.5 million+$16 million club option for 2024
Don’t let the raw career ERA fool you (4.22): Márquez is a legitimately good frontline starter who might be viewed as one of baseball’s best starters once he leaves Coors Field. The 25-year-old has been an innings-eater for the Rockies while posting a career ERA+ of 118 (18 percent better than league average). Márquez has a mid-90’s heater and pair of true bat-missing breaking balls (curveball and slider) with the command to boot. Combine his production, age, and contract, along with a move outside of baseball’s toughest hitter’s park, and you have the makings of a pitcher who can garner Cy Young award attention. It’s hard to find a better fit for the Angels this offseason but it’ll cost a pretty penny in a trade.
4. Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays
- Projected 2021 WAR: 3.7
- Projected 2021 innings: 176
- Contract: 3 years, $39 million
The most recent memory of Blake Snell is his absolutely dominant Game 6 outing in the World Series, which ended in his controversial exit that sparked debates for days. Snell fits the mold of Márquez as a young starter (28 years old) who is under club control at an affordable price for three more seasons. The risk with Snell, however, is the durability issues (he’s only topped 150 innings once) and the inability to pitch deeper into games for much of his career. It also might be cause for concern that the Rays, one of baseball’s best-run organizations, are seriously interested in moving him at this juncture. That said, Snell is in the middle of his prime on a cheap deal and owns the second-best career ERA+ (130) of any pitcher on this list. Much like with Márquez, this would cost a ton in a trade but the trade-off is getting a top-10/15 starter right in the middle of his prime.
5. Sonny Gray, Cincinnati Reds
- Projected 2021 WAR: 3.4
- Projected 2021 innings: 190
- Contract: 2 years, $20 million+$12 million club option for 2023
Gray has been in the middle of trade rumors despite his recent high-end production, cheap contract, and the Reds losing Trevor Bauer to free agency. If Gray is actually available, he’ll immediately be one of baseball’s best trade chips as a top-15/20 pitcher in baseball on a crazy cheap deal. Gray saw a career rebound after reuniting with his college pitching coach in Cincinnati and should stay at a high level as one of baseball’s spin rate kings. The Angels and Reds recently swung a deal on the Raisel Iglesias trade, which may or may not have any bearing on a potential Sonny Gray trade. If the two teams were to connect again, it’s safe to bet that Cincinnati will look for a deal involving any of the non-Adell prospects in the system.
6. Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians
- Projected 2021 WAR: 3.3
- Projected 2021 innings: 174
- Contract: 2 years, $24 million+$14 million club option for 2023
Carrasco has a remarkable track record dating back to 2014, which also includes his heroic 2019 battle with leukemia. Excluding his 2019 season, Carrasco has been above-average pitcher in terms of ERA and FIP (Field Independent Pitching) in every season since 2014. The Venezuelan-born Carrasco posted a career-best 2.92 ERA in 2020 and has maintained both his strikeouts and velocity. There is cause for concern as Carrasco will be 34 next year and posted his worst walk rate (9.6 percent) since his breakout 2014 season. Given his production and contract, however, he’d be a strong albeit riskier addition to the Angels.
7. Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies
- Projected 2021 WAR: 3.1
- Projected 2021 innings: 191
- Contract: 4 years, $96.5 million
Including Wheeler on this list was solely due to the Buster Olney report about the club being interested in trading him. Since then, the Phillies owner said he “wouldn’t trade Wheeler for Babe Ruth” and Dave Dombrowski was hired as GM. It’s safe to say that Wheeler probably isn’t a realistic trade option but if he were available, he’d be a big addition for the Angels. Wheeler still possesses insane stuff but has oddly turned himself into an elite command guy who generates grounders. Were he to be traded, he probably wouldn’t fetch much due to the nearly $100 million he’s owed for the next four seasons. Of any player on this list, I’d say Wheeler is the least likely to be moved.
8. Masahiro Tanaka, Free Agent
- Projected 2021 WAR: 3
- Projected 2021 innings: 176
Tanaka would be the most boring addition of any player on this list and probably brings the lowest upside. Tanaka is what he is at this point and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He’s a strike-throwing, durable innings-eater who has been above-average in run prevention and peripherals every year other than 2017 when he posted a 95 ERA+. Tanaka is a low-strikeout, homer-prone pitcher who has plenty of miles on his arm (dating back to Japan) so there is certainly some risk. That said, Tanaka would be a steady addition to the rotation, will be much cheaper than many of these pitchers, and would play well with the growing Japanese fanbase for the Angels.
9. Joe Musgrove, Pittsburgh Pirates
- Projected 2021 WAR: 3
- Projected 2021 innings: 182
- Contract: Free Agent after 2022 (projected $3.5-4.5 million in arbitration for 2021)
Musgrove is the only arbitration-eligible player on this list, which makes him the cheapest financial option on this list. That will certainly be appealing for a club that still has other holes to fill on the roster and Musgrove offers plenty in terms of talent. The 28-year-old So Cal native is coming off a dominant 8-game stint in 2020 where he struck out 33.1 percent of hitters. Musgrove threw his fastball less than 40 percent of the time in 2020, a continuing trend that has allowed him to focus more on his strong secondary pitches. The career 96 ERA+ is underwhelming but he’s been an innings-eater and may have started tapping into more potential this past season. If he continues making strides, a trade for Musgrove could pay huge dividends in 2021.
10. Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs
- Projected 2021 WAR: 3
- Projected 2021 innings: 200
- Contract: 3 years, $42 million+$16 million club option for 2024
Hendricks is the best run preventer on this list as evidenced by his career 133 ERA+ in over 1000 innings. His worst season was a 96 ERA+ and he’s been at 121 or better in the other six seasons. Hendricks excels despite throwing one of the worst fastballs in baseball due to elite command and strong secondary stuff. The Newport Beach native seems like a strong bet to age well due to his durability and command skills but there’s also less margin for error for a low-velocity guy. Given his cheap club control for the next four seasons, he’d probably cost a ton and bring a dependable frontline starter to the Angels.
Marquez and Bauer, please.
Over/Under signing the amount of these pitchers is being set at 2.5. I’m taking the under.
Again? No prospects and Arte…….
Forbes top 2 richest..
I really like Marquez, I’d also take Musgrove as a cheaper trade. I think that guy is primed to step up and be a really solid starter this year, maybe even a number one type. Gray is a good bargain too, but he’d probably cost a lot in trade because of it, but if we take on his whole contract Darvish may be a cheaper get.
Seriously, if we get any of those guys and add a Brett Anderson to Bundy, Canning, Ohtani and Heaney we’d be good.
You and I both agree about the Musgrove breakout. I see so many similarities to the Dylan Bundy situation. Talented pitcher in an awful situation, club controllable, young, trend of relying more on secondary pitches, etc. I think his price tag will be infinitely higher a year from now.
the problem with my choices is that we don’t have the cash. I’d be good with Darvish and Snell but right there that’s $33mil and we’ve been the “If I were Perry” articles and how we don’t have it. I’m sure he’ll figure out out, though.
If Arte were willing to go over the luxury tax just for a season, they could make it work. It’d probably be worth it if you can grab both Darvish and Snell.
I’d rather acquire Snell and just roll the dice on a mid-tier FA who would be willing to come on a one-year deal, like Quintana, Archer, Kluber, etc.
We’d still have the budget to pursue a LHH corner OF, a la Pederson or maybe Schwarber (although that’s a much tougher fit, given he likely can’t play RF).
The fact that we heavily pursued McCann and were (likely) willing to allocate ~10mil/yr to him suggests that we are probably pursing a cost-controlled SP via trade, such as Snell, Gray, Marquez, etc..
This is completely sensible. Obviously, if Arte were willing to go over the luxury tax for just a season, the idea of someone like Darvish AND Snell/Márquez would be awesome.
Reid Detmers & Dylan Bundy for Blake Snell.
Seriously……first proven ace since Zack Greinke.
This is a great list, read it a couple times today. Gray for mid-1 to 10 rank prospects and go for Marquez. Snell’s cranky elbow and his 5-inn per start average cannot be dismissed. I think with DD coming on board, Wheeler will stay put.
I can see the Angels taking on an upper tier arm w/bad contract and dumping Upton with a top prospect attached.
Upton, like Pujols, will only walk out the door when his contract is up.
The Snell injury/fewer innings aspect is why I prefer someone like Márquez, who has shown real durability in his career.
Marquez would be nice but boy oh boy I just don’t see the Rockies parting with him unfortunately. Musgrove would be nice because of age and in Darvish you get a crafty veteran. The big prize though would be Snell and that would cost and that would be Adell or Marsh. Can’t wait to see what happens. Bauer is not worth the $ he may command.
If the Rockies are serious about moving Arenado and Story, Marquez is the obvious next guy to move. Trading Arenado/Story signals a full-blown rebuild and Marquez is the guy that’ll fetch the most based on his age, production, and contract.
Good point. Might as well blow the whole thing up. Between Story and Marquez they’d get some serious talent back.
Trading only Arenado and Story would be strange since it’d basically be a salary dump for both of them.
Great article with a lot of positive things about all of the options, very informative.
per MLB.Com: “Sources tell Rosenthal that the Angels will be “reluctant” to overpay for perceived “second-tier” free agent starters like Jake Odorizzi, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka.”
Very nice to hear. If we are going to overpay, need to focus on top tier. Once Bauer signs, these arms will not perform to the money they will get signed for. I feel confident that Perry is focused on making an impact here.
I like it. I think investments in the giant injury risks (Paxton, Kluber) are unwise for a team that not only needs quality pitchers but also pitchers who can provide innings.
How much could Kluber cost at this point, if he was at the cheaper end of the scale and would accept a one or 2 yr deal I would roll the dice.
If you can get him for under $5 million, perhaps it’s worth a shot? I’d feel uncomfortable banking on him giving you all that much given his lack of innings over the past two seasons.
I like to hear that. I am cool if we take a one-year plunge on someone like Quintana, Archer, etc. I don’t want to commit a muti-year deal to someone like Odorizzi, Paxton, etc.
IMO, trade for one of Snell, Marquez, Gray, then sign someone like Archer/Quintana/etc to a one year deal. That way we’ll have one top-of-the-rotation arm as well as a middle-tier gamble.
Darvish’s repertoire of pitches in combination is the filthiest stuff I’ve ever seen. The first time I saw him pitch I said he’d be the next guy to have a perfect game. I’d love seeing him in Halos gear. My son’s classmate is his son Shohei’s best friend. Let me see what I can do. LOL
Darvish has been flat-out dominant since the second half of 2019. The age and contract may scare people off but the stuff and command are incredible right now.
My preference would be Marquez followed by Gray and Snell on the trade front. We need durable arms.
However, I see Carrasco as a piece that could be acquired without losing Adell or Marsh. And his contract is friendly enough to allow for more bullpen pieces to be added.
Completely agree with Marquez, Gray, and Snell. Those are my top three guys with a preference for Marquez due to youth and durability. Carrasco would be a strong addition and his age might make him slightly more attainable.
I always felt the Angels would be reluctant to add another Japanese arm. I believe one of the reasons Ohtani targeted the Angels was that we had no other big name from Japan. I might be wrong though. Darvish was a stud last year, new gain confidence and health played a huge role.
I would be wary of Tanaka.
I included Tanaka in my “If I were Perry” article and I think I’ve had a change of heart. There are many better, higher upside options who are younger than him.
I believe Tanaka has a partially torn UCL. I also believe if he were to be signed by the Angels, the tear would be completed simply by signing the contract. You know, the Halo Hex on elbows….
LOL. Too accurate. For what it’s worth, that partially torn UCL has been a thing for the past half-decade and he seems to be doing fine with it.
Darvish and Ohtani were teammates with the Fighters in Japan. I don’t think either of them would have a problem with a reunion at this stage.
Great list. Make it happen. Now.
Based on the pace of this offseason, we won’t see the Angels grab one of these guys until 2021.
Ideally, it would be Marquez and Snell. But, that would likely mean Adell and Marsh gone in separate trades. I think that is a little dire given the lack of a farm behind those guys.
Accordingly, I’d trade for either Snell or Maquez, retaining Marsh or Adell. I’d then sign one of the free agents – which would probably mean Tanaka (wish it was Tanana).
If they can somehow swing a deal for Marquez/Snell without moving Adell/Marsh, they’d need to build a statue for Perry Minasian ASAP. I’d feel comfortable moving one of the blue-chip guys if it got you a frontline starter in his prime ala Marquez/Snell.
I think it would be possible if we sent back Canning as the centerpiece for Marquez/Snell. Same with guys like Musgrove and Gray if we take on a big salary chunk those teams don’t want (like Polanco for Pitt and Akiyama for Cin). Just imagine how awesome this would be… adding Marquez, Gray and Musgrove while still keeping Adell/Marsh. Although the additions of those three plus Polanco/Akiyama contracts would put them a little over the CBT threshold in ’21, they’d be right back under in ’22 with so many salaries coming off the books. That seems like a small price to pay for a legit playoff competitive rotation. And Polanco/Akiyama may turn out to be more productive than Upton, who knows…
While Darvish looks like a good add I think his cost unless the Cubs are adding money would become restrictive in other adds. I was looking more at adding both Marquez and Grey as they would provide a lot of depth and still have money for the bullpen
I’d probably put Marquez, Snell, and Gray at the top of my list for that reason. My preference is Marquez since he’s still so damn young (only 25).
I had Gray ahead of Snell based purely on health concerns
Not sure why the Rockies would want to trade Marquez as they are pitching starved and he is cost controlled but would love that dude. I would like Marquez the most.
I think we could get Darvish or Gray without giving up an Adell and or Marsh. I would be happy with either.
Snell has large red flags to me based on how the Rays turned him into this 4.6 innings per start pitcher.
Musgrove, Carrasco and Hendricks are small notch below the others but are very relevant.