Baseball is the only sport I follow, and luckily for me, there is enough going on in the off-season to keep me engaged with the sport all year long. But then came the lockout, and baseball news has withered on the vine. If you are jonesing for something baseball-centric to occupy your time, here is something you can do — play a game of 1 Trade, 1 Free Agent Signing, and 1 Draft Pick.
The first thing you need to do to play this game is to pick an Angel team from the past that you would like to help, maybe a team that just missed the playoffs or a team that made the playoffs but didn’t advance far enough for your liking.
The next thing you do is rewrite history so that one trade from the past turned out differently so that it helped the Angel team of your choosing, one free agent signing turned out differently so that it helped out your Angel team, and one draft pick that turned out differently so that it helped your Angel squad.
The Angel team I chose for this exercise was the 1979 Angels. Could they have beaten the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS that year if their front office had made three different decisions prior to the start of the ’79 season that would have made their playoff roster stronger?
The 1979 California Angels had maybe the best offensive team that the franchise has ever had. The only weak spot in the lineup was at the shortstop position. Young Jimmy Anderson had a 78 OPS+ while manning the spot for the first half of the season, and then he was replaced with Bert Campaneris and his 60 OPS+ in the second half of the season.
I could have looked for a trade, free agent signing, or draft pick that could have helped out the Angels with their shortstop problem, but as with the Angels of late, what the 1979 club really needed was pitching, pitching, pitching, and more pitching.
For the best-of-five ALCS against the Orioles, the Angels put starting pitcher Chris Knapp (74 ERA+ during the regular season) on the playoff roster, relief pitcher Dave LaRoche (1.62 WHIP during the regular season) on the playoff roster, and relief pitcher Mike Barlow (1.58 WHIP during the regular season) on the roster.
If we could replace those three guys with pitchers the Angels actually could have had if the front office had been more fortuitous with three of their earlier decisions, could the Angels have changed their fortune and beaten the O’s?
When I was looking at some of the best relief pitchers of 1979 who had been acquired via a trade, it wasn’t plausible that the Angels could have pulled off many of those trades. For example, reliever Jim Kern of the Texas Rangers came in fourth place in MVP voting in 1979, but the Rangers had acquired him in a trade with the Cleveland Indians at the end of 1978 for starting pitcher Len Barker and star outfielder Bobby Bonds, who had just turned in a 31 HR / 90 RBI / 43 SB season for the Indians. The 1978 Angels didn’t have anything like this available to swing a trade for Kern.
So I turned my sights on to San Francisco Giants reliever Greg Minton, who had a fantastic 1.09 WHIP in 1979. It turns out that at the beginning of 1973, the Angels had exactly what the Kansas City Royals wanted in their trade of pitcher Greg Minton to the SF Giants. At the time of the ’73 trade, Minton was just a 20-year-old Single-A starting pitcher, so the price for him wasn’t that high. The Royals traded him to the Giants for Fran Healy, a 26-year-old catcher with a few scattered MLB games to his credit. At the beginning of the 1973 season, the Angels had 27-year-old catcher Art Kusnyer that they could have offered.
So if the Angels had made that trade back in 1973, they would have had relief pitcher Greg Minton’s 1.08 WHIP on their playoff roster instead of Dave LaRoche’s atrocious 1.62 WHIP.
1 Free Agent Signing
The best reliever in baseball in 1979 was Bruce Sutter of the Chicago Cubs. He won the NL Cy Young Award that year. He pitched 101.1 innings, all in relief, and had an MLB best 0.98 WHIP among what fangraphs considers “qualified relievers.”
With the power of hindsight and time travel, he could easily have been an Angel in 1979. He had signed with the Cubs in 1971 as an amateur free agent. The Angels signed just one amateur free agent in 1971, pitcher Don Kirkwood, so instead of signing Kirkwood, let’s have the Angels scoop up Bruce Sutter instead.
That means that the Angels would have taken Sutter’s amazing 1979 season into battle with them against the Orioles in the ALCS and could have left Mike Barlow and his 1.58 WHIP off of their playoff roster.
1 Draft Pick
The best starting pitcher in baseball in 1979 was JR Richard of the Houston Astros. Unfortunately, Houston selected him as the #2 overall pick of the 1969 draft, and the Angels’ first pick that year was the #5 pick, so when it was the Angels’ turn to select a player, Richard was already off the board.
Luckily, one of the best starting pitchers of the 1979 season, New York Yankee Ron Guidry, was available for the Angels in the 1971 draft. Guidry wasn’t selected until the third round that year, at pick number 67. The Angels had the 61st pick, and instead of taking shortstop Billy Smith, they could have taken Guidry.
If they would have, starting pitcher Chris Knapp and his 5.51 ERA would have been left off of the Angels’ 1979 playoff roster and Ron Guidry and his 2.78 ERA would have been there instead.
Those three alternate universe pitchers make for a huge improvement in the pitching staff the Angels took with them into the 1979 ALCS, but . . .
Would It Have Made a Difference?
In real life, the Angels lost Game One in a heartbreaking extra innings loss. The game featured a marquee starting pitcher match-up, future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan of the Angels going against future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer of the Orioles. Guidry had a better 1979 than Ryan did, but I believe that if Guidry was actually on this team, manager Jim Fregosi would have still started the long time Angel great Ryan in this Game One.
In the real game, Ryan left after the seventh inning with the game tied 3-3. The game remained tied until the Orioles walked it off in the tenth inning with a 3-run John Lowenstein home run off of Angel reliever John Montague.
If the Angels had Minton and Sutter, would things have turned out differently? It seems like Minton would have been used to hold the fort in the 8th and 9th innings, and Sutter would have pitched the 10th and not given up any runs.
That would have left the game tied.
Who would have won the game? It all comes down to the bullpen. Sutter pitched in the era where a star reliever could easily pitch two, three, or even four innings if that was called for. After Minton and Sutter were used up, though, the Angels wouldn’t have had any reliever left for that game that they could rely on to hold down the fort.
The Orioles, on the other hand, had Tippy Martinez and Tim Stoddard in their bullpen, and they had both turned in terrific regular seasons, so the outcome of this game to me is unclear. For now, I’ll leave it as a toss-up.
In reality, this was a heartbreaker for the Angels as they lost 8-9 with the bases loaded in the ninth. If Guidry had been on this Angel team, though, he would have started this game instead of Dave Frost, and he would have likely gone deep in this game without giving up many, if any, runs.
The Angels win this game easily.
In the alternate world that I have created, Frost’s start would have come in this game. I’ll use his results from the real Game 2 for this hypothetical game. In the real Game 2, Frost got shelled and the score was 5-1 Baltimore when he got pulled in the second inning. Mark Clear then came in for long relief duty, and he promptly gave up a three-run homer to give the O’s an 8-1 lead.
If the Angels had had Minton and Sutter on their roster, neither one would have been called in this early to the game.
The Orioles win this game.
In real life, Chris Knapp started this game, and he and the Halo blowpen lost this game 8-0. In the hypothetical world I created, Knapp isn’t on the Halos’ roster, so this game would have been started by the man who started the real Game 3, Frank Tanana.
I will use Tanana’s result in the real Game 3 for this hypothetical Game 4. In the real Game 3, Tanana left in the sixth inning with no outs, the bases loaded, and with the Orioles having scored just two runs so far. Don Aase then came in and had a pretty good run, finishing off the game and giving up just one run.
Unfortunately in real life, Scott McGregor pitched this game for Baltimore, and he was nearly unhittable as he pitched a shutout.
The Orioles win this game.
In a best-case scenario, the Angels had held out for a win in Game 1, so now the series would be tied two games to two games.
From a starting pitching standpoint, this game is a rematch of Game 1 — Ryan vs. Palmer. Standing by in the Angel bullpen would have been Greg Minton, Bruce Sutter and Game 2 starter Ron Guidry. Standing by in the Oriole bullpen would have been Tippy Martinez, Tim Stoddard, Don Stanhouse, and Game 2 starter, Mike Flanagan.
Stanhouse was the Orioles’ closer, but he had a terrible WHIP that season. Although starting pitcher Flanagan was available for this game, he had given up six runs in the real Game 2 of this series.
One would expect Ryan and Palmer to be solid in this do-or-die Game 5, but then based on the pitchers each team had left to finish off this game, it looks like the Angels had the stronger hand, so. . .
The Angels win the ALCS and advance to the World Series to play the Pittsburgh Pirates in the best-case scenario. Otherwise, the result of Game 1 of this series is not clear, and therefore the addition of Guidry, Minton, and Sutter may actually not have been enough to advance them past the Orioles and into the final round of the 1979 playoff tournament.
Despair not, those of you who may be interested in playing this game — although I couldn’t find a way to definitively help the 1979 Angel squad, there are plenty of Angel teams out there who could make it to that next level of success with just the right trade, free agent signing, and draft pick that you could provide them.