The Angels on Wednesday added a right-handed pitcher to their major league roster — just not the one fans are waiting on. Dylan Bundy, a 27-year-old who once flashed a mid-90s fastball, was acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for four players from the Angels’ minor league system, the team announced.
Bundy is not a front-line starter — which is a need the Angels intend to satisfy before the start of the 2020 season, perhaps with a big-name free agent such as Orange County native Gerrit Cole — but he is reliable. He made 30 starts last season and has taken no fewer than 28 turns in each of the last three years. He is under contract through 2021.
Durability has been an issue for the Angels throughout general manager Billy Eppler’s tenure. The team had only one pitcher surpass 97 innings last year — Trevor Cahill, who logged 102 1/3 innings — and no one made 20 starts.
“That is important for us, having guys that can post and continue to take their turns,” Eppler said.
The Angels sent right-handed pitchers Isaac Mattson, Kyle Bradish, Zach Peek and Kyle Brnovich to Baltimore. Bradish, 23, was the highest ranked of the bunch. His fastball was clocked as hard as 96 mph. He had a 4.28 ERA and held opponents to a .235 average in 28 games for high-A Inland Empire in 2019, his first pro season since being drafted out of New Mexico State in the fourth round in 2018.
Mattson, a reliever who pitched in the Arizona Fall League after reaching triple-A last season, is the only one close to the major leagues.
So the Angels chose to place a premium on a more established pitcher.
Enter Bundy, who went 7-14 with a 4.79 earned run average over 161 2/3 innings. He also struck out 162, his third consecutive year with more than 150 strikeouts.
Bundy was drafted in the first round by the Orioles in 2011 out of Owasso High in Oklahoma. He debuted the following September at 19. Tommy John surgery and a shoulder injury kept him from returning to the major leagues until 2016. He finally claimed a permanent spot at or near the front of Baltimore’s rotation in 2017.
Eppler has tried to trade for Bundy in the past and is not fazed by Bundy’s career 4.67 ERA. He attributed it in part to environmental factors, such as calling hitter-friendly Camden Yards home and regularly facing high-powered offenses in the American League East.
Bundy doesn’t throw a hard fastball like Cole, with whom the Angels have had a meeting regarding future employment, said a person familiar with the free agent’s negotiations. But Bundy, a former top prospect, has made up for his declining velocity by better mixing his pitches and going to his low-80s slider. The breaking pitch has been effective for him. Bundy used it to generate a 47.9% whiff rate and hold opponents to a .152 average and .265 slugging percentage.
“He’s a tough, competitive individual that’s shown the ability to adapt as he has matured at the major league level,” Eppler said. “Going from somebody that threw with a little different velocity when he was 19…but he has developed a good amount of feel, in the eyes of our evaluators.”
The acquisition of Bundy won’t stop Eppler from pursuing pitching help elsewhere, either via free agency or another trade. Bundy made $2.8 million in his second year of arbitration eligibility last season. He is projected to at least double his salary through the process. Even if he ends up costing the Angels more than $5 million, Bundy will still make less than the lowest-paid free-agent pitcher Eppler signed last year. That was $8.5-million reliever Cody Allen, who was released in June after pitching only 23 innings.
Owner Arte Moreno gave Eppler the green light to spend more freely this offseason than he has since coming aboard in late 2015. Eppler declined to comment on the amount of wiggle room available to him for the 2020 budget, but it could well be that the Angels’ opening day payroll exceeds $180 million after hovering between $160 million and $166 million since 2016.
Even after settling on raises for their nine arbitration-eligible players, including Bundy, there should be plenty of space for Eppler to shore up pitching and catching depth and improve the rest of the roster.
“I’m just going to say we’re going to be in the market and I’m not going to define it and put a number,” Eppler said. “We’ll still be in the market for pitching.”