The market for high-caliber starting pitching is shrinking, and the Angels remain in the thick of it.
The Angels have engaged in multiple conversations with agent Scott Boras about clients Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel, said people familiar with negotiations for arguably the top remaining free-agent starters. But there is no indication that a deal is imminent. Some eight other teams are also jockeying for the services of Ryu and Keuchel, according to reports.
One pitcher who is locked in to a deal with the Angels is former Atlanta Braves pitcher Julio Teheran. The right-hander agreed Thursday to a one-year, $9-million contract with the team, according to people familiar with the negotiations but not authorized to speak publicly.
An addition of Ryu or Keuchel’s caliber is crucial for the Angels. They must improve a rotation that owned the second-worst ERA in baseball (5.64) last season and has been ravaged by injuries throughout general manager Billy Eppler’s four-year tenure. They have already missed out on several options, including two in the last few days: World Series veteran Madison Bumgarner signed a five-year, $85-million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks and former Houston Astro Wade Miley signed with the Cincinnati Reds for two years and at least $15 million.
Keuchel, 31, appears to be an ideal fit for the Angels. He does not have an extensive injury history. He also relies on ground balls 60% of the time for outs, a formula that would shine at Angel Stadium. The left side of the Angels’ infield will boast two of the best defenders in the sport, four-time Gold Glove winner Andrelton Simmons at shortstop and multiple-time nominee Anthony Rendon at third base. The Angels also expect to deploy the versatile David Fletcher, who was a Gold Glove finalist at third base, around the diamond.
The prospect of pitching in front of home has already moved Keuchel, a four-time All-Star who won the 2015 Cy Young Award, four Gold Gloves and a World Series during seven seasons with the Astros.
“Dallas called me with a four-letter word — good,” Boras said Saturday at the news conference for Rendon, for whom he negotiated a seven-year, $245-million contract. “When you see a team add a middle of the lineup bat and great defense, pitchers take notice.”
A litany of ailments prevented Ryu from approaching the 150-inning mark for the second time in his MLB career until last season. However, he dazzled when healthy. Ryu was the National League’s runner-up for the Cy Young Award in 2019. He issued a league-low 1.18 walks per nine innings and logged 187 2/3 innings between 29 starts during the regular season and one in the playoffs in 2019. In his best season since leaving South Korea for a major league career in 2013, Ryu had a majors-leading 2.32 ERA.
Ryu or Keuchel would easily slot in as the No. 1 starter in the Angels’ rotation, which figures to include two-way star Shohei Ohtani on a once-weekly basis.
What remains to be seen is how much the Angels are willing to spend to land an ace. Ryu and Keuchel are each expected to earn multi-year contracts valued around $20 million per year. Eppler created enough payroll flexibility to potentially add multiple contracts worth more than $20 million in average annual value after trading Zack Cozart and top draft pick Will Wilson to the San Francisco Giants during the winter meetings.
If both options elude them, the Angels would have to consider sacrificing top-tier talent to acquire a frontline pitcher on the trading block. Targets could include Arizona’s Robbie Ray and Detroit’s Matthew Boyd.
“There hasn’t been a team that told me we don’t match up,” Eppler said. “Teams have told me we match up. But the prices are a little rich right now. I’m not sure I’m going to engage at the level clubs are asking right now, but I know I can play if I want to.”