Trevor Bauer, Tomoyuki Sugano or a trade? Angels to focus on adding proven pitchers
When they dumped five relievers last week for the sake of freeing up roughly $7 million in payroll, the Angels and new general manager Perry Minasian implied something clearly: They aren’t willing to accept mediocrity from their pitching staff.
Angels pitchers combined during the shortened 2020 season for a 5.09 earned-run average, the fourth-worst mark in franchise history. It was the second straight year they had an over-5.00 team ERA.
Although they could use reinforcements to their catching corps of Anthony Bemboom and Max Stassi, the Angels will target high-caliber pitching during this week’s virtual winter meetings and for the rest of the offseason. They need arms in the bullpen, which currently features four pitchers with short track records, and for the rotation.
Similarly to last year, when the Angels made an unsuccessful run at Orange County native Gerrit Cole, speculation surrounding the team as December gets underway is centered on one pitcher. Trevor Bauer, 29, is coming off a Cy Young Award-winning season in which he posted a sterling ERA (1.73) and improved strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate (12.3) while wielding one of the most polished arsenals in the sport.
José Iglesias, a strong fielder who batted .373 in 2020 for the Baltimore Orioles, was acquired by the Angels on the day they nontendered closer Hansel Robles.
Critics cast doubt about Bauer’s ability to continue to improve, pointing out the right-hander has completed only one full-calendar MLB season with a sub-4.00 ERA. They question whether he could sustain his 2020 success over the course of a 162-game campaign.
Bauer, who owns a 3.90 ERA over 205 games and 1,190 innings since his debut in 2012, has spent the months since his Cincinnati Reds were bounced out of the first round of the playoffs demonstrating dedication to his craft on social media. He has used a variety of platforms to show the world how he approaches his intricate offseason training regimens, building on a web presence he began cultivating during his years with the Cleveland Indians.
Bauer, a product of Santa Clarita Hart High and UCLA, would easily slot into the front of the Angels’ rotation ahead of Dylan Bundy, Andrew Heaney, Griffin Canning and two-way star Shohei Ohtani, who hasn’t pitched with regularity since having Tommy John surgery in 2018.
One factor complicating a marriage between the Angels and Bauer is the team’s financial situation. Bauer early in his career went on record saying he would sign only one-year deals. He changed his mind before this offseason, according to agent Rachel Luba’s Twitter account.
The Angels have spent years shopping for bargains on the mound. They have never doled out a nine-figure contract to a pitcher. The two biggest contracts the Angels have awarded pitchers are the five-year, $85-million extension Jered Weaver signed in 2011 and the five-year, $77.5-million deal C.J. Wilson signed as a free agent before 2012. The largest one-season salary owner Arte Moreno agreed to pay a pitcher acquired by former general manager Billy Eppler during his five-year tenure was $11 million to Matt Harvey in 2019.
For comparison, Bauer earned $13 million in 2019 and a prorated portion of $17.5 million last season. He declined a qualifying offer of $18.9 million from the Reds last month. The team that signs him not only must forfeit a draft pick but also likely will fork over more than $20 million a year.
The Angels’ 2021 payroll in relation to the competitive balance tax is estimated by FanGraphs at $171 million heading into the winter meetings. That leaves Minasian about $23 million before reaching preseason 2020 spending levels and $39 million before reaching next year’s luxury tax threshold of $210 million.
Moreno said last month the payroll would not be reduced in 2021. But would he be willing to blow past his previous budget for a contract like Bauer’s when he expects Ohtani to overcome his 2020 struggles on the mound and is encouraged by the progress of youngsters such as Canning?
Given the Angels’ needs in the bullpen, Bauer might be out of reach. But there is another top-shelf starting option. Tomoyuki Sugano could be posted by the Yomiuri Giants as soon as next week, according to the Japan Times. The veteran right-hander was consistently one of the Japanese league’s best pitchers, posting a 2.32 ERA over eight seasons. At 31, Sugano projects as a mid-rotation starter with the ceiling of a No. 2 and would be more affordable than Bauer. Sugano earned $6 million in 2020 and is projected to sign for more than $10 million but less than $20 million a year.
If the Angels can’t land Bauer or Sugano, there are trades they could pursue. The Tampa Bay Rays reportedly are open to shipping off ace Blake Snell, the 2018 Cy Young Award winner whose premature removal from Game 6 of this year’s World Series sparked applause from a pro-Dodgers crowd. He is owed about $40.8 million over the next three seasons. Acquiring Snell, 28, would come at a hefty cost. The Angels would likely have to part with a top prospect the caliber of outfielders Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh and a starting pitcher with years of control left on his contract.
Options abound, so long as the Angels are willing to part with talent. And it seems they are. Minasian said last week the Angels are “open to anything.”
“We’re an aggressive group,” he said. “We’re not scared to throw out ideas. … We want to play meaningful games in September. And in order to do that, we’re going to have to improve. So we’re very cognizant of that and we will continue to [have conversations] with a lot of different clubs and free agents and see where it goes.”
During a normal year, agent Scott Boras speaks while surrounded by reporters at the MLB winter meetings. This year, Boras will take his act to Zoom.
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.