Angels trade Andrew Heaney and Tony Watson at deadline but avoid roster teardown
As deals began to fly in the final hours before Friday afternoon’s trade deadline, it seemed like the Angels had a perfect opportunity to become all-out sellers.
To ship their most attractive trade pieces for future assets.
To retreat from their precarious position in the playoff race and regroup for an offseason that should be full of financial flexibility.
But, after entering Friday six games back in the American League wild-card standings, the club instead refused to give up on this campaign — or, at least, didn’t receive enticing-enough offers to convince them otherwise.
The Angels traded starter Andrew Heaney to the New York Yankees and reliever Tony Watson to the San Francisco Giants, getting a collection of pitching prospects back in return, but held onto more important players such as closer Raisel Iglesias and starter Alex Cobb.
They didn’t make any notable additions to their big league roster — despite general manager Perry Minasian’s assertion that they were “very aggressive” in pursuing such deals — but didn’t tear up a core that, when healthy, they hope can still mount a late-season run.
As has been the case all year, the Angels remain in baseball’s gray area: Not quite a buyer, not quite a total seller; far from a bonafide contender, but also not all the way out of contention either.
“We were not focused on tearing down this team by any stretch,” Minasian said. “We’re .500, we’re six games out of a wild card. We’ve been extremely competitive under tough circumstances with the injuries we’ve had. I give Joe [Maddon] and the staff a lot of credit for keeping us in this thing. It was more just about again opportunities that presented itself.”
It’s the kind of scenario that many players and coaches in the Angels clubhouse had been hoping for, especially after the team had stayed within striking distance in the standings despite injuries to Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and others over the first four months of the season.
But as the last week progressed, it wasn’t clear what direction the front office was headed.
Outside of a report late Thursday night that they had made a short-lived run at Max Scherzer before he was traded to the Dodgers, the Angels hadn’t been publicly linked with many players on the trade block throughout the week.
With the trade deadline on Friday, The Times provides real-time updates and analysis on all the transactions in Major League Baseball.
And as Friday’s deadline approached, it seemed increasingly likely that Iglesias and others on the pitching staff would be dealt, especially after other pitchers around the sport, including Chicago Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel and Minnesota Twins starter José Berríos, were traded for high premiums in the final hours before the 1 p.m. cutoff.
Even Maddon said he was expecting the Angels to lose Iglesias, whose 21 saves and 3.23 ERA had made him a backbone of an otherwise faulty bullpen.
But as the deadline came and went, Iglesias’ name never came up. Nor did Cobb’s (who was placed on the injured list after the deadline Friday with wrist inflammation). Nor did most of the Angels’ other soon-to-be-free-agents, such as José Iglesias or Steve Cishek.
It comes with risks, putting the Angels in danger of losing those players this winter if they can’t sign them to contract extensions. (Minasian declined to comment on any potential negotiations).
But, Minasian said he didn’t want to force a late deal either.
“I think this group has earned the opportunity to continue to compete,” Minasian said, adding: “To me, we did not go into this trade deadline with the mindset of, ‘Let’s do a total rebuild’ or anything like that.”
Minasian claimed the Angels had the contrary mindset, revealing they had conversations with other clubs about acquiring big league help on the mound and at the plate.
“We were able to talk about higher-salary players,” Minasian said.
But, they never found the right match.
“I think it just depends on different circumstances,” Minasian said. “Some guys have no trade clauses, some guys don’t. Sometimes you don’t line up with value and what you want to give and what they’re asking for. It’s hard to come up with specifics, but things have to line up.”
The moves the Angels did make leave holes to fill.
While Heaney, who will be a free agent in the offseason, had been up-and-down all year with a 5.27 ERA in 18 starts, he had strung together strong outings in his two most recent games and was a popular presence in the clubhouse as the second-longest tenured member of the team.
“You hate losing Andrew,” Maddon said. “But we picked up some really big-time arms there.”
Janson Junk and Elvis Peguero comprised the return from the Yankees, who also received cash considerations from the Angels to help cover some of Heaney’s salary. The two right-handed prospects were in double-A and were having good seasons — Junk, 25, as a starter who was ranked the 27th-best prospect in the Yankees system by MLB Pipeline, and Peguero, 24, as a reliever who was promoted earlier this month from high-A.
Another repercussion of Heaney’s departure will come on Sunday, when the Angels’ top pitching prospect Reid Detmers will start the series finale against the Oakland A’s in his big league debut.
“In Heaney’s case,” Minasian said, “we felt like acquiring what we were able to acquire and opening a spot for Reid Detmers ... was really important.”
By trading Watson, the Angels received three pitchers from the Giants: Sam Selman, a 30-year-old left-handed reliever who has a 4.06 ERA in 41 career games and will join the Angels’ MLB roster; Jose Marte, a 25-year-old right-hander who was in double-A; and Ivan Armstrong, a 21-year-old righty in low-A.
Yet, the Angels also lost one of their few dependable relievers of late, as Watson had a 2.25 ERA over his last 12 appearances and a 4.64 mark on the season overall.
The trial of ex-Angels employee Eric Kay in connection with the overdose death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs has been delayed until Oct. 4.
Maddon described the team’s deadline activity as a threading of the needle. The front office sent the clubhouse a positive message by not gutting the roster. But, they didn’t come up with any impact additions either, meaning the Angels will have to maximize production from the players they have left to make any serious late-season push.
“We have to be almost perfect every night,” Maddon said. “We don’t have a large margin for error.”
Still, their margin didn’t completely disappear on Friday either. The team might remain flawed and imperfect, but still has a slim shot to turn things around. They might not have attacked the market as buyers, but they didn’t signal surrender either.
“With the injuries we had it would have been easy to wave the white flag to a certain extent, for guys to mail it in and go through the motions,” Minasian said. “Our group is not built like that. We have a group of guys that come in, prepare, work and want to play and give everything they have on the field … Every single person that’s in this clubhouse does that. To me it makes a big difference over the course of the year.”
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