The American League West race took a significant turn when it was revealed today that Angels no. 1 starter Jared Weaver will be out from four to six weeks with a fractured left (non-pitching) elbow. Weaver incurred the injury on Sunday night as he dove away from a line drive hit by Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland. Initial X-rays were reported to have shown no break, but apparently a second look revealed a more serious injury. No club survives the loss of a top starting pitcher easily, but since the Angels never quite got around to reloading their rotation last winter, the loss of Weaver could be especially hard on the team's chances of making the postseason.
Last season, Angels starting pitchers had a 4.04 ERA, the fifth-best mark in the American League. However, adjust for their pitcher-friendly home park and discount factors that were unlikely to repeat themselves, like Weaver's 1.96 first-half ERA (his post-break ERA was 3.72), and the impending loss of several starters and general manager Jerry DiPoto was facing a high-difficulty season, one made significantly more difficult by the Angels themselves.
The Angels chose to rid themselves of three-fifths of their starting rotation, putting themselves in an almost impossible position for 2013. Having traded three players for Greinke in July, they dropped out of the bidding when the price crossed $20 million (which is to say they were never in it), then watched as he signed on with their nearby rivals in Los Angeles. Haren's $15.5 million option was declined, costing the team $3.5 million. Ervin Santana was traded to the Royals on Halloween.
All of those moves are defensible. Greinke got a long and pricey deal, arguably one that is too rich for a pitcher who has been, since his Cy Young season in 2009, more good than great. Haren's back problems may have derailed a pitcher who was quietly one of the best in baseball for nearly ten years. Santana, heading into the final year of his contract, had turned into a human home run machine. The problem was that given a free-agent market short on options, any general manager would have struggled to make parallel replacements even for so degraded a trio. Greinke is a particularly difficult one to figure - the going price for "good, not great" is rising all the time, the club had limited in-house options, and they had nearly six weeks between the Santana-Haren divestitures and Greinke's signing with the Dodgers. The potential weakness of an starting rotation that was, at that point comprised of Weaver and C.J. Wilson (the latter disappointing in his first season with the team), had to be staring them in the face.
It seems odd to criticize a team's player-development operation when it just brought Mike Trout to the big leagues, but the Angels have struggled develop pitchers for the big-league club in recent years. The team's top home-grown starters this century include Weaver, John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Jarrod Washburn, Ramon Ortiz, and Joe Saunders. Weaver was drafted in 2004. The rest came earlier. Tyler Skaggs, the club's top pick in 2009, is a promising prospect, but he went to the Diamondbacks in the Haren deal. Garret Richards, taken two picks later, is in the major league pen, still trying to establish himself as a major leaguer. Lefty Nick Maronde, who looked like the club's best pitching prospect heading into spring training, has been moved to the bullpen. Restocking the rotation meant looking outside the organization in a slim year for free-agent pitching.
Given the box the Angels had put themselves in, DiPoto arguably did about as well as anyone could have under the circumstances. He actually pulled off two trades in a league that is increasingly not trading, adding Tommy Hanson from the Braves for Jordan Walden and Jason Vargas from the Mariners for Kendrys Morales. He also signed Joe Blanton as a free agent. It is fair to say that none of them is Haren or Greinke.
Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
The club's determination to avoid Greinke and emphasize cheaper pitching seems especially strange given the decision to replace the departing Torii Hunter with Josh Hamilton. Hamilton's deal was shorter, but has a higher annual value. More importantly, his physical and emotional frailties are well known, and corner outfield bats are always in greater supply than above-average starting pitchers.
Now that Weaver is hurt, the Angels may have to turn to Richards or the journeyman Jerome Williams to fill out the rotation. The Athletics have pitching to spare, the Rangers seem set (and Colby Lewis is not far off from a rehab assignment if they're not) and the Mariners' retooled rotation now boasts one more healthy ace than the Angels can claim.
It's too early to count the Angels out by any means, but having placed their chips on hitting this offseason, they're going to need the bats to carry them until Weaver returns -- if not longer.