When the Angels lost top starting pitcher Garrett Richards for the year to his freak knee injury, there was nigh-universal agreement that they would look to add pitching help. The Angels are, after all, in a dog fight with the A's in the AL West, had already lost Tyler Skaggs to Tommy John Surgery, and C.J. Wilson's rough year has only gotten worse in his five second-half starts (though he's been, by the strict terms of ERA, effective recently, he continues to be plagued by wildness). It goes without saying that avoiding the play-in game between the wild card teams is a major advantage for division winners. So when the Mets put Bartolo Colon on revocable waivers over the weekend, it seemed natural to assume the Angels claim him and work out a deal.
The 41-year old-Colon has had three solid seasons in a row for the A's and the Mets, posting a 3.26 ERA and 3.45 FIP across 79 starts. He's posted the second-lowest walks per nine among pitchers with at least 400 innings, and the sixth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio. Plus, Colon was at his best facing the Angels in 2012 and 2013, giving up just six earned runs in five starts against his former team (though he utterly bombed against them in an interleague matchup this year). It would seem like a natural fit for the club for whom Colon won a Cy Young Award in 2005, to bring their prodigal son back.
More from our team site
More from our team site
Then a funny thing happened. The Angels didn't bite. Despite having to turn to the likes of Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago and Wade LeBlanc to fill out their rotation, the Angels did not feel a sense of urgency. Upon a second look, it's kind of hard to blame them.
Partly, this is because of the surprising effectiveness of Shoemaker and Santiago, two relative unknowns who have been integral parts of the Angels' resurgence this year. Shoemaker is a 27-year-old rookie who went undrafted out of Eastern Michigan University, then posted a 5.38 ERA across five seasons at Triple-A Salt Lake City. He throws in the mid-90s, has a good four-pitch mix, and has struck out 102 in 103 innings this year while walking fewer than 5 percent of the batters he's faced. He has a 3.56 ERA despite having played disproportionately against the best division in baseball. At this point, he's essentially Bartolo Colon if Colon threw 4 miles per hour faster and could still strike out hitters. Santiago was acquired from the White Sox in the three-team trade that jettisoned Mark Trumbo and brought back Skaggs from the Diamondbacks. His performance this year has also been legit, striking out 88 batters in 101 innings. His control is spotty, but it's hard to see how the 26-year-old lefty isn't just as good as Colon at this point, while providing a lot more reliability through the end of the year.
Then there is Colon himself. A 41-year-old pitcher, regardless of his recent history, is an unpredictable pitcher. Colon's effectiveness in New York this year has been helped by how friendly Citi Field is to pitchers. Of course, were Colon to shift to California, he'd see his homers reduced even more so than at Citi given Angels Stadium's own pitcher-friendly ways, but he also wouldn't get to face opposing pitchers 11 percent of the time either. His average fastball velocity has dropped below 89 mph, and (in admittedly very limited exposure) has been extremely uneven against AL clubs. His ERA+ for the year is just 92. He also is under contract for another $11 million next year, when his velocity will presumably be down yet again. In fact, it's not even clear that Colon would make the postseason rotation over Santiago or Wilson if the Angels needed a fourth starter.
On the other hand, Wade LeBlanc clearly has to go. The Angels originally signed him in November, but waived him in early June, and he was scooped up by the Yankees. Released, he made his way back like that ugly stray cat you left milk out for one time. In the last 50 years, among pitchers with at least 400 innings, LeBlanc is tied with the 30th worst ERA+. While his minor league numbers don't stink (they're actually much better than Shoemaker's, for instance), he simply has not translated that into major league success, and at 29 has run out of time to do that. So, yes, Bartolo Colon would improve the Angels if he bumped out Wade LeBlanc, but so would Scott Feldman. So would almost literally anyone. Even Scott Baker might be more useful than Wade LeBlanc at this point. The mandate that Wade LeBlanc needs to go does not also mandate that the Angels acquire Bartolo Colon if there's a similar, cheaper option available.
Kershaw compared to the greatest pitchers ever
Kershaw's 2014 is incredible, as are his last few years, but how does that stack up against the all-time greats' best work?
The Angels are already on the hook for in excess of $120 million in salaries in 2015, and that's for just nine players. It doesn't take into account Huston Street's team option or the raises earned by Richards, Santiago, Hank Conger, David Freese, Kevin Jepsen and Fernando Salas. Los Angeles Times beat writer Mike Digiovanna calculates that they project to be north of $170 million, and would desperately like to stay under the $189 million luxury tax limit. The truth of the matter is that the Angels could not afford to take the risk that the perpetually cash-poor Mets would simply dump Colon on them with no salary relief. Yes, the Angels could turn around and try to unload Colon and at least part of his salary before the start of next year, but that is a big bet to put on the market's interest in a 42-year-old pitcher with questionable conditioning and a fastball that can't crack 90.
It's easy for us, as outsiders, to say "flags fly forever" and "it's only $11 million." General managers, particularly ones who have been embattled like Jerry Dipoto, can't afford to be so cavalier with their bosses' money. Dipoto can't, or at least shouldn't, compromise his club for next year in the process. Yes, Colon probably can help them right now to get into the postseason, and may even help them once they get there, depending on what happens with C.J. Wilson going forward. DiPoto took a calculated risk that Colon would slip through waivers unclaimed and was proven right. Now he can work out a deal that protects his team on the field and in the wallet.