Signing Matt Harvey even to what may prove a single-season rental befuddled no few who watch the Angels closely. Signing Trevor Cahill to what may prove a single-season rental seems to do likewise until you look a little closer. Angel fans hope the pitching-needy team knows what they’re doing and won’t have yet another reasonably-laid plan explode in their faces. Especially when they could have had a couple of
Cahill isn’t trying to overcome even half the baggage Harvey had to start overcoming in Cincinnati last year. Signing Cahill for a year and $9 million with about $1.5 million possible in incentives looks at least as reasonable and with just as small a risk. And, as with Harvey, the Angels couldn’t have been unmotivated by the thought that division-rival Oakland had eyes upon Cahill, this time in terms of bringing him back again.
The Athletics bought low on the veteran righthander for 2018 and he proved valuable enough for their slightly surprising run to the wild card game. The only reason he made only twenty starts worth 110 innings was an Achilles tendon strain that knocked him onto the disabled list in mid-June and kept him there until almost mid-July.
He posted the best fielding-independent pitching rate (ERA minus defense factors) of his career with a better than respectable 3.54, and the best strikeout-to-walk rate (2.44) of his career. And he continued the overall bounceback from a 2016 spell of relief pitching by getting ground balls at a rate almost equal to his career 55 percent.
All that while making seventeen quality starts (three earned runs or fewer) out of his twenty. He came away from the season with a 7-4 won-lost record and eight no-decisions out of the quality starts. Three of those turned into A’s losses; if they could have hung up the key lead runs while he was in the game Cahill’s won-lost record might have ended up at 12-4.
In other words, Cahill at last re-emerged as the decent pitcher who launched his Show career with the A’s in 2009 and whose signature tendency seems to have been working with his defenses to get results and keep them in games. If the A’s might have won the three no-decision losses instead, Cahill might have been 15-4 in 2018; add to that two losses in which he pitched well enough to win and he might have been 17-2.
If the Angels have Harvey as a number-three starter, they likely have Cahill as the fourth man. Both pitchers finished 2018 having shown they can get ground balls and miss bats at reasonable rates. Getting grounders and missing bats are things the Angels love unconditionally.
With Garrett Richards and Shohei Ohtani (as a pitcher) down for the 2019 count thanks to Tommy John surgery they may yet lack a legitimate ace, but there have been teams who’ve gone to the wars and endured in the pennant races with four or five solid pitchers despite no ace. It’s difficult but not impossible.
Still, the Angels could have made more impressive-looking moves. Charlie Morton could have been had for comparable money to Harvey; the now-former Astro signed for two years and $30 million with the Tampa Bay Rays. They went in on Nathan Eovaldi but they, too, couldn’t convince him to say goodbye to the world champion Boston Red Sox. Nor could they convince Patrick Corbin to stay southwest; Corbin went to the Washington Nationals for six years and $140 million, or about $12 million a season more than the Angels will pay Harvey just in 2019.
I get the Angels might have been wary about a six-year commitment to Corbin considering their recent history with multiple-year deals going past two or even three. That’s allowing that those deals’ implosions haven’t really been anyone’s fault. I say again: nobody including Albert Pujols asked his heels and knees to betray him, and nobody including Josh Hamilton asked a) him to incur a substance-abuse relapse that Super Bowl Sunday or b) the Angels’ brass to make such a disgraceful hash out of trying to humiliate Hamilton for it.
The deal for which you can really crucify the Angels in the past decade was Vernon Wells—and it wasn’t even a free agency signing. But it was done purely out of rage; or, purely out of owner Arte Moreno channeling his inner 1980s version of George Steinbrenner, after then-GM Tony Reagins couldn’t convince then-free agent Adrian Beltre to sign up after the 2010 season.
Moreno hit the ceiling hard enough to go through it and almost to the moon. When he came down, he gave Reagins one day to deal for Wells or else. Knowing now-retired manager Mike Scioscia preferred defense-uber-alles catchers, for all the good that did him anyway, Reagins sent big-hitting Mike Napoli to the Toronto Blue Jays, who needed catching help and a big bat, for Wells. Whoops.
Beltre, of course, went on with his just-ended, Hall of Fame-in-waiting career. Napoli went on to contribute mightily to World Series teams in Texas and Cleveland and won a ring while he was at it with the 2013 Boston Red Sox. Wells was a Gary Matthews, Jr.-level bust in Anaheim, so much so that the Angels choked on a lot of money on Wells’s inexplicably backloaded contract to move him to the New York Yankees, where his once-promising career ended in something close enough to a whimper.
The Angels now have a much-improved farm system; last spring it was rated the second-best in the American League West behind the Astros. Want to know how long it took for the Angels to recover the farm? How does eight years strike you?
At the same time Moreno went ballistic over losing out on Beltre and demanded the deal for Wells, the Angels made a sacrificial lamb of their scouting director Eddie Bane. Bane was made to pay for a series of bad drafts and worse free agency signings even though Bane was the lead instigator in the Angels’ landing a kid named Mike Trout.
Bane’s execution followed the Angels gutting most of their international scouting operation, and executing its director Clay Daniels, over bonus skimming shenanigans by underlings who kept Daniels in the dark about their doings. The Angels cashiered the man whose smarts brought them the likes of Francisco Rodriguez (one of the late secret weapons in the Angels’ 2002 world championship run), Ervin Santana, Kendrys Morales, and Erick Aybar in the first place.
It’s forgotten sometimes, too, that the Angels let Corbin escape in the first place. That happened when Reagins (under Moreno’s orders, perhaps?) made the 2010 non-waiver trade deadline deal that practically drained the best of the Angel farm (including then-promising Tyler Skaggs, too) in order to get Dan Haren, who may have led the American League in strikeout-to-walk ratio in his first full Angel season but who gave them 1.7 total wins above replacement-level for his two-and-a-half years with them.
They got Skaggs back in a convoluted three-team deal and Skaggs’s second Angels life has been riddled with injuries, too.
Maybe compared to all that, signing Harvey and Cahill even on a seasonal rental might actually wreak less havoc than the Angels have brought upon themselves in the past decade. Maybe. Might.