The prevalent rumor across Major League Baseball concerning Gerrit Cole is that he’s going to be playing for the Los Angeles Angels in 2020. At the same time, even if they ink the right-hander, the Angels aren’t a playoff team.
Yes, Cole had a captivating 2019 campaign. He recorded a 2.50 ERA and totaled 326 strikeouts in the regular season and dazzled in the Houston Astros’ playoff matchups against the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, and Washington Nationals. He commands an upper 90s fastball, throws a nasty slider, and is an innings eater.
One could argue that Cole was the best pitcher in baseball last season. Naturally, his presence on any pitching staff would instantly bolster that team’s credibility and starting rotation. That logic applies to the Angels, but it wouldn’t propel them from MLB’s cellar to an American League playoff contender.
Last season the Angels sported one of the worst starting rotations in MLB. That aspect of their ballclub was 29th in MLB in ERA (5.64), 27th in strikeouts (640), eighth in home runs surrendered (144), and 18th in opponent batting average (.260) across just 681.0 innings — which was the lightest workload in the sport.
Individually, there’s minimal, if any bright spots in their starting rotation.
Andrew Heaney had a discouraging season, recording a 4.91 ERA across 18 starts last season; Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey panned out to be disastrous signings; Jaime Barria, who was the team’s ace and one of the best young pitchers in baseball a year ago, recorded a 6.42 ERA in the big leagues and spent time in Triple A; Jose Suarez was shaky in his rookie season; Dylan Bundy, who the Angels acquired from the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday, struggled mightily over the last two seasons.
Maybe Griffin Canning, who has been a respectable force in his two seasons in the big leagues, turns a corner in 2020. That’s all folks.
Let’s insert Cole into new manager Joe Maddon‘s starting rotation. He’s instantly their best pitcher and gives them the chance to be victorious every fifth game. Plus, they have the bats to provide their new ace with run support. When you have the likes of Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton, Albert Pujols, and Tommy La Stella in place, you have the offensive firepower to stay in games.
While the Angels are collectively an energetic threat in the batter’s box, they won’t provide the offense that the Houston Astros, a lineup of several All-Star caliber players, did for Cole from 2018-19. We’ll say that Cole’s presence, an improved Canning, and the official departures of Cahill and Harvey (for the entire season) buys the Angels 10 more wins.
That puts them at 82-80, which could warrant a second consecutive fourth-place finish in the AL West.
For the moment at least, the Astros have a well-versed and formidable roster from all aspects of the game; the Oakland Athletics have a budding pitching staff and are coming off back-to-back 97-win seasons; the Texas Rangers (78-84) are in the mix for some of the offseason’s biggest free agents and finished ahead of the Angels (72-90) in 2019.
The Angels should 100 percent be pursuing Cole. Why wouldn’t a team at least ask the contract he and his agent, Scott Boras, are seeking? With that said, it’s baseball: one player doesn’t ensure anything.
The Angels desperately need a pitching overhaul, and having Cole in the fold would be an amazing start. They’d have one of the best position players (Trout) and starting pitchers (Cole) in the sport. It would certainly get more eyeballs on the Halos and people in seats at Angel Stadium.
There’s not a mere contender whose starting rotation is made up of one elite pitcher and four young or subpar arms. Look at the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2016 they signed Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million deal. Sure, it gave them one of the best starters in the sport and an ace, but the D-Backs won just 69 games that season. Case in point: signing one great starting pitcher doesn’t have a trickle-down effect on a pitching staff.
The Angels need more than Cole to compete for the playoffs. Even with Cole Hamels and Zack Wheeler signing with the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, there are plenty of proven and intriguing starting pitchers on the open market.
With the likes of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Julio Teheran, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark, among others still free agents, the Angels have the opportunity to establish a well-rounded starting rotation of proven commodities.
If their offense is healthy, Cole is present, and general manager Billy Eppler can ink two of the aforementioned hurlers, the Angels will have the makings of a playoff team. They have the resources to get it done and the aspirations of their fan base to backup such high-priced spending.
The notion that Cole going West, headlining the Angels rotation, and lifting them to the playoffs is far-fetched. You can’t make the playoffs relying on a single arm, regardless of how dominant Cole can be.