The Los Angeles Angels have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2014. A lack of reliable starting pitching is what stands in their way. And acquiring Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Robbie Ray would make sense, from a multitude of standpoints.
Currently 55-52, the Angels are five games behind the Oakland Athletics for the second American League Wild Card seeding. The Angels being in the playoff mix, along with them giving Mike Trout a $430 million extension back in March, should lead general manager Billy Eppler to buy at the Major League Baseball trade deadline.
While it has been noted on several occasions that Ray could be on the move, his potential departure won’t send shock waves across the sport, which is understandable; he’s not a household name. But since when does attention and/or being a big name have anything to do with reliability and making a profound impact?
When you look at Ray’s 2019 figures, they likely don’t move the needle. He currently sports a 3.91 ERA and 1.30 WHIP and recorded a 3.93 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 2018. Ray is also on pace to surrender a career high in home runs and walks this season. These aren’t ideal circumstances for someone the Angels would be acquiring to be their ace, but they have to look at the big picture: Ray’s a proven and reliable top-of-the-rotation pitcher.
He heavily relies on three pitches, that being his four seamer, slider, and curveball. He has consistent control of those offerings, and, when healthy, has been able to execute them at a high level. In 2016 and 2017, the left-hander totaled 218 strikeouts and did so in the latter season making just 28 starts.
Now, you could say that injuries are a pivotal factor in any team’s potential pursuit of him. Ray has made 30-plus starts just once in his MLB career. But this season he has been fully healthy. He’s not missing starts due to injury and is on pace to total 200-plus strikeouts for the third time in his career (Ray has tallied 173 strikeouts this season).
An underrated aspect of Ray’s performance is his ability to pitch deep into games, regardless of circumstance. In 12 of the 23 starts he has made, Ray has pitched through at least the sixth inning. Out of those 12 starts, 11 have come since June.
He’s performing like the pitcher the D-Backs are accustomed to, and as they decide whether to be buyers or sellers, Ray’s recent success could draw a nice return from a team in need of pitching. And boy, do the Angels need it. A trade package centered around prospects Brandon Marsh and Patrick Sandoval should be able to get a deal done.
The Angels made an effort to efficiently improve their pitching staff in the offseason by agreeing to one-year deals with starters Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey and closer Cody Allen. All three have panned out to be regrettable transactions.
Cahill has split time in the rotation and out of the bullpen (21 appearances, 11 starts) and struggled mightily. He owns a 6.50 ERA and 1.45 WHIP and is on pace to surrender a career high in home runs since his rookie season. Harvey made 12 starts for the Angels, recording a 7.09 ERA and 1.54 WHIP, before being designated for assignment. Allen was also designated for assignment in June after sporting a 6.26 ERA and struggling to get outs in the ninth inning.
While there’s plenty of room for growth, Griffin Canning has disappointed in his rookie season. Currently owning a 5.15 ERA, he has been roughed up in the 15 appearances he has made, 14 of which have been starts. Jaime Barria, who looked poised to blossom into a potent force for the Angels last season, began the regular season in Triple A, has made just nine appearances at the big-league level, and been unable to get into a rhythm.
Andrew Heaney has dealt with shoulder inflammation this season, and in the nine starts he has made, the left-hander owns a 5.09 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. In the eight starts he has made, Jose Suarez has recorded a 5.35 ERA. To add fuel to the fire, the Angles have toyed with other starters who have, for the most part, amounted to the same fate and, in some cases, been worse.
The Angels’ pitching crisis isn’t going to be resolved internally. They don’t have an ace, or someone remotely close to reaching such an echelon. What they do have is a potent offense, which includes Trout, Pujols, Shohei Ohtani, Kole Calhoun, Andrelton Simmons, and, when healthy, Justin Upton and Tommy La Stella. For the Angels to be three games above .500 with this pitching staff is remarkable.
At the end of the day, the Angels aren’t a free agent hotspot; they have to make themselves one, and it starts by making a severely impactful trade.
Of course, the Angels extended Trout to a record-setting contract to retain the sport’s best player, but doing so also means they have to make a continued effort to win. That means making big-boy moves on both the trade and free agent market.
Ray’s not going to put the Angels back on the map. But face and/or name-recognition doesn’t reflect wins. The southpaw would be the Angels best starting pitcher from the get-go, enhance their chances of making the playoffs, and maybe even get them one step closer to being an attractive landing spot for top-tier free agents.
Ray is under contract through 2020. A team in the playoff hunt making bold moves — which acquiring Ray would be doing — to improve their roster with an already sturdy positional foundation wouldn’t be attractive to free agents?
Ray’s presence would benefit the Angels as they make a playoff push and look to build a contender in the long haul.