Yes, signing one of the game’s best players, Anthony Rendon, was exciting, but the Los Angeles Angels still need an ace to be a playoff contender; a trade for Cleveland Indians right-hander Mike Clevinger is the next step to contention.
According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, the Angels have talked to the Indians about a potential Clevinger trade this offseason. However, as Morosi notes, the Angels deem the asking price too steep for their liking and are unwilling to trade top outfield prospect Jo Adell.
Clevinger, 29, is an electric, hard-throwing pitcher. His fastball registers in the high 90s, he gets deceiving movement on his slider, and he has a violent, distracting delivery. From a production standpoint, he has been one of the best starting pitchers in the American League over the last three seasons.
From 2017-19 he has recorded an ERA no higher than 3.11, totaled strikeouts at a high rate, and pitched deep into games. This is the type of pitcher you build your rotation around. Clevinger just so happened to be in the same rotation as Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco, so he was a bit overlooked given the track record of his comrades.
Sure, he missed two months with a back injury last season, but Clevinger looked like his stellar self when he returned. He also posted a career-best 1.06 WHIP across the 21 starts he made in 2019.
Clevinger would be the Angels ace from the get-go and is under team control through 2022. He’s worth surrendering a top prospect or two for, especially for a team that has invested $671.5 million in two position players over the last year, that being Trout and Rendon. To put that figure into perspective, the two stars’ combined 2022 salary is roughly equal to the Tampa Bay Rays’ 2019 payroll.
Dishing out $426.5 million (Trout) and $245 million (Rendon) contracts is a sign that the Angels are all in on winning now, yet general manager Billy Eppler and friends want to hold on to top prospects rather than turn them into a much-needed ace.
Reminder: this is a team that hasn’t developed a preeminent starting pitcher since Jered Weaver. The Angels also sported one of the worst starting rotations in Major League Baseball last season, finishing 29th in the sport in ERA (5.64), 27th in strikeouts (640), 18th in opponent batting average (.260), and eighth in home runs surrendered (144). They were also 30th in innings pitched (681.0).
Now, the Angels haven’t been silent on the pitching market this offseason, as they agreed to a one-year deal with Julio Teheran and acquired Dylan Bundy from the Baltimore Orioles. Teheran is a reliable fly-ball pitcher, and Bundy should make 30-plus starts.
At the same time, neither right-hander is an earth-shattering addition; they have their deficiencies. Teheran surrenders a lot of baserunners, and Bundy has struggled to limit damage over the last two seasons.
The Angels might argue their 2020 rotation is set with Teheran, Bundy, Shohei Ohtani, Griffin Canning, and Andrew Heaney. They also have Jaime Barria and Jose Suarez. Is this rotation better with Teheran and Bundy? Yes, but it doesn’t intimidate anybody. Throw Clevinger into that rotation, and it’s a different story; manager Joe Maddon would have a compelling unit at his disposal.
If the Angels acquired Clevinger without trading major-league players, they’d have eight starting pitchers. On the other hand, they could throw in one of their young major-league arms such as Heaney, Barria, or Suarez to entice Cleveland. They likely want a mix of major-league-ready players and minor-league wonders for Clevinger, anyway.
Plus, the Angels have a great deal of outfield depth in their farm system. If they view Adell as a future superstar, the Angels could offer another highly regarded outfielder such as Brandon Marsh or Jordyn Adams with a couple starting pitchers who have pitched in the big leagues.
Let’s also take into account the Angels’ future pitching options.
Next offseason’s crop of free agent starting pitchers will be far less prominent this year’s, which included Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Madison Bumgarner. Sure, Bauer, James Paxton, and Marcus Stroman, who are free agents after 2020, are top-of-the-rotation arms who could help the Angels, but Clevinger is better than all of them.
Rendon’s arrival and Clevinger’s hypothetical arrival wouldn’t ensure anything for the Angels in the AL West.
Even with Cole going to the New York Yankees, the Houston Astros still have a deep pitching staff, as well as a formidable lineup; the Oakland Athletics are coming off back-to-back 97-win seasons; the Texas Rangers bolstered their starting rotation this offseason, adding Kluber, Kyle Gibson, and Jordan Lyles.
There’s zero guarantee that Ohtani thrives as a two-way player; there’s zero guarantee that Canning has a breakout season; Bundy can be a rotation fixture, but he’s not a backbone arm, so to speak.
The Angels have two franchise players, a depth chart that also includes Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton, and Albert Pujols, and a manager with a lengthy resume. The time is now for the Angels, and parting ways with some top prospects for a pitcher of Clevinger’s caliber is worth the price of admission.
They haven’t made the playoffs since 2014. It’s no longer just about winning a championship in Trout’s prime; it’s about winning a championship with Trout and Rendon, two of the game’s best players.
If the time isn’t now for the Angels to trade for a dominant pitcher, when is?