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The Angels have been searching for a rotation ace for years. Every attempt made to lure one in previous offseasons was rebuffed, forcing them to take one-year risks on pitchers who ultimately provided negative value on the mound.
The arrival of a new general manager a few months ago should have signaled a change in the approach to starting pitching acquisitions. Yet, it hasn’t.
With a few weeks remaining until the scheduled start of spring training, the Angels have yet to land a frontline starter. Unless there is a significant philosophical shift, they won’t. And that means the likelihood of signing top free-agent starter Trevor Bauer is practically zero.
The Angels have been mentioned as a suitor for Bauer, last season’s Cy Young Award winner in the National League, all winter. A union makes sense on some levels. He is 29 and coming off a season in which he posted a sterling ERA (1.73) and improved strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate (12.3) while wielding one of the most polished arsenals in the sport. He is a native of Southern California. Bauer would change the complexion of an Angels rotation that ended last year with a 5.52 ERA.
But he's not a great fit in Anaheim, according to people with knowledge of the Angels' thinking, even if the team were to offer him the record-setting annual value (greater than $36 million) he reportedly seeks.
Finances are a factor. The Angels’ payroll in relation to the luxury tax stood at $186.5 million after last week’s addition of starter José Quintana. It is unclear how close owner Arte Moreno is willing to get to the luxury-tax threshold of $210 million but he has never spent more than the $194 million he committed to the 2020 opening-day roster.
Another disconnect between Bauer and the Angels is the coaching staff. Bauer previously worked with current Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway while in Cleveland from 2013 to 2017. They did not get along. Bauer has long taken a progressive approach to pitching; he was an early adopter of such techniques as throwing weighted balls, long-tossing and utilizing cameras to improve pitches. Callaway's style is different. He uses analytics in game planning and instruction but doesn’t overemphasize them. Last year, he said he prefers to use them “to make a little nudge.”
Bauer publicly alluded to tension between them in a Sports Illustrated cover story that ran in 2019.
“I’m going to try to find every single way to do better and I’ve probably researched it more than you have,” Bauer said in reference to a disagreement over pitch usage he had with Callaway. “Don’t tell me what I do and don’t know without some good f—ing data behind it.”
The relationship between Bauer and Callaway is believed to be eroded beyond repair, according to a person with knowledge of Bauer’s current negotiations.
That leaves first-year general manager Perry Minasian shopping in a market similar to the one frequented by predecessor Billy Eppler.
That may not be a hopeless scenario. Minasian still needs to get to know the talent he has. He and his Angels colleagues are encouraged by the potential of youngsters Jaime Barria, Griffin Canning and Patrick Sandoval. They’re confident Dylan Bundy and Andrew Heaney, both of whom are in the final seasons of their contracts, will continue to progress. They’re comfortable giving two-way player Shohei Ohtani an opportunity to pitch like the star he was when healthy in 2018. And Quintana is a proven commodity.
The second-tier group of free agents isn’t limited to woeful options. Here are a handful of pitchers available on the free-agent market:
Starting pitchers on the free-agent market with a wins-above-replacement of at least 1.5 the last two seasons:
Name, RH/LH, AGE, 2019-20 WAR, 2020 full-season salary
Jake Odorizzi, RH, 31, 4.3, $17.8M
James Paxton, LH, 32, 3.8, $12.5M
Rick Porcello, RH, 32, 3.4, $10M
Homer Bailey, RH, 35, 3.0, $5M
Anibal Sanchez, RH, 37, 2.7, $7M
Brett Anderson, LH, 33, 2.6, $5M
Cole Hamels, LH, 37, 2.6, $18M
Mike Fiers, RH, 36, 2.3, $8.1M
Jake Arrieta, RH, 36, 1.6, $20M
Rich Hill, LH, 41, 1.6, $3M
Chase Anderson, RH, 33, 1.1, $8.5M
Mike Leake, RH, 33, 1.0, $15M
Taijuan Walker, RH, 0.7, $2M
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.