Angels need star pitchers. Can they defy their history and sign any?

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Los Angeles Angels' manager Joe Maddon looks for players on his team in the dugout.
Angels manager Joe Maddon gestures in the dugout before a game against the New York Yankees on Aug. 31. Maddon says better pitching will transform the Angels into winners. (Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

Gerrit Cole appeared fit for a halo. He grew up in Orange County, the Angels desperately needed pitching, and his hometown team threw all the money at him.

Cole spurned the Angels. He signed with the New York Yankees two years ago not only because they threw even more money at him but also, in the words of agent Scott Boras, “that pursuit of those world championships.”

The Seattle Mariners beat the Angels 6-5 on Friday, remaining two games out of what would be their first postseason berth since 2001. If Seattle gets there, no team in the American League will have gone longer without making the playoffs than the Angels.

The Mariners walked Shohei Ohtani four times, including putting him on base as the potential tying run in the ninth inning. The Angels loaded the bases with one out in the ninth but did not score.

Ohtani has 11 walks in his last three games, tying Bryce Harper for the major league record for most walks in a three-game span.

That manager Joe Maddon would say the Angels need to sign two frontline starting pitchers makes sense.

That such pitchers would sign with the Angels might not make as much sense, although Maddon has a sales pitch ready for pitchers who might wonder whether they can win in Anaheim.

“They could be the reason why we win,” Maddon said before Friday’s game. “They would be the reason why we win.”

The Angels are about to clinch their sixth consecutive losing season. The Yankees have had 29 consecutive winning seasons.

The top of the free-agent class this fall includes veteran excellence in such arms as Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke.

Dodgers pitchers Max Scherzer, left, and Clayton Kershaw will both be free agents this offseason.
Dodgers pitchers Max Scherzer, left, and Clayton Kershaw will both be free agents this offseason. Could the Angels land either one? (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Maddon thought back to his previous job, as manager of the Chicago Cubs. By 2016, his second year on the job, the Cubs had assembled a talented core of position players, including Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist.

However, he said, the Cubs would not have won the 2016 World Series had the team not spent $155 million to sign veteran starter Jon Lester before the 2015 season and $32 million to sign veteran starter John Lackey before the 2016 season.

With the Angels, Maddon sees a core of outfielder Mike Trout, designated hitter Shohei Ohtani and third baseman Anthony Rendon, supplemented by first baseman Jared Walsh, second baseman David Fletcher, catcher Max Stassi, outfielders Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh, and perhaps shortstop Luis Rengifo.

Maddon called that core “championship-capable.” To turn it into championship-winning, he said, the Angels need to add top-tier pitching.

“I like this group a lot,” he said. “But, if we don’t do that, it’s almost impossible for it to happen.”

In publicly making his pitch for pitching the other day, Maddon bemoaned another year in which the postseason would go on without the Angels.

Angels starting pitcher José Suarez delivers during the first inning of a 6-5 loss.
Angels starting pitcher José Suarez delivers during the first inning of a 6-5 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Angel Stadium on Friday. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“This organization is better than that,” he said then.

Is it? In 2005, when Maddon left the Angels’ coaching staff to become manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Angels were in the midst of a run in which they won five division championships in six years.

In the decade of the 2010s, the Angels won one division championship and zero playoff games.

“I don’t have those 10 years in my memory bank,” he said.

In the decade of the 2010s, none of the pitchers the Angels drafted pitched even 100 innings in a season for them. Ohtani will be the only Angel to hit 100 innings this season.

Beyond Ohtani, Maddon said, “I think what [Jose] Suarez and [Patrick] Sandoval are showing you right now is legitimate.” That would be three starting pitchers, for a team that primarily used a six-man rotation this season.

Kershaw, who will be 34 next season, is considered likely to remain with the Dodgers. Scherzer, Verlander and Grienke will be 37 or older, an age at which the ability to win in the short term would be a priority.

Could Maddon really sell veteran standouts on the idea that the Angels of 2021 represent an elite franchise?

“I can’t tell them that,” Maddon said. “I can’t actually say that. I can say, ‘You can make us an elite franchise.’

“We need people like that to make us elite. Absolutely. Those are the kinds of arms we need to get us going in the right direction.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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