Is Hamels Angels’ missing piece?
You’re Arte Moreno.
You have owned the Los Angeles Angels for nearly a decade. In 2011, the team missed the playoffs for a second straight season. That was a first during your stewardship. Your response? Fire the general manager and a number of his lieutenants.
Your next step was to authorize a $240 million contract for Albert Pujols and $77.5 million more for C.J. Wilson — on the same day.
When it was suggested to you in spring training that the Pujols investment was perhaps not the wisest use of a quarter-billion dollars, you said, “He’s one of the best players in baseball … How many opportunities do you ever get like this? When you get an opportunity, sometimes you just take it.”
Now baseball people are wondering if you want your new general manager, Jerry Dipoto, to trade for Phillies ace Cole Hamels.
Have they not been paying attention?
Obviously, the Angels are trying to win the World Series — and not in an abstract, forward-looking sense. They want to do it now. In one sense, they have a fair chance. The Angels have the second-best record in baseball since April 28, the day Mike Trout made his season debut. If the playoffs started today, they would qualify.
But look a little deeper. The Angels are 5-1/2 games behind Texas in the American League West. While they will have a chance to make up ground directly this weekend (Saturday, MLB on FOX, 4 p.m. ET), the Angels appear much more likely to win a wild card than the division. And that carries a much different meaning under the new collective bargaining agreement.
In years past, the Angels would be in position to face the New York Yankees in a best-of-five division series. They would feel pretty confident about that, given the number of times the Yankees have been upset in the first round over the past decade. Beginning with Jered Weaver against CC Sabathia in Game 1, they would give little or no ground in each pitching matchup.
Now? The Angels’ reward for winning the first wild card might be a one-game playoff against Detroit’s Justin Verlander. (In fact, as of Thursday morning, that’s precisely what they would get.)
Let’s say Weaver beats Verlander, 1-0, in a matchup that rivals Morris vs. Smoltz. Sure, the Angels will get their matchup with the Yankees — but Weaver won’t be available until later in the series. Sabathia would face the Angels’ No. 2 starter, Hiroki Kuroda would match up with their No. 3, and so on.
That’s no way for the Angels to win a championship. Moreno surely knows it.
So, Dipoto is obligated to consider upgrades to the rotation. Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano, who struck out 10 Orioles Wednesday night, is one option. Hamels is an even better one — assuming the Phillies make him available. For now, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is trying to sign the lefty to a contract extension. And so the Angels — and others — must wait.
Even with Hamels, the Angels would have a difficult time passing the Rangers. And he may also spend only two months in Anaheim and sign elsewhere as a free agent — perhaps with a National League club, since he’s spent his entire career in Philadelphia.
But consider the possible benefits: Hamels offers a significant upgrade over the Angels’ No. 5 starter, whether Garrett Richards or Jerome Williams. In Richards and outfielder Peter Bourjos, the Angels have sufficient young talent to get a deal done. And as perilous as the one-game playoff is, a first-round series against New York seems more manageable when considering Weaver and Hamels could account for three of the five starts.
With All-Star C.J. Wilson and a healthy Dan Haren starting the other two games, the Angels would have a pitching edge against the Yankees — or anyone else. (The Rangers, of course, would like to acquire Hamels for the very same reason.)
“Why wouldn’t you want a guy like that in your rotation?” Wilson said Wednesday, when I asked him about the Hamels possibility. “I got a chance to talk with him at the All-Star Game — SoCal lefty to SoCal lefty. I think he’s a cool dude and obviously a great pitcher. His track record is phenomenal. Who wouldn’t want a guy like that?”
On top of that, the Angels would have a reasonable chance to re-sign Hamels. He’s from San Diego, and the team could clear the necessary money by declining 2013 club options on Haren and/or Ervin Santana.
Wilson, of course, is familiar with the unpredictability of free agency. He returned to his native Orange County after coming within a strike of winning the World Series with Texas last year. That wasn’t necessarily what the pundits thought he would do. “You guys,” Wilson noted glibly, “all had me going to the Nationals.”
Wilson said he spoke with Hamels for about 10 minutes in Kansas City about topics that included free agency. They didn’t get into great detail. There is, after all, baseball left to be played in 2012. It would take a bold, expensive move for the lefties to finish the season in the same rotation. Will anyone be surprised if Moreno makes it happen?