Monday’s 5-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants notwithstanding, the Angels have been quietly easing their way back into the heart of the playoff picture in the American League. Their 18-7 record since May 22 ranks second in the majors to the sizzling New York Yankees.
Soon, it might be up to general manager Jerry Dipoto to kick in a little help, assuming he hasn’t already done all he can do by landing closer Ernesto Frieri.
But what do they need and who can they get?
The obvious place to start, of course, is the offense, which, even during a relative hot stretch has shown signs of falling back into a trance. Third base is the easiest fix. Angels third baseman, mostly Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis, have combined to hit .240 with two home runs this season, not exactly erasing the memory of Troy Glaus.
But good luck with that. The most available commodity, the Boston Red Sox's Kevin Youkilis – being dangled around baseball these days, according to reports – is not a fit, according to a source with knowledge of the Angels' thinking.
With Kendrys Morales sometimes squeezed for at-bats and Mark Trumbo being stashed at various positions to keep his bat in the lineup (plus, Vernon Wells' return looming in about six weeks), the Angels aren’t exactly desperate for another lumbering slugger with a questionable glove (especially one who might be in severe decline).
Instead, think arms. Most teams probably will be on the hunt for pitching in the coming weeks and the Angels are no different, believe it or not. They have the best ERA in the American League, so why would they look for help there?
Take a look at Monday’s game, with Jerome Williams unable to get out of the fourth inning. As good as the rotation has been, it’s built on the assumption that it will stay healthy, and that’s a shaky foundation. Behind Garrett Richards, the Angels have virtually no on-hand solutions. Their Triple-A rotation is cobbled together with Four-A types, like Eric Hurley (4.80 ERA) and Trevor Bell (7.56), or pitchers with questionable stuff, such as Matt Shoemaker (5.30 ERA) or Brad Mills (3.76).
What if Williams or Richards hits a bad stretch? Let's hope Williams has no more brushes with the shortness of breath that caused him to be hospitalized late Monday, but what if he is headed for the 15-day disabled list? What if Jered Weaver or Dan Haren, both of whom have had back issues this year, misses an extended period?
The bullpen has similar depth issues. Beyond Frieri and an equally effective left-handed complement, Scott Downs, nobody has stepped up as the lockdown seventh-inning guy. LaTroy Hawkins might become that guy now that he’s healthy. Jordan Walden has a capable arm, but he has tended to struggle in tight situations. Jason Isringhausen has pitched well, but he hasn’t gained Mike Scioscia’s ultimate trust, yet.
Adding one more quality arm could be the final piece to a dominant bullpen puzzle. Look what a couple of well-timed trades did for the Texas Rangers’ bullpen last year.
The problem is that rebuilding teams often look for the very commodity the Angels have traded themselves out of: young pitching. After spreading their talent around both leagues in trades for guys like Haren, Frieri, Callaspo and Chris Iannetta in recent seasons, the Angels simply don’t have much more to give. They do, however, have good young, cost-effective position players with no major foreseeable role this year, including Peter Bourjos and Hank Conger.
Strange as it may seem, the Angels might have to deal from a weakness to fix a strength.