By Ross Newhan
Caught between Arte Moreno's mandate to avoid the payroll luxury tax and the organization's unwillingness to lose a draft choice as compensation for signing a veteran and higher priced free agent, Angels general Jerry Dipoto addressed his rotation vacuum by pulling the trigger on his only real option.
He traded his most dependable home run hitter, Mark Trumbo, to Arizona in a three team trade that netted a fourth starting pitcher and (potentially) a fifth.
The acquisition of Hector Santiago, 25, from the Chicago White Sox and Tyler Skaggs, 22, from Arizona at the expense of Trumbo may intensify the gallows spotlight under which both Dipoto and manager Mike Scioscia are now operating, the result of a miserable 2013 and absence of a playoff in Anaheim since '09, but the GM hasn't hesitated, moving quickly to fill a third base vacancy (David Freese), bolster his bullpen (Joe Smith and Fernando Salas) and--with Tuesday's trade--economicaly address gaping holes at the back end of the rotation.
Southpaw Santiago will definitely be there--behind Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards--and southpaw Skaggs might be, but if the moves of a winter programmed to keep the club payroll under $189 million fail to click, the memory of Trumbo and Peter Bourgos is likely to weigh heavily on a fan base not adverse to expressing its opinion.
The home grown Trumbo led the Angels in home runs in each of his three seasons. He hit 34 last season with 100 RBI, and his 95 homers since 2011 are tied for fourth most in the major leagues. However, in 1,718 at bats he has also resembled Adam Dunn or Mark Reynolds, compiling (sort of)an on-base percentage of .299 with 465 strikeouts, including 184 in 2013.
Primarily a first baseman and DH with the Angels, Trumbo will play a nervous left field with Arizona while possibly hitting 40 to 50 home runs given the cozier confines of Chase Field.
The D-Backs were believed to be pursuing free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo before Trumbo became available. In facilitating the latter's acquisition, general manager Kevin Towers sent center fielder Adam Eaton to the White Sox for Santiago, who was then packaged with Skaggs, who alone would not have been enough to get Trumbo.
"I liked the Angels part of it no matter how many home runs Trumbo hits," an American League scout told me. "Santiago can start or relieve, but as a full-time starter he can definitely win in double figures. He has a great changeup that makes his fastball better and he is really just getting his feet on the ground in the big leagues. I also still like Skaggs even though he lost his way some last year when his mechanics broke down and his velocity suffered. The Angels can fix that."
Santiago, 4-9 with a 3.56 ERA and 26 next week, was one of four left handed starters in the Chicago rotation. The Angels would have preferred Chris Sale, but the White Sox wouldn't budge, and Santiago's potential "isn't reflected by the stats," the AL scout said. "This was the first year that he began to start regularly, and I really believe he's going to get better."
Skaggs was a first round draft choice of the Angels in 2009, then traded with Patrick Corbin to Arizona for Dan Haren. Dipoto was the DBacks assistant GM at the time, so he has now traded for Skaggs twice. The former Santa Monica High pitcher rode a shuttle between Reno and Phoenix in 2013, dominating Texas in his first 2013 start with Arizona before ultimately compiling a 5.12 ERA in 38 2/3 innings. If he becomes the No. 5 starter he would be the third left hander (Santiago and Wilson the other two), a potential plus in a division that has welcomed the left handed hitting Prince Fielder and Robinson Cano.
Enthused about the acquisition of two starting pitchers 25 and younger, Dipoto said at the Florida meetings that he retains enough financial flexibility to continue arming his staff.
However, he added, "I have no delusions about the difficulty replacing Trumbo's power."
Clearly, weighing that slack, he is counting on an invigorated Freese, a better acclimated Josh Hamilton, an injury free Albert Pujols and the promise that Kole Calhoun, who will play left field, displayed in 194 at bats at the end of 2013.
He knows his job may depend on it, but in keeping with the holiday spirit, give him credit for aggressively addressing his team's needs amid restrictions in payroll and personnel.