Every offseason, the story out of Anaheim is that the Los Angeles Angels need more pitching. This year more than ever, though, the front office legitimately seems committed to making that happen.
The main reason for this is that the Angels have a real argument to make that they are simply two frontline starters away from being contenders. With an already elite offense and a good start to their rotation in Shohei Ohtani, Patrick Sandoval, and Jose Suarez, they might just be a few arms away.
The 2021-22 free agent starting pitcher class is nothing special, but it does provide a few top tier names worthy of taking a look at. Here, we’ll rank the five free agent starting pitchers that would make the most sense for the Angels to target. Realistically though, L.A. should leave no stone unturned beyond these five names.
No. 5: Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
In terms of pure talent, Noah Syndergaard might be one of the best pitchers on the market this winter. However, no one comes with more question marks. Once a bonafide ace, the 29-year old starter has fallen victim to the injury bug.
Between the 2020 and 2021 season, he made just two starts and pitched a total of two innings. However, in 2019 he pitched 197.2 innings with a 4.28 ERA. And in his other three full seasons — 2015, 2016, and 2018, he held ERAs of 3.24, 2.60, and 3.03 respectively.
There’s an argument to be made that he’s worth the injury risk and is absolutely a frontline starter if he stays healthy. If there was no concerns regarding his availability, he would be No. 1 or No. 2 on this list.
No. 4: Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
Another Tommy John recipient like Syndergaard, Justin Verlander never had a problem staying healthy before now. This is what puts him ahead of the Mets starter. Despite his advanced age, Verlander remains one of the best pitchers in baseball, winning a Cy Young in 2019, his most recent full season.
If Verlander is looking to move on from the Astros after his very successful stint there, the Angels would be a great option. Not only would he provide quality innings as a starter, he could be a remarkable mentor for Sandoval, Suarez, and even Ohtani.
Obviously, Tommy John surgery is nothing to mess around with, but if he can prove his health, he’s worth the risk and the money.
No. 3: Marcus Stroman, New York Mets
The second Mets player on this list, Marcus Stroman is not a typical frontline starter. He likely won’t win a Cy Young anytime soon, but Stroman is simply a good pitcher who generally doesn’t miss time.
Excluding 2020 when Stroman opted out for COVID-related reasons, he has pitched at least 100 innings in six of his seven MLB seasons. The Angels don’t get players like that often, and his 2021 season was perhaps his best.
He held a 3.02 ERA over 179 innings pitched, striking out 158 batters while walking just 44. He definitely got overshadowed by what was shaping up to be a historic season from Jacob DeGrom before injuries, but Stroman is quite a reliable option that plenty of teams should be after this winter.
No. 2: Kevin Gausman, San Francisco Giants
At one point in 2021, Gausman was a legitimate Cy Young candidate. Corbin Burnes eventually took over his spot in that discussion, but the season that the San Francisco Giants starter put up cannot be ignored.
In 192 innings, Gausman put up a 2.81 ERA, 227 strikeouts, a 1.042 WHIP, a 145 ERA+, and a 5.2 WAR. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball this season without a doubt.
Obviously, his prior history as a player indicates that this level of play may not be sustainable, but even 75% of this would be better than most of what the Angels have had in the last handful of seasons. Gausman should undoubtedly be one of the first calls the Angels make when free agency opens up.
No. 1: Max Scherzer, L.A. Dodgers
It’s unclear at this point whether or not Scherzer has any interest in leaving the Dodgers. It’s possible that their playoff success will be a determining factor. But if he’s willing to listen to other offers, the Angels should do anything and everything to get him.
Yes, 2022 will be Scherzer’s age-37 season. But his age-36 season has been spent firmly in the Cy Young discussion. If he won, it would be his fourth such award. Scherzer has been outright dominant with the Dodgers, and he can provide everything we said about Verlander and more.
Excluding the shortened 2020 season, Scherzer has pitched over 100 innings in every year of his career after his rookie season. Durability, talent, and mentorship make it obvious that Scherzer should be the top target for Perry Minasian and the Angels this offseason.