With Anthony Rendon now under contract in Anaheim, our depth charts project Angels position players for 30.0 WAR — fifth-best in the major leagues, and within a half-win of second place. Anaheim pitching, however, is projected for just 13.1 WAR (eighth-worst). No team projected to finish in the top half in WAR is expected to finish with so little of their total coming from their arms (the Twins, who’re projected for 14.9 pitching wins and 45.2 overall, are closest). Given that imbalance, it’s not entirely unexpected that the Angels would spend this latter part of their offseason trying to get arms wherever they can. This week, they got Matt Andriese in a trade with the Diamondbacks in exchange for minor league right-hander Jeremy Beasley.
Andriese, 30, has played in parts of the last five major-league seasons for the Rays and Diamondbacks but has yet to spend a full season at the major league level since making his professional debut in the San Diego system back in 2011. Last year, his first (and, as it turns out, only) season in Arizona, was also his first season pitching exclusively in relief. Andriese acquitted himself adequately in that role, posting an 85 FIP- and 107 ERA- over 70 2/3 innings, mostly ahead of Archie Bradley and Greg Holland. Perhaps most appealingly, he posted a 50.3% groundball rate in a season where the league average was just a touch below 43%.
Despite that success out of the bullpen, MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger reports that Andriese will start spring training in competition for a rotation spot. I can understand why the Angels would prefer that path for their new acquisition. As discussed above, they really need arms, and could in particular use a few starters to line up behind Andrew Heaney, Dylan Bundy, and Shohei Ohtani. They had a few in-house candidates for the back of their rotation before acquiring Andriese, but more competition certainly can’t hurt and probably increases the chance that they get a few hundred solid innings out of those spots in 2020. This is, after all, what spring training is for.
I’m less certain that starting is the best move for Andriese. His (modest) success to date has been driven in part by his ability to keep his HR/9 rate — 1.17 for his relief career — somewhat below league average, which was 1.35 for relievers last year. That advantage disappears as a starter (Andriese has a 1.48 HR/9 rate in that role), for the same reason most pitchers are more effective as relievers than as starters: The limited role allows them to eliminate their weakest pitches (in Andriese’s case, his cutter) and dial up the juice on their entire arsenal. That’s particularly important for Andriese, who doesn’t throw all that fast even at the best of times.
Still, whatever role Andriese ends up taking, he’s likely to end up being a reasonably good return for Jeremy Beasley. Beasley, 24, isn’t a badprospect, it’s just that his upside — which is probably as a fifth starter or swingman out of the ‘pen — is pretty much what Andriese is right now. Eric and Kiley ranked Beasley just outside the Angels’ top 30 prospects this time last year while praising his splitter, but a horrendous start to the year in Triple-A Salt Lake and then a step-back across the board in Double-A Mobile probably took a little bit of shine off of his profile.
Beasley likely won’t pitch in Phoenix in 2020, unless things go much more poorly for the Diamondbacks than they hope, or much better for Beasley, but the change of organization will give him an opportunity to re-set his career and find a path to the major leagues early in 2021 or 2022. Andriese, meanwhile, will take a run at the rotation and then likely settle into a relief role for the remainder of his two years under contract with Anaheim. This is a fine trade for both teams — not that exciting, honestly, but just fine for the first week of January, 2020.
Rian Watt is a contributor to FanGraphs based in Seattle. His work has appeared at Vice, Baseball Prospectus, The Athletic, FiveThirtyEight, and some other places too. By day, he works with communities around the world to end homelessness.