The Garrett Richards Injury and the Mike Trout Question by Dave Cameron May 6, 2016 For the last week or so, the Angels have been pretty vague about what’s going on with Garrett Richards. He missed a start due to “fatigue” and “dehydration”, but they hadn’t given any real indicators that his arm was bothering him. Apparently it was, however, as Jeff Passan dropped this bomb this morning. Source: Angels ace Garrett Richards has torn ulnar collateral ligament and is expected to need Tommy John surgery. https://t.co/wkbiUpTCl0 — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 6, 2016 This is a huge blow to the Angels, not only because Richards is really good, but because the Angels pitching staff without him is atrocious. Here’s what our current depth chart forecast for Anaheim’s starting rotation looks like, with Richards included. #25 Angels Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR Garrett Richards 159.0 8.4 3.2 0.7 .298 72.7 % 3.39 3.41 2.8 Hector Santiago 140.0 8.1 3.5 1.1 .292 74.2 % 3.89 4.29 1.3 Jered Weaver 137.0 5.6 2.5 1.4 .288 70.0 % 4.54 4.84 0.5 Nicholas Tropeano 114.0 8.5 3.3 1.1 .303 71.6 % 4.09 4.03 1.1 Matt Shoemaker 84.0 7.6 2.3 1.2 .298 71.5 % 4.04 4.07 0.9 Andrew Heaney 62.0 7.5 2.6 1.0 .301 72.0 % 3.83 3.91 0.7 C.J. Wilson 40.0 7.6 3.7 0.9 .295 70.8 % 4.06 4.14 0.4 Tyler Skaggs 39.0 8.7 3.2 0.8 .294 73.7 % 3.42 3.60 0.6 Kyle Kendrick 16.0 5.3 2.3 1.2 .292 71.5 % 4.23 4.59 0.1 Total 790.0 7.6 3.0 1.1 .296 72.1 % 3.93 4.08 8.4 Hector Santiago is a FIP-beater, so he’s better than that projected WAR makes him look, but after him, it’s a dumpster fire. And in Passan’s story, he notes that Andrew Heaney may also need Tommy John surgery, so we might be crossing his ~60 innings off that list as well, if his rehab-to-avoid-surgery plan isn’t successful. And Tyler Skaggs just went for an MRI after getting scratched from a Triple-A start last week; the current diagnosis is biceps tendonitis, but it’s an arm problem for a guy with a history of arm problems. At some point in the not too distant future, the Angels rotation could be Santiago-Weaver-Tropeano-Shoemaker-Kendrick, which wouldn’t be good enough to contend even if supported by the offense of the 1927 Yankees. And the 2016 Angels aren’t exactly an offensive behemoth. So far, the Angels offense has rated as one of the 10 worst in baseball. Yes, their 99 wRC+ suggests that their hitters have been average-ish, but they’ve been the worst baserunning club in baseball by a mile, which is one of the reasons they’re only scoring 3.75 runs per game. The team’s offense projects to be okay, primarily thanks to the one superstar hitter they have carrying them up from the depths, but for the Angels to contend in 2016, they were always going to need the run prevention to carry the day. Take Richards out of the picture, and that just becomes unlikely. Our current rest-of-season forecast for the Angels had them finishing at 79-83, but that’s with Richards and Heaney included in the depth charts. Even if the Angels scrounge up some above-replacement-level options to fill the void — Tim Lincecum’s showcase today seems like one obvious answer, and Tom Milone is currently on waivers and could provide some decent innings at the back-end for a team that needs depth — they’re still looking at loss of two or three wins, most likely. And that knocks them down to 76 or 77 wins, so they’d have to get really lucky to beat that number by enough to make a serious run at a playoff spot, even in a mediocre division like the AL West. But the real problem for the Angels might not even be 2016. Contending this season was always a little bit of a long-shot, and it seemed like the team was just biding their time until C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver’s contracts expired this winter, allowing them to reallocate nearly $40 million in dead money to put a better supporting cast around the game’s best player. With Trout, Richards, Kole Calhoun, and Andrelton Simmons as a base, with guys like Santiago, Heaney, and Skaggs around to provide some value, you could imagine a scenario where a couple more good players and could help lift this team back towards contender status next year. This news takes Richards out of the picture — and maybe Heaney too — for 2017, and basically eliminates most of the expected gain from what you’d get by reallocating Weaver and Wilson’s money. And without Richards, it opens up the question to whether the Angels should even bother to bring in more free agents to try and win in the short-term, or whether that’d simply be throwing good money after bad. With a barren farm system and too many holes on the roster, this team doesn’t look like it’s $40 million in well-spent free agent money away from being good again. And that reality prompts the obvious question: is it time to think about trading Mike Trout? You never want to be in a position where you’re potentially thinking about trading one of the greatest players of all time. The Angels should want Mike Trout to retire having worn only their jersey, and go into the Hall of Fame as a lifelong Angel. When you have a +10 win player, you should want to take advantage of his greatness and put a winner around him. But the Angels have tried that, and thanks to some bad decisions that have long-term consequences — the Albert Pujols contract still has another $140 million left after this season — it’s not entirely clear that the team can actually do that. Their farm system isn’t just the worst in baseball; it’s the worst that anyone can remember in some time. If the Angels keep Mike Trout, and just keep trying to surround him with decent free agents while trying to build back up the prospect base, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be a 75 win team for the remainder of his contract, and then they’ll have to convince him to re-sign another contract with a franchise that spent six years failing to provide him with adequate support. Maybe Trout just loves the Angels so much that he’d do that. But wallowing around .500 for a few years for the hope that Trout eventually chooses to pass on joining teams with better rosters and more money for the right to stay with a team that wasted his prime seems like a bad bet. And if they make that bet and then he still leaves, then all they’ll have done is put off the inevitable, while squandering the ability to rebuild the franchise entirely in the meantime. It’s not a decision the Angels want to be faced with, but Richards injury should force them to at least consider the possibility that the best path forward for the franchise is to blow this thing up. Trading Mike Trout would not only bring back an incredible return in young talent — imagine the package the Dodgers could put together — but would also allow the team to admit that it’s time to pivot, focusing on loading up with as many young players as possible, spending big on international free agency and the draft instead of throwing $15 to $20 million at another pitcher at the end of his career who might not be good enough to help anyway. This isn’t a foolproof plan, of course. Teams have traded away superstars to enter rebuilding cycles, only to see the young players they load up on all fail, and have ended up without a present or a future. Trading Trout isn’t so obviously the right move that the team should just take any offer on the table. Maybe Billy Eppler and his staff can figure out how to spend that $40 million effectively this winter, putting a winner around Trout instead of trying to build one without him. But at this point, with 2016 likely another lost year and 2017’s ability to bounce back being put into question as well, it’s time for the Angels to at least start thinking about what a Mike Trout trade would look like. And if the Dodgers or Red Sox want to overwhelm them with a crazy package of young talent, then they should at least have that discussion. The Angels were already on the tipping point, needing some things to go their way in order to justify their continued attempts at contention. Losing Richards is a significant blow not just because of how good he is, but because of how fragile the Angels hopes were. At this point, without their ace, the Angels should also start thinking about what life might look like without Mike Trout.