Baseball BeatJune 08, 2006
Three and Out?
By Rich Lederer

With a win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays yesterday, Jered Weaver is now 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA. Not a bad start, ehh? A nonpartisan observer might even go so far as to say that he has earned a spot in the Angels' starting rotation with his performance thus far. Well, that person might just be wrong. You see, Bartolo Colon is scheduled to start this Sunday after spending nearly two months on the DL. The 2005 Cy Young Award winner's return means one of the members of the current rotation needs to be traded, demoted to the bullpen, or sent down to the minors.

If you were Bill Stoneman or Mike Scioscia, what would you do? Let's take a look at the numbers. The names have been deleted to protect the innocent guilty.

 G   IP      H    R   ER   HR   BB   SO   W-L    ERA   WHIP    H/9   BB/9   K/9    
 3   14.0   23   14   11    3    4    9   0-2   7.07   1.93  14.79   2.57  5.79
11   67.0   77   40   29    7   17   53   5-6   3.90   1.40  10.34   2.28  7.12
12   79.1   59   32   27    8   29   62   4-3   3.06   1.11   6.69   3.29  7.03
12   73.0   67   41   35    6   18   51   5-3   4.32   1.16   8.26   2.22  6.29
12   69.0   85   53   49   15   19   40   3-8   6.39   1.51  11.09   2.48  5.22 
 3   19.1   11    4    4    2    3   17   3-0   1.86   0.72   5.12   1.40  7.91

I'll let you in on a little secret. The pitchers were listed in alphabetical order--Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar, John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Jeff Weaver, and Jered. Remember now, which one would you NOT boot from the rotation? OK, that's what I thought. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't being biased here.

With a small sample size caveat, the younger Weaver is leading the six starters in ERA, WHIP, H/9, BB/9, and K/9. 5-for-5. A clean sweep. Whether Jered is the best starter or not might be debatable. However, what's clear is that he's not the worst starter.

I mean, why would you send Jered back to the minors at this point? Sure, he has options left. But is sending Weaver down what's best for him or the team? No way. Once a pitcher is major-league ready, it makes no sense to yank him back and forth like a yo-yo. Besides, if the name of the game is to win, who gives you a better chance at doing just that than the kid himself?

The team's future lies in the fate of Escobar, Lackey, Santana, and Weaver. Uhh, that's Jered, not Jeff. Escobar recently agreed to a three-year contract extension that secures his services through 2009. Lackey is signed through 2008 with a club option for 2009. Santana is making $350,000 and is under the control of the Angels for at least four more years. Jered is earning a prorated share of the MLB minimum salary of $327,000 in his rookie season.

Unfortunately, Colon's contract isn't tradeable unless, of course, the Angels are willing to eat a large chunk of it over the next 1 1/2 years. If the veteran RHP is healthy, he is an asset. If the big guy's not, well, he becomes a liability faster than you can say one year remaining at fourteen million dollars. The good news is that I don't think Arte Moreno needs to lie awake at night wondering if Bartolo's salary next year is going to jump to $15M with a top three finish in the 2006 Cy Young balloting.

One possible solution not being bandied about is to keep all six pitchers in the rotation. Giving Colon an extra day's rest may not be the worst thing in the world. Skipping Santana on the road from time to time is certainly justifiable given his career splits (9-3, 3.18 at home and 3-5, 7.44 away). Letting Jeff Weaver take an occasional turn could serve to increase his trade value should he return to form. Escobar, Santana, and the older Weaver could even be used in relief in between starts, strengthening a bullpen that tends to become too dependent on Scot Shields and Frankie Rodriguez for long stretches.

There are a lot of decisions that could be made here. Sending Jered back to Salt Lake at this time should not be one of them.


Let's say you keep Jered up and send Jeff to the pen. Who do you send down?

Good question. Romero is clearly the team's worst pitcher. Carrasco and Donnelly are the next most expendable. These three might have some limited trade value to a handful of teams in the hopes of solving interim problems on the cheap. Romero could be sought as a LOOGY, Carrasco as a spot starter, and Donnelly as a setup man. Gregg could be used as trade bait as well.

The Angels could delay the inevitable and go with 12 pitchers for a brief period. This might allow them to buy time to work out a deal for one of the above pitchers or perhaps Jeff Weaver.

Remember, the Angels cut Esteban Yan loose when they brought up Jered. Making another similar decision to clear room for him to stay on the roster and in the rotation might be in order once again.

If you were going to trade one of the starters for a hitter where would you start? It is going to be difficult to get rid of Jeff Weaver and you probably want to keep Santana due to the low cost, so would you be rather trade Lackey or Escobar?

I was thinking they may trade Santana and get a monster bat in return.

I know a good pitcher scheduled to be low paid for 4 years is very valuable, and I think every team knows it too.

I wouldn't be looking to trade Lackey, Escobar or, for that matter, Santana. However, I'd always keep an open mind in the event another team was willing to blow me away with a proposal that made sense from both a talent and financial perspective.

Having a foursome of Lackey, Escobar, Santana, and Weaver through 2009 would allow me to sleep pretty comfortably at night. I'd like to keep such a rotation in tact.

With Vlad tied down through 2008 and a club option for 2009 plus several good-hitting prospects at the AA, AAA, and MLB level, I wouldn't be in too much of a rush to trade one of those starters for another hitter. Absent an increase in payroll, I would rather fill my needs this winter with the $15.5M from the expiration of Alfonzo's and Erstad's contracts.

I don't see an obvious candidate to send down.

The Angels are going to give Colon every chance to earn his high-priced keep. His Cy Young last year ensures that.

Jeff Weaver is on his way back to being a mediocre LAIM (League-Average Innings Muncher). He is NOT a bad pitcher. Based on previous experience, sending him to the bullpen is not a good idea, either.

Santana needs to fix his road/day problems. Given his heroics in last year's ALDS Game 5, the team can hardly justify sending him down, though he has option years and is thus vulnerable.

John Lackey will not be moved, not after the Angels bought out all his arbitration years.

Here's what I think will happen. The Angels will indeed send down Jered Weaver to Salt Lake. (This will likely cause Jeff Heaverlo to be shipped to Arkansas, at least on a temporary basis.) Colon will make a month's worth of starts, get shelled in most or all of them, and his "injury" will recur or a new one will "develop" -- call it an inflamed ERA -- and Little Weaver will get the callup, to the premature delight of Angels fans. (He will continue to post absurd numbers at AAA during this span.)

Weaver will continue to do well for a while, but some time in the latter part of the season, teams will start figuring him out. I use the Yankees at Yankee Stadium as probably the worst case because they like lefties so much there, but you can insert any park with a short rightfield fence and a lineup full of lefty mashers. Having made a turn or so in front of the big league advance scouts, with a good dose of video to help, those flyball outs he generated at Tampa in his last start will go over the fence, and up-up-up goes his previously remarkable ERA. That is, unless he gets a sinking pitch of some sort.