April 19, 2024

Guardians Make Statement By Claiming Three Angels: A Breakdown

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Jul 28, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Lucas Giolito (24) throws a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The misfortune of the Los Angeles Angels was to the Cleveland Guardians’ benefit on Thursday as Cleveland was able to claim and acquire three pitchers that the Angels had placed on waivers earlier this week. Those pitchers were starting pitcher and former All-Star Lucas Giolito as well as relievers Reynaldo Lopez and Matt Moore.

Giolito is a former ace of the Chicago White Sox who posted a sub-3.55 ERA in the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons, good enough for an All-Star appearance in 2019 and Cy Young votes in all three years. He struggled in 2022 before finding his footing in 2023 with Chicago and subsequently being traded to the Angels at the deadline along with Lopez.

 

The Angels Did What?!

And that previous transaction is what makes the Guardians’ ability to claim both Lopez and (especially) Giolito so peculiar. On July 26th, less than a week before Major League Baseball’s trade deadline, the Angels were 7 games out of the American League West race and 4 games out of the final Wildcard spot. Despite that, and with star two-way player Shohei Ohtani‘s impending free agency looming, the Angels decided to buy at the deadline and take their chances competing for the playoffs in 2023 rather than trading Ohtani among others for potential future prospects. On that same day, they would swap young talent to the White Sox in exchange for Giolito and Lopez and formally announce that Ohtani was not available for trade. Just a few days later, they would add first baseman CJ Cron and outfielder Randal Grichuk in a deal with the Colorado Rockies as well.

What transpired over the next month could only be described as a cautionary tale of mammoth proportions. The Angels have gone 12-21 since trading for Giolito and Lopez. Their 4-game deficit in the Wildcard race is now at 11.5 games. Star center-fielder Mike Trout is back on the Injured List. Ohtani has been shut down from pitching due to a torn UCL and could need Tommy John surgery (not to mention he is not likely to return to the ball club next year). High-priced and aloof third baseman Anthony Rendon is injured (again!). So are Cron, young promising shortstop Zach Neto, infielder Gio Urshela, outfielder Taylor Ward and 10 other current Angels I haven’t named.

The Angels cut their losses earlier this week by sending six players to the waiver wire including the trio of pitchers the Guardians claimed as well as Grichuk, outfielder Hunter Renfroe and reliever Dominic Leone. They did so knowing that their playoff hopes were dashed and that Ohtani was likely long gone. They have transitioned from all-in to extreme cost-saving mode in an instant.

What the Guardians Gained

So the general statement of misfortune that I led with might be a bit of an understatement, but at least the Guardians are a benefactor.

While Giolito was solid with the White Sox earlier this year, he was pretty awful in his month or so with the Angels. He had a 6.89 ERA in 6 starts that spanned 32 2/3 innings and allowed 10 homers in those six starts. In coming to Cleveland, he will close out the season with the opportunity to work with one of the finest training staff in relation to pitching in all of baseball. In return, he can eat innings for a rotation that is currently comprised of four rookies and Cal Quantrill, who makes his return to the rotation Friday after his second stint on the IL.

To their credit, Guardians rookie starters have been a godsend this season. Gavin Williams, Tanner Bibee, and Logan T. Allen in particular have been more than the team could ask for, pitching to a 3.33 ERA combined in 55 starts. That ERA would be the best of any starting staff in baseball whether rookie, veteran, or otherwise. However, the Guardians want to be careful with their insanely talented crop of young pitching and have placed innings limits on each hurler, making services like Giolito’s very relevant at the moment. Giolito can be used to eat innings or take starting spots in place of his younger new teammates and still potentially provide a quality performance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2AmQ4IQjJ0

Lopez is a right-handed former starter who has mostly pitched in relief since 2021 and has cemented himself as a fireballer (albeit a slightly wild one) out of the ‘pen. His fastball averages over 98 mph as he pairs it with a sharp slider. He will be added to a bullpen that has been statistically sound in 2023 but has at times pitched poorly in high-leverage situations. The Guardians have struggled to find a consistently stable bridge to closer Emmanuel Clase in 2023 and Lopez could be a huge link in that bridge.

Additionally, Moore adds a left-handed arm to the bullpen that could be incredibly useful due to how the Guardians have had trouble getting dependable left-handed relief pitching throughout the course of the season. Moore is a well-traveled former top prospect who at one point was a top-shelf starter for the Tampa Bay Rays in the early 2010s. Injuries mixed with inconsistency saw him bounce around the league and ultimately to Japan before returning to the States in 2021 after a poor performance with the Phillies that year, he was moved to the bullpen by Texas in 2022 and has been stellar both for the Rangers and Angels in the last two years as a reliever. Acquiring Moore could easily be yet another link in the bridge to Clase and can take some high-leverage pressure off of fellow lefty reliever Sam Hentges.

 

So, What’s The Outlook?

All three pitchers are only signed through this season, which makes the moves even more interesting. The Guardians seem to be pulling an inverse Angels scenario. They traded off veteran shortstop Amed Rosario, 1B/DH Josh Bell and starting pitcher Aaron Civale at the deadline, seeming to be arranging themselves to compete in 2024 as opposed to 2023. In claiming all three Angels pitchers, they seem to be doing an about-face, attempting to give themselves quality starting pitching innings in 2023 from Giolito while not compromising their commitment to protecting their young talent. They have also put together a more competitive bullpen with Lopez and Moore specifically brought in to hold leads in September and October 2023.

Cleveland finds themselves 5 games behind the Twins after taking two of three games from them this week in Minnesota. The two teams will face off again in Cleveland next week. With an identical 64-70 record as the Angels, the LA and Cleveland are two ships crossing paths in the night with the Angels sailing against the stiff wind of injuries and a competitive division while the Guardians enjoy the supportive breeze of a poor division and overachieving pitching.

The elephant in the AL Central room is that by claiming all three pitchers the Guardians effectively blocked the Twins from being able to acquire any of them and improve their ball club as well. It is not known if Minnesota put in any claims or if this was really involved in the Guardians’ motivations to bring in additional talent, but it is certainly at least a welcome byproduct for the Guards.

The Guardians could also be auditioning their superior pitching development apparatus to the trio of Angels over the next month. If the team can make headway in alleviating Giolito’s struggles, perhaps they could convince him to stay off for 2024 on a one-year deal if other teams are scared off by how he has performed recently. Although not a likely scenario, adding Giolito to the 2024 rotation would be a significant boost in itself and could inevitably make someone else in the rotation expendable in exchange for the offensive help Cleveland needs.

 

Yeah! What About the Offense?!

What was conspicuously absent from the Guardians additions was just that… any offense. On a team that really could use additional help at the plate, it is a bit odd that they did not also move to claim Grichuk or Renfroe. Renfroe in particular has the power potential that the Guardians continue to lack in recent memory. It is worth noting that veterans Ramon Laureano and (especially) Kole Calhoun have performed admirably since being added earlier this month. The team also doesn’t seem to be afraid to take at-bats away from their younger players as both Laureano and Calhoun have seen a steady diet of playing time, but the team seems to have prioritized improving its pitching despite having the 23rd-best offense by weighted Runs Created + in baseball.

 

A Low-Risk Vote of Confidence

Ultimately, the additions the Guardians did make are super low-risk. They will pay out just over $3.7 million to the three ballplayers through the end of the season before they hit free agency. They designated catcher Eric Haase and pitcher Peyton Battenfield for assignment in order to create the two 40-man roster spots they needed. The playing roster will expand to 28 men shortly which will allow the team to get everyone eligible to play. More moves to the active roster will be needed down the line when the team intends to activate Josh Naylor, David Fry, or Shane Bieber from the IL, but for now, they should be straight.

In the meantime, the Guardians have taken an interesting and low-risk step to prove that they want to remain competitive in 2023. These moves, coming off a big series win against the division leader could potentially inspire the clubhouse. At the very least, it appears that the front office is signaling that it has that clubhouse’s back and still believes in the competitiveness of what they are building in 2023 and beyond. What the Guardians’ front office really did by making these claims was give the greater roster a vote of confidence.

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