Although he came up short in the American League Cy Young race, Gerrit Cole is in line to be the highest-paid pitcher in the MLB history, which is well deserved. After all, with a 2.48 xFIP and 13.82 K/9 this season, the 29-year-old had one of the best seasons for a pitcher in recent memory, and would be a massive addition for any team. However, even when he was still a member of the Astros, Cole’s free agency always appeared to be unique- he’s always seem destined to return home to Southern California to pitch for the Angels. It’s obviously not a “sure-thing”, but several reports suggest Cole is likely to pitch in Anaheim next season, which would be a major step forward in building a contender around the best player in baseball, Mike Trout. However, although Cole would be a terrific signing for the Angels, he won’t be their savior- the Angels aren’t one player away from competing for the World Series, or even the playoffs.
As mentioned, Cole is probably the best pitcher in baseball right now, and would be a huge upgrade in any rotation. Still, no team could use him more than the Angels, who had just one pitcher (Trevor Cahill) eclipse 100 innings last season. In total, the team ranked 22th in xFIP (4.80) and 29th in WAR, and that’s including openers, which they used frequently last season. Therefore, an ace like Cole is a necessity, but even then, he won’t fix all of the group’s problems. Right now, only Andrew Heaney, Shohei Ohtani, Felix Pena, and Griffin Canning could be reasonable options in their six-man rotation (due to Ohtani), and Heaney’s 4.18 xFIP last season was the best of the group. In other words, they need depth in addition to Cole. Do they need to spend a lot of money on Stephen Strasburg or Zack Wheeler? Not at all. However, starting pitchers such as Kyle Gibson, Michael Pineda, and Alex Wood should all be available at very affordable costs (potentially one-year contracts), and would provide Los Angeles with the middle-of-the-rotation stability they need- Cole and at least one of those pitchers is a much better answer to finally addressing the starting pitching woes then simply just signing Cole; this was one of the worst rotations in the MLB last season for a reason.
Additionally, the Angels also have holes in their lineup and bullpen. Although they had one of the league’s lowest strikeout rates (20.4%), they also ranked just 16th in WAR (20.8), and that’s with Trout accounting for 8.6 WAR- there’s little depth behind him. Sure, outfielder Justin Upton should bounce back offensively and top prospect Jo Adell could round out the outfield, but at the same time, Upton’s defense is a disaster (-13 drs), and Adell isn’t guaranteed to produce. Furthermore, infielders David Fletcher, Andrelton Simmons, and Tommy La Stella are solid contributors, but Fletcher and Simmons are more known for their defense, and La Stella will have to prove his All-Star berth last season wasn’t a fluke. And that’s without looking at some of their major holes, which include catcher (-0.6 WAR, 27th) and first base/designated hitter (-0.9 WAR, 27th). With Yasmani Grandal and Travis d’Arnuad already off the market, Robinson Chirinos and Jason Castro need to be the team’s priorities in free agency- both probably won’t receive more than one-year contracts. Plus, rather than relying on Albert Pujols, who’s had a negative WAR over the past three seasons, to complement Ohtani’s limited plate appearances, the team also needs to add some extra power; Eric Thames, Todd Frazier, and Justin Smoak all make sense. Ditto for the bullpen, which ranked just 19th with a 4.66 xFIP. Hansel Robles, Ty Buttrey, Cam Bedrosian, Noe Ramirez, and Taylor Cole are all consistent relievers, but none of them can be truly trusted in high-leverage, and although I’m not advising they spend too much improving the back-end of the bullpen, they need to at least add 1-2 more relievers; Pedro Strop, Robbie Erlin, Drew Pomeranz, Craig Stammen are all practical targets, as are Brandon Morrow and Dellin Betances if they’re willing to take the risk on their injury history.
To sum it up, the Angels still need to add 1-2 starting pitchers, 1-2 relievers, a catcher, a power bat, and that’s without including Cole. After all, there’s no guarantee that the 29-year-old signs with them, especially with the Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies, Rangers, and Padres likely to make strong pushes to sign him. Therefore, Los Angeles needs to make certain that they fill those needs in correlation to trying to sign Cole, as coming away with nothing would be disastrous.
If Cole gets the $35 million from the Angels that he’s reportingly seeking, a reasonable question must be asked- can Los Angeles afford that. After all, Trout is making $36 million for the next 10 years (a great deal), Pujols is slated to make $29 million, and Upton will earn $21 million. That’s a lot of money for three players – Simmons will make $15 million and injured infielder Zack Cozart will be paid $13 million as well – so if they were to sign Cole, filling those needs that were previously mentioned may be impossible. Therefore, general manager Billy Eppler needs to find steals on the waiver wire (that may be how to add to the bullpen), as well as wait out the free agency market for premier value, similar to how small-market teams like the Rays and A’s fill out their roster. It’s not “flashy”, but that’s the price of paying top dollar to a lot of underperforming players, as well as Cole and Trout. So, although I’m not advocating against signing Cole – the chance to add of a player of his caliber needs to be taken advantage of – it does come with some added difficulty to fixing a very troubled roster.
The Angels, as well as many other teams, shouldn’t think twice about signing Gerrit Cole, who has a case as one of the top free-agent starting pitchers in MLB history. However, outside of having the best player in the MLB, there’s not a lot else to get excited about. Therefore, even if they sign Cole, they cannot expect him and new manager Joe Maddon be their saviors- they cannot control how the rest of the rotation fares, and the same can be said about the lineup and bullpen (though Maddon has some control over that). The thought of pairing the best player in the MLB with the best pitcher is very enticing, but don’t expect Cole and Trout to singlehandedly carry the Angels to the playoffs. After all, baseball is a team sport, and this is not a well-rounded team as currently constructed.