The Angels were looking for starting pitching, and they were seen as a possible fit for Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello.
That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore.
Wednesday night, the Angels and Mariners completed a trade that sends veteran left-handed starter Jason Vargas to Anaheim for switch-hitting designated hitter Kendry Morales.
Vargas, 29, was 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA and 1.178 WHIP in 2012, but he gave up a career-high 35 home runs — and with the fences about to come in at spacious Safeco Field, clearly the Mariners viewed him as plenty expendable.
With the Angels, Vargas will join a starting rotation that’s led by ace Jered Weaver and left-hander C.J. Wilson, and also includes fellow newcomers Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton. It’s still probably a somewhat-underwhelming top five, especially when the team is now considered a World Series favorite with the signing of slugger Josh Hamilton.
But it’s definitely better than it was 24 hours ago.
As for the Mariners — the major’s worst-hitting team since, oh, when did they come into the league? — they struck out this offseason on Hamilton, and probably didn’t want to go big on Michael Bourn or Nick Swisher. They also have a surplus of pitching, so this is a solid move if Morales (22 homers, 73 RBIs in 2012) can stay healthy.
Now, where does that leave Porcello?
Still definitely on the trade block, for sure — but probably not heading to the Angels for speedy outfielder Peter Bourjos, a deal that had seemed like a solid match. Also, with Morales gone, that means Mark Trumbo is heading to DH, and not to another town.
There still are plenty of other teams interested in Porcello.
The Rangers, who’ve had a miserable offseason, could be one, but might not be willing or able to part with major league-ready talent the Tigers want, considering they’re also in win-now mode. The Padres have to be interested, especially since they’re likely to soon be priced out of the Edwin Jackson sweepstakes (and, yes, there is a sweepstakes!).
But I still say keep an eye on the Pirates and two-time All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan. The Tigers don’t have an established closer, and the Pirates don’t have the desire to pay what Hanrahan, a right-hander, could be looking at in arbitration — as much as $7 million.
The Pirates also need starting pitching, and in Porcello (who’s looking at $4 million-$5 million in arbitration), they’d get a pitcher under club control for three more seasons. That’s a big incentive for a team that’s not a free-agent destination.
Hanrahan, meanwhile, is heading to free-agency after the 2013 season — and that’s actually perfect for a Tigers team that has Bruce Rondon, 21, waiting in the wings.
It’s really low risk for both teams, but especially for the Tigers.
That way, even if Rondon doesn’t pan out this year, the Tigers still would have a solid back end of the bullpen, with Hanrahan, Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit, Al Alburquerque and Phil Coke. And if Rondon were to take over the job, well, then the Tigers will find themselves with some serious bullpen depth, and would be able to shop Hanrahan at the trade deadline to fill other areas of needs, perhaps ones that pops up because of injuries.
After all, closers in recent years are far more valuable commodities at midseason rather then the offseason.