By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer -
In a period of two weeks the Angels received detrimental injury news regarding three core members of the team: Starting pitchers Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney and shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
All three injuries are already having a serious impact on the current season but the pitching injuries are the most consequential not only for this year but potentially for the 2017 season and beyond as well.
Both Richards and Heaney have opted to try stem cell therapy in an attempt to regenerate the respective tears in their ulnar collateral ligaments in the elbows of their throwing arms.
Stem cell therapy has a limited history in sports medicine and the effectivity and success rates appear to be based on the magnitude of the ligament damage, the location of the damage on the UCL, the ability of the injected stem cells to coalesce around the impacted region, and the patient’s natural ability to heal.
Additionally there are no formal peer-reviewed medical studies on stem cell therapy and treatment in acknowledged medical journals; only second-hand confirmation from specific medical doctors in the field. If you want more information, Alden Gonzalez wrote a nice, concise article on it Thursday.
Andrew Heaney, who appears to have less ligament damage than Richards, received his stem cell treatment in his left elbow approximately two weeks ago. His prognosis will probably be determined sometime in the next 4-6 weeks once the therapy has had time to progress
The degree and severity of Richards tear is unknown and he will have to wait about 6-8 weeks to allow the stem cell therapy to run its course and a medical determination will be made at that time.
Realistically the odds are high that both will require Tommy John surgery and with the normal recovery time of 12 or more months that means there is a strong chance that we won’t see either of them pitch again until late 2017 or the 2018 season.
More importantly the success rate for Tommy John surgery is roughly 80%-87% based on what medical literature you cite. This means that the chance of both Richards and Heaney returning to the Angels rotation healthy and ready to pitch is about 64%-75%.
The odds of one of either Richards or Heaney returning healthy and ready to pitch is approximately 22%-32%. The nightmare scenario where both don’t return has about a 3%-4% chance of happening.
Both of these young men were supposed to be a major component in the frontline of our rotation over the next three years and now that plan has potentially been laid to waste in one fell swoop.
On top of that bad news our prized defensive shortstop Andrelton Simmons tore the ulnar collateral ligament of his left thumb and will miss approximately 6-8 weeks. The location (not his elbow thankfully) of the injury is the primary determinant for the faster recovery time but two months is significant.
Finally other players, such as Geovany Soto, Cory Rasmus, Cliff Pennington, and Daniel Nava, have also suffered various injuries preventing them from playing for an extended period of time.
It just hasn’t been the Angels year to date.
These injuries, combined with less-than-stellar results from other key members of the team, have left the Angels with a 21-26 win-loss record. FanGraphs is currently projecting the team to finish with a 76-86 record based on actual and predicted run differentials.
This will not get the job done.
To be fair there is still a lot of baseball left to play. The Angels have won 7 of their last 12 games and are showing some signs of life at the plate and in the field. The season isn’t over and all it takes is a good run from now until the end of June to revitalize our place in the standings.
However if the Angels enter early July and haven’t made significant headway in the A.L. West division standings Arte Moreno, Billy Eppler, and Mike Scioscia will be forced to think about the future. By that time they should also know if Richards and Heaney will elect Tommy John surgery.
So if you’re Billy Eppler you have short and long term issues with the Mike Trout control clock ticking in the background.
With no clear avenue to compete effectively in 2016 there is no point in keeping players who are in the last year of their contracts or arbitration control. This includes players like Geovany Soto, C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver, Joe Smith, Jhoulys Chacin, Tim Lincecum, and Fernando Salas.
Additionally if both Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney elect Tommy John surgery they will not likely return until mid-to-late 2017 and may not reach full effectiveness until the 2018 season. Losing the top two starting pitchers in your rotation through late 2017 will have a significant impact on the Angels ability to compete next year as well.
This means that any player who is controlled via contract or arbitration, through 2017, should also be considered in trade deadline talks based on future team composition needs. This includes players like Hector Santiago, Yunel Escobar, Daniel Nava, Cliff Pennington, Al Alburquerque, and Craig Gentry.
A case can also be made that an asset such as Huston Street, who is contractually controlled through 2018, could be moved in trade as well. Certainly Street could potentially help a 2018 squad but between the money owed to him contractually and the potential for an arm injury, between now and then, the financial and physical risks seem too high to consider keeping him.
Based on the discussion above and assuming the team is out of contention and Richards and Heaney go under the knife it is very likely that C.J. Wilson, Geovany Soto, Joe Smith, Fernando Salas, Jhoulys Chacin, and Tim Lincecum will be traded. Weaver has a no-trade clause, and low value, so he is much less likely to be moved.
Additionally don’t be surprised if Hector Santiago, Yunel Escobar (high value), Huston Street (good closers have high value right now), Daniel Nava, Cliff Pennington, Al Alburquerque, and Craig Gentry are also moved for players, prospects, or cash considerations (the last four don’t have much value).
To be clear not all of these players will be traded. The upcoming free agent class is very poor and it might be in the Angels best interests to retain certain players rather than signing from the pool of slim pickings. Pitching, in particular, will be scarce so keeping someone like Hector Santiago might be more prudent for 2017.
However, the most value will come back by trading one or more of Santiago, Street, and Escobar due to their extra years of control. More return value can be created by packaging two or more of the above listed players up in a larger deal such as Santiago and Salas for instance.
Just as importantly, replacements for these trade assets are available. Kaleb Cowart and Kyle Kubitza could both replace Escobar. Cam Bedrosian and Mike Morin could replace both Street and Smith, respectively. Nate Smith could replace Hector Santiago. All of those players could spend the remainder of 2016 getting valuable MLB playing time if a hole opens up.
No matter whom the Angels trade, Billy Eppler should focus on obtaining a high quality starting pitching prospect, a quality 2B prospect, and, if there is any trade ammo left, a quality LF prospect. Basically we need quality AA, AAA, or MLB prospects and players at those positions with long-term control (4+ years).
So, again, if the Angels are not at least within striking distance of first place or a wild card spot by early July they should sell off any and all assets as necessary with the goal of retooling, not rebuilding, and bringing in near-ready or ready MLB prospects and players towards reentering a window of contention in 2018 and extending through Trout’s last controllable year in 2020 if the Angels cannot extend him.
Retooling for 2018 makes the greatest logical sense if the Angels can’t significantly improve their performance by the end of June.