By Chad Stewart
Seeking improvement to their league-worst farm system as well as their chance to contend sooner rather than later, the Angels made two moves at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. They dealt reliever Joe Smith, whose contract is up at the end of this year, to the Cubs and fan-favorite left-hander Hector Santiago to the Twins.
The return for Smith was about what was to be expected for a right-hander reliever with an expiring contract who is having a rough season but has a pedigree for success in high-leverage situations. For Smith, the Angels received a 20-year-old pitching prospect currently in Low-A named Jesus Castillo. Castillo was not even ranked in the Cubs’ top-30 prospect list by Baseball America, but I still think it was a fair return for two months of Smith.
The second trade the Angels made at the deadline saw them send Santiago along with minor league Alan Busenitz to Minnesota in exchange for veteran starter Ricky Nolasco and one-time top prospect Alex Meyer.
Nolasco is 33 years old and owns a career 4.58 earned-run average. Both Santiago and Nolasco are controlled through 2017, and the Twins are paying the difference in salary for both this year and next, so the Angels won’t be taking on any extra money. He also prevents the Angels from having to dip into the very weak free-agent starting pitching market this coming offseason. Santiago is certainly more valuable than Nolasco, but the Angels had to hand over Santiago in order to get the pitcher they were really interested in: Alex Meyer.
As recently as 2015, Baseball America ranked Meyer the 62nd-best prospect in baseball. His stock has since fallen dramatically due to injuries and control issues, but the potential still remains. Meyer is currently recovering from a shoulder injury, but he could impact the big league team as soon as this September and should be a part of the Angels’ rotation next year.
That is if everything goes according to plan. The Angels are banking on Meyer taking advantage of his 6-foot-9 frame and blistering fastball that led to him being such a highly touted prospect. But Meyer is already 26 years old — just two years younger than Santiago — and has yet to establish himself in the major leagues (he’s allowed 10 runs in 6 1/3 Major League innings). He has shown improvement in 17 1/3 Triple-A innings this year, however, posting a 1.04 ERA while striking out nearly 10 batters per-nine-innings and walking about two.
Despite Meyer’s high ceiling, the return for Santiago seems shockingly low. Santiago is no ace, but his 3.68 career ERA is useful and could have helped bolster a contender’s rotation not only this year but next. I find it hard to believe that a mid-rotation starter controlled through 2017 and a mid-tier pitching prospect couldn’t have fetched more than a mediocre starter and a high-risk prospect.
Of the players traded at the deadline, Wade Miley is perhaps the most comparable to Santiago, though Santiago is slightly better. Miley is a 29-year-old left-handed starter controlled through 2018 and has a career 4.07 ERA and a 4.98 ERA in 2016. The Mariners traded Miley to Baltimore for a 27-year-old pitching prospect who, among prospects dealt at the deadline, FanGraphs actually rated slightly higher than Meyer.
The fact is: Meyer is about as “high-risk, high-reward” as a prospect can be, so only time will tell if this trade was a steal or a complete bust.
In one sense, it is nice to see the Angels begin taking more risks when it comes to prospects than they did in the past, but I can’t help but think that Santiago’s talents could have garnered more than what the Angels received, especially considering how few reliable starters were available on the trade market.