The Los Angeles Angels entered Monday with a dismal 47-58 record. While they currently employ the best player in baseball, even Mike Trout’s Herculean efforts have not been able to overcome the injuries, bad contracts, and poor play that have plagued the other 39 guys his team has on the 40-man roster. With 14 1/2 games separating the Angels and the first-place Texas Rangers, their decision to move starter Hector Santiago at the trade deadline made sense.
Nothing else about their trade with the Minnesota Twins did, however. The Twins own the worst record in the American League and sent right-handed pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Alex Meyer to Los Angeles in exchange for Santiago and relief prospect Alan Busenitz, a 25th round draft pick in 2013. The Twins also sent $4 million westward to even out the difference in salaries between Santiago and Nolasco.
This deal is bizarre on all accounts, but at least you can squint and see the benefit for the Angels. They dangled Santiago to multiple suitors leading up to the trade deadline, but presumably, and unsurprisingly, received a tepid response (if any at all). They could have bet on Santiago improving at some point in the next year, but he has never posted a FIP below 4.29 and has only once surpassed 1.0 fWAR in a single season in his career. A breakout season in 2017 looks highly unlikely.
Instead of rolling the dice on a marginal uptick in trade value, the Angels decided to cash-in. Alex Meyer is no longer considered a prospect at age 26, but once had prospect pedigree (he was considered a top-50 prospect in baseball by multiple publications and he topped out at #14 overall on Baseball Prospectus’ 2015 list). However, despite dominating the lower minors and posting a high strikeout rate at Triple-A Rochester in 2014, Meyer never got much of a chance in Minnesota. He has made just four major league appearances over the last two seasons, though he has been sidelined with shoulder issues for most of 2016.
Meyer should get a long look in Anaheim, where the Angels are starved for depth of any kind. Their rotation is currently in shambles thanks to multiple elbow injuries, and there will be spots up for grabs in 2017 when Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are (mercifully) no longer around. Meyer has the build and fastball to be a solid rotation piece or back-end reliever if everything clicks, and is closer to fulfilling that potential than anyone else they could have procured by dealing Santiago. Nolasco is a throw-in to make the salaries match, but a healthy throw-in nevertheless; Angels fans will gaze upon his intact ligaments and smile (until he starts pitching, that is).
But the Twins? I don’t know, man. Santiago has a history of outperforming his peripherals, but is currently mired in his worst major league season and has just one year of club control remaining before he hits free agency following the 2017 season.
The best case scenario for the Twins at this point is a bounce-back season in which Santiago produces 2-3 WAR, generates whatever free agent compensation comes with MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement, and maybe contributes to an improbable run to the playoffs along the way. It’s also possibly (though not probably by any means) he has a great start to 2017 and is dealt before the deadline).
The former probably fits the Twins-mold a little better because the transaction reeks of a Twins team still optimistic about their chances of contending in 2017. Yes, Santiago is an upgrade over Nolasco, but not one that puts the Twins on par with any of the powers that be in the AL Central (it doesn’t put them on par with the middle-powers in the division either). To make this slight improvement at the expense of Meyer — a prospect some believe the Twins mis-managed — seems awfully short-sighted for a team that is staring down its fourth last-place finish since 2011.
Minnesota needs big steps forward from most of their young talent, including Jose Berrios and Byron Buxton, and that still might not be enough to chase down Cleveland, Detroit, or Kansas City atop the division.
The frustrating part is that it could have gone better for Minnesota. Getting the Angels to take on Nolasco’s full salary would have been helpful; it’s not like Los Angeles doesn’t already have a ton of dead money lying around, and $4 million is disproportionally more important to the small market Twins. Getting a younger prospect with higher upside instead of the 25-year-old Busenitz could have paid off in a few years. Twins fans are happy to simply be rid of Nolasco, but this could have gone much differently.
Instead, we’re left with perhaps the most bizarre trade of the deadline, one that has both fanbases — not to mention those of other contending teams who wanted Santiago — a bit puzzled as their teams slog to sub-.500 finishes down the stretch.
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Rob Rogacki is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and the Managing Editor of Bless You Boys, SB Nation's Detroit Tigers community. You can follow him on Twitter at @BYBRob.