J.A. Happ will probably be a better pitcher than Nathan Eovaldi in 2019, but the Angels should still go with the volatile righty over the veteran southpaw.
The Angels finished 23 games behind the Houston Astros in the AL West last season. Part of Los Angeles’ struggles to keep the pace came down to the struggles of their starting pitchers. As such, it’s no surprise that the Angels front office is shopping for a big name starting pitcher in free agency.
Specifically, the Angels have reportedly zeroed in on Nathan Eovaldi and J.A. Happ as high priority targets. There’s no indication where the team stands with both talented starters, but they should have the financial power to make competitive offers to one or both hurlers. The natural question becomes which guy they should spend their time and attention on moving forward.
There’s little question that Happ is the safer of the two options. He doesn’t have a significant injury history and he was excellent down the stretch for the Yankees last season. He went 17-6 with an ERA of just 3.65 for both Toronto and New York. That was good enough to earn a WAR of 3.4 on the season. Clearly, that type of performance would provide a huge boost for the Angels’ rotation.
The trouble with Happ is that he’s already 36-years-old. That makes giving him a two or three-year contract a risky investment. In fact, there’s a significant chance that Happ won’t be a quality pitcher by the time the Angels are realistically in a position to contend again.
Eovaldi does have a significant history of arm injuries, but he looks to be fully recovered from the Tommy John procedure that caused the Yankees to let him go several seasons ago. The Red Sox certainly felt comfortable enough with his medicals to push him to the limit during their run to a World Series Championship last year.
Eovaldi wasn’t quite as good as Happ during the regular season though. He threw 111 innings for Tampa Bay and Boston with an ERA of 3.81. The more important number to consider when comparing he and Happ is 28 though. That’s how old Eovaldi is. Assuming he can stay healthy, he can sign a four or five-year deal and comfortably be expected to produce quality results throughout the entire length of the contract.
The key for the Angels this winter is to make moves that can help prepare them to compete for AL West titles for the next several seasons. Happ could help them a lot in 2019, but there are serious questions about how good he’ll be in 2020 and beyond. That should be enough to steer Los Angeles’ front office towards Eovaldi. His injury concerns are a risk, but he’s got a better chance to help the Angels close the gap on the Astros than Happ. That’s why he should be the team’s No. 1 target this winter.