When news broke late Tuesday from the Winter Meetings in San Diego that Gerrit Cole was headed to the East Coast, two of the local teams reportedly pursuing him faced the sudden prospect of a disastrous offseason.
The Dodgers and the Angels now know they will not have Cole, who signed with the Yankees, at the head of their pitching staffs next year. Neither will they have Stephen Strasburg, who returned to the Nationals earlier this week. They must now search beyond the two best free-agent starters to bolster incomplete rotations.
Of course, the SoCal teams are coming off very different 2019 seasons: The Dodgers reached the playoffs for a seventh straight time, while the Angels missed out for a fifth straight campaign. What they have in common, though, is a lack of World Series crowns in recent years, and a deep desire to rectify that emptiness. Because of a particularly deep starting pitching market this offseason, both clubs can still make significant improvements without Cole in the picture. But Tuesday night's news certainly increases the urgency to acquire reinforcements.
The Dodgers have the clear advantage of an existent pitching core. Walker Buehler is their blossoming ace. Julio Urias and Dustin May are the raw hurlers they expect to lock down rotation spots. Clayton Kershaw, though no longer in his prime, remains an extremely strong member of the unit. Ross Stripling and Kenta Maeda are also in tow, though each could also be used out of the bullpen as they at times have been in the past.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, now a free agent, could return to stabalize the group. But Ryu, effective as he has been for manager Dave Roberts, has not been the piece to propel Los Angeles to World Series success. Bringing him back without another major splash would lack a certain level of satisfaction heading into a pivotal 2020.
For the Angels, a completely barren staff looms after last offseason's signings of Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey flopped. Almost any of the still-available options would provide a lift. But for a team that lost 90 games in 2019, a small boost is not enough.
So who is still out there?
Beyond Ryu, the obvious top choice for both teams is longtime Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has already reported that at least the Dodgers have expressed immediate interest there after missing out on Cole.
Bumgarner, though, has feuded with the Dodgers throughout his career, including a spat with Max Muncy this past season. It's unclear whether Bumgarner could put the historic Giants-Dodgers rivalry behind him. The challenge for the Angels in signing Bumgarner, meanwhile, is their spotty track record of playoff contention — Bumgarner spent the formative years of his career vying for championships, and he might not be willing to risk being on a subpar roster for the remainder of his prime.
#Dodgers will now shift their focus to free-agent left-hander Madison Bumgarner, sources tell The Athletic.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 11, 2019
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Dallas Keuchel, Rick Porcello and Alex Wood remain viable targets as well. After them, there is another steep drop-off in talent.
Keuchel's postseason experience and consistency could entice the Dodgers, as could the familiarity of Alex Wood, who spent more than three years pitching in Los Angeles before being traded to Cincinnati ahead of the 2019 season. Neither Keuchel nor Wood are real needle-movers relative to in-house candidates, but they would presumably be cheaper than Ryu should the Dodgers decide they require a reliable starter without wanting to pay the for someone of the highest caliber.
The Angels, spurned by the market's biggest stars, may opt to nab several of the above names to fill out their rotation. They clearly have the cash on hand to do so. As has been for several years, the pressure is on for them to surround MVP Mike Trout with a worthwhile cast of players.
Both the Dodgers and Angels, despite their stark differences, might be stung by Cole choosing to go to New York rather than his home state of California. But at least for now, each maintain avenues to get better.