Sources reported earlier this week the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and 36-year-old left-hander Mark Mulder agreed on a minor league contract and an invite to Spring Training. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, Mulder could possibly get a salary of up to $6 million. Reports are he automatically gets $1 million if he makes the team.
Good for Mulder, and good for the Halos for giving him a shot. Granted, it’s definitely an interesting move for a couple of reasons. For one, Mulder hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2008, where he didn’t exactly leave the greatest lasting impression. He had a 48 ERA+ and 3.600 WHIP in 3 games with the St. Louis Cardinals that year. The former AL Cy Young runner-up with the Oakland A’s went belly up after his first season with the Redbirds in 2005. The Cardinals didn’t keep him around and he had injury problems. Other teams followed suit and he was out of the game.
On top of that, it’s definitely intriguing, as a variety of pitchers are still available on the free agent market. Matt Garza, A.J. Burnett, former Angel Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo all are looking for homes for the upcoming season. They also all pitched in the Majors in 2013. Only Burnett and Arroyo are older than Mulder and it just so happens all three pitchers were born in the same year.
That being said, though this move is not without its risks, the signing is hardly a downgrade for the Angels. There’s no guarantee Mulder is going to make the roster, but if he makes it, one should keep in mind the Halos left a lot to be desired with its pitching last season. This is a team that had a 4.23 ERA in 2013, good enough for 24th best out of 30 clubs.
The Angels’ rotation was rather poor. Only Jered Weaver had a WHIP below 1.300. Weaver was one of two starters, along with C.J. Wilson, to have an ERA+ greater than 100. Jason Vargas earned AL Pitcher of the Month honors in May, yet his performance was rather lackluster following that. Pitching is a big reason why this team didn’t meet high expectations and had a pedestrian 78-84 record with a third place finish in the AL West.
If Mulder makes the roster, even if he isn’t effective, at least he’ll be cheap. It would be hard to picture him struggling more than Joe Blanton, who in his first year of a two-year, $15 million contract, posted a 2-14 record, 62 ERA+ and 1.613 WHIP.
Blanton still has this season in an Angels uniform to redeem himself. If he doesn’t, it could be argued it’s the worst signing General Manager Jerry Dipoto ever made and likely ever could make. Dipoto inking Mulder to a contract with no guarantee of a roster spot is a risk, but one that’s a low-risk and can absolutely be high-reward.
In context, when talking about ages and/or comebacks, Jamie Moyer was 2-5 with an 82 ERA+ and 1.733 WHIP in 10 games for the Colorado Rockies in 2012 at the tender age of 49. Though those numbers are hardly impressive, for Moyer to do that at his age after having not pitched at all in the big leagues the year before, it’s definitely not the poorest campaign a pitcher has ever had. In that same season, at the age of 37, R.A. Dickey came out of nowhere to win 20 games and the NL Cy Young Award.
That’s not to necessarily say Mulder is going to scoop the top pitching prize in 2014, though he very well could, looking at pitchers like Moyer and Dickey ought to at least give him some inspiration that he could pitch well enough in his comeback. Since he hasn’t pitched since 2008, he has definitely had the time to regroup and get himself another crack at the Majors. I don’t know about others, but I definitely like a feel good story in this game. In my opinion, he already is one just by signing the contract. However, I think he’d transform into an even more of one if he makes the roster and holds his own.
This move could definitely backfire. Mulder may not make the roster for Opening Day or ever reach the bigs. Even if he does, his performance could be as forgettable this time around as it was the last time he dealt to hitters. If Mulder and Blanton flop, and Dipoto doesn’t sign another arm, there could be a GM opening if this club doesn’t show improvement in the win column. Still, with what Angel pitching showed last season, along with the fact that Mulder has had a couple of similar circumstances to other pitchers in recent memory, it’s hard for me to criticize this move at this time, and only say that he has the potential to right a previous wrong.
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