Scot Shields made sure to remind Angel fans over the weekend that this bullpen still has a long way to go before it can be considered fixed. But waiting for Shields and Bulger to get their act together is only going to result in Kevin Jepsen and Fernando Rodney’s arms to fall off and my burgeoning ulcer to grow in size at a rapid rate… and we haven’t even addressed the eventual Brian Fuentes meltdown yet. I don’t care if it is still early-May, the Halos need to start working now to patch up their leaky bullpen before it falls apart completely. The first step is taking a look through the free agent bargain bin to see if the Halos can find some quick fix that won’t require them to overpay from their already thin farm system.
Shields is only one part of a much larger issue.
Braden Looper – Looper is hardly the most attractive option on the market, but he is a veteran with experience both as a starter and a closer, so there is little doubt that he would be able to adjust to whatever role the Angels throw at him. His stats as a starter are pretty bad, but he has always been passable (or better) in relief despite his shocking lack of strikeouts. Looper doesn’t throw that hard but induces a fair number of ground balls, so the AL might not treat him too kindly but he would also give the Angels a different look out of a pen dominated by power arms.
Russ Springer – If he wasn’t 41 years old, he’d probably have been signed already, but such is modern baseball. Springer may be old but he had some terrific seasons in 2007 (66 IP, 2.18 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 66 Ks) and 2008 (50.1 IP, 2.32 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 45 Ks) before coming back to earth in 2009, though he was hardly a liability (57 IP, 4.11 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 58 Ks). His 2009 season was in the AL, so we at least know he can hold his own on the Junior Circuit even if he didn’t dominate. The question though is if they can convince the old man to toil on a minor-league contract until the team is ready to commit to him.
David Weathers – Weathers is easily the most realistic option for the Angels. He’s been a model of consistency over the last ten years and has been a starter, closer and set-up man in that time, so there shouldn’t be any situation he can’t handle even if he is a soft-tosser that has never set foot in the American League. His veteran guile might even prove to be a real asset to the relief corps that clearly misses the leadership of Darren Oliver. Weathers could be a bit on the pricey side and might also balk at having to sign a minor league deal, but his track record should be enough for the Halos to give him some kind of guarantee that he will be called up to the majors by a predefined date.
Juan Cruz – If Weathers is the safe choice, consider Cruz the boom or bust option. In 2007 and 2008, Cruz seemed like a lights out closer in the making as he piled up huge strikeout numbers, but he also racked up large walk totals too and those free passes caught up with him in 2009, leading to his eventual release by the Royals earlier this year. This could be a case of one man’s trash being another man’s treasure though, especially if a quality pitching coach like Mike Butcher can get his hands on him and get his career back on the right track. Best of all, Cruz will cost just the minimum contract since he is still cashing paychecks from Kansas City and should be eager to land in any situation where he might get a real shot at salvaging his career.
Eddie Guardado - Everyday Eddie is still hoping to pitch for a few more days before calling it a career. He is far from being a closer anymore, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be useful. Since Mike Scioscia insists on using Fuentes only as a closer, the team now lacks a lefty in middle relief thus limiting their ability to get tough southpaws out in crucial situations (for example, Johnny Damon in the ninth inning of a close game). Guardado should at least be able to step in as a LOOGY for the Halos with the added benefit that he isn’t that bad against righties if need be. His familiarity with the AL West should make Tony Reagins feel a bit better about taking a chance on him and since he is one of the more desperate players on this list, there shouldn’t be much of a contract negotiation gumming up the works.
John Smoltz – Ah, the only big fish left in this small, shallow pond. The future Hall of Famer is currently working as a TV analyst, but he also has yet to file his retirement papers. While he has downplayed his intent on coming back to baseball again, he is bound to start fielding offers to join some contenders at mid-season. Even with their current record, Smoltz would surely consider the Angels a contender, but he may not consider them for long since he seems to still fancy himself a starting pitcher. However, if other teams aren’t willing to make that kind of commitment to him, expect the Angels to be waiting there with open arms as his consolation prize. It will be costly though.