Why they open free agency up before arbitration offers have to be made is beyond me. All it does is grind the free agent market to a crawl. Fortunately for us, that gives us the extra time we need to evaluate the many, many relief options available this off-season for the Angels to pursue in their efforts to rebuild their beleaguered bullpen.
Coming soon to an Angel bullpen soon? Yeah, probably not.
As a general disclaimer, I am only going to consider viable options (at least in my mind) for the Angels both in terms of them being a realistic signing or trade (sorry, no magic trades for Roy Halladay) as well as a proper roster fit.
Heath Bell/Jonathan Papelbon/Joe Nathan – Alright, let’s get this out of the way. Yes, I know some out there think that the Angels need to bring in an elite closer to replace Jordan Walden so that Waldo can focus more on his development in lower leverage setup innings. First off, just because he would pitch in the seventh or eighth doesn’t mean he is necessarily avoiding high leverage work. Second, to sign an elite closer like Bell or Papelbon, the Angels are going to have to fork over between $10 million and $14 million per year. That is just a preposterous amount to pay to any reliever, especially since that would consume the lion’s share, if not all, of the available spending money the Angels have this summer. Joe Nathan probably won’t command quite as much, but he’ll still cost a pretty penny due to hsi track record, even if his health remains a question mark, thus making him both pricey and risky. However, we don’t know enough about DiPoto to know if he realizes that throwing big money at closers is generally a mistake unless you have a huge amount of free money. I think he is smart enough to know this, but then again, he is a former big league reliever, so he might want to help his bullpen brethren out.
Ryan Madson/Frank Francisco – Now, this might be more palatable. The Angels do need someone to step in and either close games and allow Walden to be a right-handed setup man or to do the job himself. Bobby Cassevah did a decent job in that role last season, but what the Angels really need is a guy who can come in and get a strikeout. Madson and Francisco both can miss bats and have experience closing and setting up, meaning they will most likely be willing to slot into either role if the money is right. Madson is a Boras client, so he might try and crack into the $10 million range, but that might not happen. If the Angels can get him for $8 million, then it might be worth it. The same goes for the lesser talented Francisco, who would hopefull max out at $6 million. That is still big money for a reliever, but it is definitely more palatable than what the elites would make. The big risk here is creating a closer controversy that adversely affects the performance and attitudes of Walden and whoever the Angels would sign. After all, Walden is still going to make just a bit more than the league minimum, so it could be hard to justify him closing over a guy making over ten times as much who might actually do the job better. Of course, the Angels could just make Walden and the other guy interchangeable based on the situation, but that makes too much sense.
Jonathan Broxton/Brad Lidge/Joel Zumaya – If the Halos want to land a power righty but don’t want to pay much, they could always gamble on someone with health problems. Broxton, Lidge and Zumaya all have closing experience but also have major injury red flags. Broxton has the highest ceiling of the bunch since he was unhittable in his prime, so he would be the prize here, but he isn’t even at a point where he can throw for teams yet. As for Zumaya, his elbow is a mess and he hasn’t been healthy for years, so at most he would be a guy who got a minor league deal and then just crossed his fingers. Then there is Lidge, who really only makes this list because he used to be a closer who used to throw hard. Now Brad, who is actually healthy for the time being, throws in the high 80’s but still manages to miss bats. That probably won’t be a guy the Angels want to count on. Heck, none of these guys do.
Jon Rauch/Octavio Dotel/Chad Qualls – Yeesh, this is getting depressing since none of the three groups above sound very promising and/or affordable. That brings us to some less impressive names. All three of these guys have closing experience, but probably shouldn’t be closing because of glaring weaknesses. Rauch is stingy with walks but only posts decent strikeout rates and is an exteme flyball pitcher. Dotel can blow people away… as long as they aren’t left-handed. Qualls is a groundball machine, but his whiff rate was pathetic last year. Now, each of them have their uses, but which one the Angels prefer will largely depend on how DiPoto and Scioscia decide they want to build the bullpen. My money would be on Dotel because of the strikeout factor.
Mike Gonzalez - This market has a lot of quality relievers, but most are right-handed. Gonzalez is probably the only high-end lefty available, so he may not be as cheap as the rest. With Downs and Takahashi already in the pen, a third southpaw seems like luxury the Angels just can’t afford, literally. However, there is a chance that they could move Taka into the rotatation this year, thus creating the need for a LOOGY to call on in the middle innings.
One other note worth mentioning here is that there in all likelihood will be a few additional relievers that hit the market after getting non-tendered, so this pool of available arms is only going to get deeper and cheaper.
Who knows? – I’ll be honest, I have no ideas here. Frankly, relievers are rather expendable so their are likely to be dozens of quality relievers available via trade this off-season. Even with that said, a trade makes no sense. This is a major buyers’ market for teams in need of relief help. Giving up even low-level prospects is too high a price to pay for a pitcher who the Angels could just as easily sign an equivalent of in free agency. If not that, then I would hope that DiPoto instead finds a way to trade for a promising, young and cheap power arm. At least that way there is hope for a long-term return that would keep them flexible from a financial standpoint. THe whole idea of dumping more money into guys who turn out to be as effective as Fernando Rodney and Justin Speier just scares me.