With the World Series on the verge of beginning, that means we are mere days away from the free agency market opening for business and the Angels sure have themselves some business to get done if they want to end their playoff drought. To prep you for the ensuing craziness, we're previewing how the market could unfold for the Halos, position-by-position.
Up next, the bane of your existence and mine: the Angels bullpen. Long gone are the days of K-Rod and Shields turning the every Angel game into a seven-inning affair. Instead, opposing lineups lick their chops at the idea of chasing the Angels starter so that they can feast on the Halos meatball-hurling relievers. What once was the team's greatest strength is now its biggest weakness and it will be up to Jerry Dipoto to fix the mess that his predecessor created.
Who we got?
What the Angels have isn't exactly inspiring, but it isn't dreadful either. Ernesto Frieri started his Angel tenure looking absolutely dominant, but eventually regression struck and Frieri began looking shakier and shakier. For now, he's the Angels closer, but that is something that could change quickly depending on what the Halos do this off-season.
While Frieri has captured much of the fans' attention and ire, he is probably the least of their problems. Though Ernasty did have a few memorable meltdowns down the stretch, the real issue is middle relief. Scott Downs got old in a hurry during the All-Star break apparently and may not be anything more than a decent left-handed specialist now. Kevin Jepsen somehow emerged as the Angels' most trusty middle reliever, which is kind of frightening. The only other guaranteed returning reliever (barring a trade) is former closer Jordan Walden who did nothing after returning from injury last season to convince anyone that he is ready to return to a high leverage role.
The x-factor in the bullpen fold could be Nick Maronde. The rookie looked pretty great after being called up in September and might have earned himself a return to the big league bullpen next season with his work, that is if the Halos decide he isn't better off continuing to develop as a starting pitcher in the minors. If he does, Maronde could serve as a quality LOOGY or maybe work his way up to being a setup man who can handle any kind of batter.
Meanwhile, expect the Angels to quickly kick veterans LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen to the curb. In their place, the Angels could bring in new blood or turn things over to a crew of internal candidates which includes Bobby Cassevah, Steve Geltz, David Carpenter, Michael Kohn, Ryan Brasier and Andrew Taylor. None of those guys figures to be much of an impact player in 2013 though.
Who we want?
Who the fans want and who Jerry Dipoto are probably very different things. Fans want a "proven closer" to come in and settle down the high leverage situation. That is why you will surely hear names like Rafael Soriano, Chris Perez, Joakim Soria and Jonathan Broxton bandied about. However, Jerry Dipoto has said in no uncertain terms that he doesn't really believe in making large financial investments in relief pitchers. That might be a tough pill to swallow for some fans, but it is music to my ears.
Even with Dipoto's stance on relief spending, he could still drop a little bit of coin on the market. There are plenty of seemingly reliable middle relief arms available in free agency. Mike Adams, Kyle Farnsworth, Jon Rauch, Matt Lindstrom, Takashi Saito, Ramon Ramirez and Koji Uehara are all guys who have some experience closing and setting up, which could make them a nice compromise for Dipoto although many of them carry concerns regarding age, consitency and/or injury.
Of course, we could find out that Dipoto doesn't even care to spend on those guys either. After all, he did study under Kevin Towers for years and a big part of Towers' long record of success has been predicated on his ability to find cheap but effective relievers. We saw Dipoto make such a move when he pilfered Frieri from the Padres, so he could well try and go that route once again. Of course, I can't speculate as to who he might target because, well, then they wouldn't be a hidden gem, would they?
Why we care?
Do I really even need to explain this part? I mean, the Bullpen of Perpetual Sorrow has undermined the Halos for three straight years now. With just a league average bullpen this last season they probably could've made the playoffs. So, yeah, we care about what the Angels do with the bullpen this off-season. Like, A LOT.