The Angels bullpen has been such a massive, raging brushfire the last few seasons that Australian fire departments keep mistakenly showing up in Anaheim to try and help put it out. We keep hearing about how bullpen arms are fungible assets and that teams should be able to stumble into a decent bullpen almost by accident, yet here we are heading into an off-season where the Halos have maybe three quality relievers on their roster. So, Jerry Dipoto is going to do something to fix that, right? Right? RIGHT?!?!?!!!
What they already have: Ernesto Frieri (3.80 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 0.7 fWAR), Dane De La Rosa (2.86 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 1.1 fWAR), Kevin Jepsen (4.50 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 0.3 fWAR), Michael Kohn (3.74 ERA, 4.56 FIP, -0.2 fWAR), Sean Burnett (BROKEN), Cory Rasmus (4.20 ERA, 4.91 FIP, -0.2 fWAR), Juan Gutierrez (5.19 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 0.1 fWAR)
If Arte Moreno loses his mind… Joe Nathan is going to get $40 million so that Moreno can "stick it" to the Rangers who are smart enough to never re-sign him for that much money. Also, such a demand might break Jerry Dipoto's will to live.
If the Angels are creative and aggressive… they still probably won't spend much money on relief. Jerry Dipoto is on record as not believing in spending big money on relievers. The contract he gave Sean Burnett last winter, two years for $8 million, is probably as high as he would go in terms of length and average annual value. He might mix in something a little more expensive if it is just for one-year or incentive-laden like he tried to do with Madson, meaning he isn't likely to be active in this free agent closer market although there are a few options.
The one guy that might be willing to take a one-year contract for not too much money would be Brian Wilson. Say what you will about Wilson's personality and antics, but he was as dominant as ever in his few months of work with the Dodgers. Though I don't think that Dipoto subscribes to the "proven closer" theory, there is something to wanting to add a stabilizing veteran presence to the late-inning mix. Performance-wise, Wilson can do that, but there is a real risk being taken on whether his quirky persona will be a boon or a distraction.
We know what Dipoto thinks about paying for relief monetarily, but we don't know what he thinks about paying for relief with personnel. If there is one avenue that would allow the Halos to add a major impact reliever, it would be by trading Trumbo or Bourjos (or Iannetta to a lesser extent). If Dipoto thinks relievers are inherently volatile assets, it doesn't really jive that he would give up a quality position player to add a reliever. Maybe if that reliever is potentially special and under team control for five or more years, like a Carlos Martinez , then it would be worth it because of how cost efficient it would be. That is probably the lone area where we would see Dipoto do something aggressive.
If the Angels want troll their own fans… the Crooked Hat will return! The Halos will go for a do-over on that whole Fernando Rodney as closer thing, which will definitely break my will to live.
If the Angels are savvy and conservative… then expect a low profile signing or two. Dipoto has tried adding a steady veteran arm in middle relief each of the last two seasons and not had much success with it. Third time is a charm, right? Those are the sort of players that Dipoto is willing to spend a minimal amount on. Someone like Matt Belisle, a veteran who doesn't miss a ton of bats but also doesn't walk guys, could be had for a reasonable price after being under the radar in Colorado the last few seasons. Jerry has shown that he prefers power arms, so maybe Belisle or someone like Joe Smith or Luis Ayala won't pique his interest, but that is where the value is on this market.
We've also seen that Dipoto is willing to roll the dice on a players coming off poor seasons or major injuries. As always, there is no shortage of chances for him to go down that road on the relief market, assuming the Madson experience didn't make him gun shy. Frank Francisco is a power arm with late inning experience who is getting healthy. Joel Hanrahan is coming off multiple surgeries, but could be ready by the All-Star break. Joba Chamberlain is still a big arm and might just need a change of scenery to get back to being a high quality reliever.
What the Angels will probably do is… actually not that much. If you look at the incumbent relievers, there aren't all that many openings on the roster. Frieri, De La Rosa and Burnett have spots on lock down and another spot will be held for a long relief option (likely Joe Blanton unless he gets traded or released). If they decide to keep Kevin Jepsen, that's another spot taken up. Typically speaking, there is also usually one spot that is just used to cycle through young arms until they hit on one. This is where we could see the Angels give Kohn another chance or audition youngsters like Maronde, Rasmus, Morin or Alvarez. So that really only leaves one definite opening, but maybe as many as three.
My guess is that they do decide to keep Jepsen under the premise that his latest round of struggles were injury-related. So that is one of the three spots gone. The next spot will go to a veteran of some sort, probably a low-profile veteran, just so Dipoto can say he did something. I wouldn't totally rule out him taking a gamble contract on Wilson if the price is right, but I don't think it will be. After that, the final spot will go to a youngster who makes the team out of camp, but I think that competition will be heavily stacked in favor of someone acquired via trade. We saw in the early Kendrick trade rumors that Dipoto tried to land Chris Withrow along with starting pitching prospect Zach Lee. When Dipoto does get around to trading one or more of his bats for starting pitching, there is going to be a some kind of throw in reliever in those packages and that guy will be someone they expect to contribute in 2013.