The Angels' off-season is here. This much we know and this much we bemoan. What we do not know is what exactly the Halos have planned for the off-season (and whether or not we will bemoan said plans). My goal for this week is to try and figure out what it is that Angels GM Jerry Dipoto has up his sleeves. The problem is that we really only have one off-season of history on Dipoto to judge him by and it was probably an outlier off-season as well since one can only sign the best player of a generation to a quarter of a billion contract once. This won't be easy, but it should be a hell of a lot less depressing than trying to read the tea leaves with Tony Reagins. (Hmm, looks like all signs point to doom again, Tony. Sorry.)
Since this is an involved effort, I'm cutting it up into three parts. Today we tackle the third and final part, the bullpen.
The previous two entries in this series have been long and drawn out. This one? Not so much. If ever there was an area that Jerry tipped his hand it is with the bullpen. Just look at this recent quote on the topic from Dipoto:
"While starting pitchers have track records and you have a pretty good idea of what you're going to get out of position players in terms of production, in the bullpen — that is akin to going to Las Vegas and throwing it all down on double-zero green," Dipoto said. "There's smart and there's stupid. That definitely leans toward the latter."
So, there's that. The bullpen is still a problem, but don't expect JeDi to throw piles of cash after it. In other words, don't hold your breath if you are hoping he makes a run at a brand name close like Jose Valverde. That doesn't mean he won't spend at all though. In fact, we saw last off-season that he will use a little bit of money to sign the right kind of guy as he did with LaTroy Hawkins. That might well be what he does this winter, only hopefully with someone juuuuuuuuuuust a tiny bit younger.
You are going to think I am crazy for saying this, but the bullpen isn't in that bad of shake. Relievers are such volatile commodities anyway that the same basic group could come back and be far more reliable. A full season of a fixed (for now) Kevin Jepsen, a (hopefully) healthy Scott Downs, a (kind of) fixed Jordan Walden, Nick Maronde and Ernesto Frieri is nothing to sneeze at. Sniffle, maybe, but definitely not sneeze. The one thing that group lacks is exactly what Jerry thought he was getting in Hawkins, an established arm that gets grounders and is stingy with the walk. Given his professed love for "controlling the count," I believe he will take another shot at acquiring such a pitcher, maybe even two.
There is one other factor at play here too and it is because of that reason that I am not even going to guess who Dipoto might target via trade and/or free agency. One thing that I believe have yet to fully learn about Dipoto is that he comes from the Kevin Towers school of GMing. Towers is a very good GM as it is, but the one thing he seems to really do well is produce useful relievers from nowhere or, at the least, find relievers that are undervalued. We saw Dipoto do this once already when he plucked a virtually anonymous Ernesto Frieri from the back of the Padres bullpen. That worked out better than anyone could have expected, but I would anticipate Dipoto looking to make a similar move in which he trades away unexciting prospects for a reliever that he thinks he can juice more utility out of. Either that or he will scrape the free agent bargain bin to add an overlooked veteran for a discount price (it is because of this option that I am deathly afraid of the words "Brandon Lyon" becoming a major part of the 2013 Angels season).
That probably doesn't make you feel very good about prospects for the Halo relief corps shaking their Bullpen of Perpetual Sorrow label, but in JeDi we trust... mostly because we have no other choice.
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Dipoto is absolutely right about the unpredictability of relievers. I learned that the hard way this fantasy baseball season trading for John Axford, thinking he would anchor my pen. I just want a guy who has good command of more than one pitch, misses bats, and doesn't walk people. So I want Koji Uehara and his career 8 k/bb ratio (14.3 last year) in the worst way. But even he is not without risks, being old and injury prone. He even had a stretch with Texas that was so bad he was left off their post season roster last year. But he won't cost nearly as much as Papa Grande or anybody who has the benefit of the "closer" label, though the Angels probably couldn't afford him if they bring back Zack Greinke. But Uehara may be too obvious for Dipoto - I agree that it's very likely he takes a page out of the Kevin Towers playbook and digs up a reliever or two who are currently undervalued. Or work out creative contracts with guys coming off major injuries like Soria or Madson or minor injuries like Mike Adams.