It's time to get ready for another offseason of revamping a winning, but ultimately disappointing product in the Angels. Last offseason the Angels attempted to remedy the problem with huge spending on the likes of C.J Wilson and Albert Pujols, but they failed to improve the bullpen in any sizeable manner which ended up costing this team the season. The big spending was not in vein however as it has set the springboard for the future of the Angels. We saw what they were capable of when the team was hitting on all cylinders, they were the best team in the AL and one could even say all of baseball. After the incredibly disastrous start in April that this team could not recover from they held the best record in the AL. The Angels need to complement the huge roster moves made last year with small improvements in the right places. We all know GM Jerry Dipoto is capably of such wizardry after we saw him swing a deal for an overlooked Ernesto Frieri, a guy who was buried in the Padres bullpen and exploded into one of the better relievers in the AL. The Angels haven't had a reliever quite as effective as Frieri aside from Scott Downs, aside from his second half of this season.
What the Angels need is Dipoto to pull of some more slick deals to improve the Angels, but what kind of small but at the same time huge moves could Dipoto make to improve the Angels for 2013?
This season the Angels bullpen held a major league 22 blown saves all year, that's 14 more blown saves than the Texas Rangers had. The major league average is 16 blown saves, you gotta think if the Angels even had a slightly below average bullpen they would have made it to the playoffs. Let's say the Angels marginally improve their bullpen and drop that number from 22 to 18, then they finish with 93 wins and tie for the second wildcard. But we aren't looking for "marginal improvements", the Angels need to fix this bullpen big time. If they could improve it to average, or if we're lucky even above average(!), then the Angels could earn themselves somewhere around 10 more wins which would definitely send them to the playoffs. What cheap ways can we fix the bullpen?
Allow Nick Maronde to start the season in the bullpen
Maronde was a late season callup from the AA team to the majors, a move which saw him change roles from a starter to reliever. I'm sure the management wanted to get the kid's feet wet so he knows what it's like to pitch in the majors, he has the potential to become an explosive starting pitcher so any experience he can take back to the minors with him would help his development. The kid not only showed that he could handle Major League hitters, he showed he can outmatch them. I know how much you all hate small sample sizes in the baseball world, but in 12 games he pitched out of the 'pen (6.0 IP) he put together a 1.50 ERA with 7 K's and 3 BB's. He could fill a role desperately needed by the Angels, a reliable lefty middle reliever. What I liked most about Maronde, what proved to me he deserves to start the season in the major league 'pen (following a good Spring Training of course) was how he handle himself in pressure situations. In a late season game in Oakland Maronde was summoned to pitch in the 7th with 2 men on and one out with the Angels holding onto a slim league. Instead of following the usual bullpen implosion act he stomped on the Athletics hitters, striking out 2 to end the inning and starting off the 8th with a K to end his day. Maronde only allowed 1 run in all 12 of the games he appeared in and only allowed 1 hit at maximum in 6 of those 12 starts.
He showed he has the gusto to thrive in pressure situations, something that the Angels 'pen has struggled to do for a long time. Adding in the fact that he's a lefty who is capable of pitching in jams AND he'll only be making league minimum make this a move Dipoto has to at least consider if not outright let it happen. You might make the arguments that Maronde needs to start in the minors so he could continue to develop as a pitcher, even then he wouldn't appear until the late season at best. You can let him start in the minors and give the Angels a good if not great 180 or so innings in 2014, or you can let him start the majors in the 'pen next season and deliver around 60 crucial innings. I'd rather keep him in the 'pen and let him develop there instead of in the minors, and even if he does end up just becoming an awesome career reliever then who cares? Relief pitchers are a crapshoot, especially with the Angels, if we could develop a stud reliever then so be it.
We already have out future stud starter in Garrett Richards anyway, and he'll be starting full time next year.
Let Michael Kohn win a job as a reliever out of Spring Training
Michael Kohn unfortunately was not able to pitch this year due to Tommy John surgery, but he'll be ready to win his relief duties out of Spring Training. A big problem with Kohn that a lot of Angel fans have are his control issues, which led to him walking 16 batters in 21.1 IP back in 2010, and when you pair that up with his strikeout total of 20 you have a problem. Even though he sported bad control issues that season he still only allowed 5 runs in those 21 IP, which gives him a shiny 2.11 ERA. That's something the Angels could have desperately used this season, especially out of a right handed set-up man. Jepsen was not that bad for half of this season but he's way too erratic to ever let me feel comfortable with him pitching in the 8th. He relies too hard on striking guys out and overpowering hitters, which is something he has trouble consistently doing. Kohn, on the other hand, gets the ball on the ground for his defenders. To me he makes the perfect right-handed set-up man for the Angels due to his ability to get groundballs, something that comes quite in handy in late inning situations. I'm only using set-up man as an example of his ceiling with the Angels 'pen, if anything he'll probably just make a fine middle reliever as long as all goes well.
He's still gotta win the job out of Spring Training, but if he can do that the Angels 'pen is already up two strong, young relievers with Maronde and Kohn. Not to mention that they'll be very cheap to control throughout the season. Imagine if Kohn is able to get on top of his control issues as well.
That could be a devastating weapon out of the 'pen for the Angels.
Let Maicer Izturis walk and replace him with Andrew Romine off the bench
For the past 7 years Izzy has been an uber-reliable player off the bench, a guy who could play 3 infield positions and pull together incredibly clutch hits and the perfect situations. The biggest problem with Izzy has been his inability to stay healthy, he's always been prone to multiple prolonged trips to the DL. It seems now that his injuries are all finally starting to catch up with him. This year Izzy fell flat on his face, posting a career low .256 BA and .315 SLG% (min. 150 PA), not to forget the shoddy defense played as well. He'll cost more than the Angels will be willing to spend so it'll be best to let him walk. Plus, the Angels have an option waiting down in the minors to be called on.
Andrew Romine. This kid projects to be a pretty similar hitter to Izturis, both being light-hitting middle infielders more prone to slapping the ball than smashing it. The key difference here is that Romine is a defensive wizard, having a guy that can make magic happen on defense at 3B, SS and 2B could be wonderful for the Angels and their pitching staff. In order to maximize the output of this pitching staff the Angels need to have a rock solid defense behind them, and having Romine coming off the bench to back up our infielders will work wonders for this team. My guess is that Romine will probably save more runs than he ends up driving in, but my god will he save runs like an animal. He's got pretty good speed too, which works well for the speed/power combination this team boasts.
Oh, and did I mention we'll only have to pay him league minimum too? That'll help in the long run.
Give Hank Conger the backup catcher job.
No one likes Jeff Mathis. No one on this fanbase wants to deal with Jeff Mathis. Everyone thought we would be gone with Jeff Mathis and his production once he was traded to the Blue Jays for fringe prospect Steve Geltz. Jeff Mathis left, but his production stayed, though mercifully in the backup catcher position this time. Bobby Wilson hasn't really proved to do anything special, his defense is pretty bad and his offense is even worse. He can't throw runners out (at all), the only thing he's good for is the sac bunt. Clearly the Angels could do better than that without having to spend any money right?
They can with Conger, the longtime Angels "catcher of the future" who at this point is starting to look more like "the catcher of the future from the past for another organization". Letting Conger win the backup out of Spring Training will be beneficial to this club in more ways than one. Conger will finally get a chance to get a handle on the Major Leagues, something he hasn't proved to be capable of in his past stint with the Angels in 2011. The backup job will give Conger less pressure to develop and a chance to finally make his mark. His defense leaves a lot to be desired, but his bat projects to be a high-power type of bat. He'll put up a tolerable average and a barely ok OBP, but his ability to drive the ball consistently will be what makes or breaks his career. It definitely helps that he's a switch hitter, even though he struggles a bit when hitting right handed. He lives off of his left-handed stroke, get him in enough games where he can benefit off of right handed pitching and he'll prove his worth in the majors.
I know it'll hurt a bit cutting Wilson, but baseball is a business. It's time to make the change to move this organization forward.
Trade one of Conger/Trumbo/Morales/Bourjos for quality relief pitching
We need Dipoto to swing another deal like the Frieri trade he made back at the trading deadline, unfortunately to do that we'll have to ship off a valuable piece to make it work. I'd rather trade Conger after he puts up a good Spring Training but he doesn't have nearly enough value as the other three players mentioned. Trumbo proved that he can put up a monster MVP-type performance if he can stay on top of his issues, Bourjos is one of the best centerfielders in the game and contrary to popular belief he does have a good bat and Morales can play 1B part time and DH while hitting for power. What makes these moves hard to pull off is Trumbo and Morales have proved to be monster power bats when all is well, and it looks like Morales might be ready to have another breakout year next year while the same cannot be said for Trumbo. Trumbo once again has left us questioning whether or not he has it, but I have little doubts that he'll get back on track for next season. Bourjos is tough to move because once you pair him up with Trout that automatically gives the Angels the best outfield in baseball, but with Wells clogging up the outfield the Angels just might have to move him after all.
The Angels can survive without trading any of these players, but only if they can find a way to get rid of Wells. That probably won't happen, so one of these guys will have to go, though he'll bring way more in return than Wells possibly could.
Let Callaspo keep the third base job until Cowart is ready
This one is just plain and simple. Many people complain that Callaspo isn't a good third baseman because he doesn't follow the "prototypical 3B" stereotype. Thinking that a 3B has to be big and strong and hit homeruns for days is outdated thinking. It's far too simple-minded and streamlined to work in this progressive age. People still complain that he doesn't make a good enough 3B EVEN THOUGH HE WAS 4TH IN THE AL IN WAR FOR STARTING THIRD BASEMEN. He doesn't have a flashy bat, but he gets clutch hits when we need them and can occasionally surprise with a big homerun. His defense is outstanding, what really solidifies him as our starting 3B, easily the best defending 3B in the league after Adrian Beltre. Building an incredible defense to back up our pitching will be what makes this team thrive.
No we aren't going to sign David Wright to a massive contract because he's one of the better hitting 3B in the league. We don't need another irresponsibly huge contract to an aging star, that won't push this team forward. The Angels aren't incredibly well off at third like all these greedy fans want them to be, they aren't lacking either. Simply enough, we are "chillin" with Callaspo. We're just chillin lettin him hang around and do his thing until Kaleb Cowart is ready for the big leagues.
Until then we are absolutely fine with Callaspo, no need to throw out a huge contract in order to vainly improve the position. No need to swing a big trade to bring in a Chase Headly. Just chill with what we have and let that power hitting 3B come to us. Cowart will be here soon, until then just let Callaspo keep doing his thing. It helps that he does it well.
That pretty much sums up the ways the Angels can improve the Angels without spending big, or spending at all in some cases. It's too early to tell what kind of a plan Dipoto has going forward through the offseason, but if he can start off with this foundation I can safely say the Angels will be in a great position to not only make the playoffs next year, but win the AL West as well.
and I'm not just saying that cause I came up with it.