The Completely Rebuilt, Win-Now Angels Bullpen

Over the weekend, the Angels picked up Huston Street from San Diego, and we’ll get to that in a second. This isn’t just about the trade, though. It’s about the relief group that Street is joining. On March 30, the Angels announced their Opening Day roster, with a seven-man bullpen that looked like this:

Today, at least for the moment, they have an eight-man bullpen, and it looks like this:

Frieri was awful, and now he’s in Pittsburgh. Kohn couldn’t find the plate, and now he’s in Triple-A. Maronde couldn’t do much of anything, and now he’s with Cleveland. Shoemaker is in the rotation, and while he may return when C.J. Wilson comes off the disabled list, it may be Hector Santiago instead. Since Salas missed almost a month with a sore shoulder, that makes Jepsen and Smith the only two Angels relievers to be active and on the team all season long. In between, the Angels have had 25 different relievers, from Jarrett Grube and Cam Bedrosian to Drew Rucinski and Josh Wall, easily the most different relievers any team has had this year, and within shouting distance of the American League record of 29, set by the 2012 Blue Jays. (They probably aren’t touching the all-time record of 33, set by the 2002 Padres of Eric Cyr, Doug Nickle and Brian Tollberg, unless things go terribly wrong.)

All of which means that full-season stats for the Angels bullpen aren’t particularly useful, because they’re including numbers from guys who are long gone or buried in the minors. That’s good for the Angels, of course, because those full-season numbers are ugly. By WAR, 25th. ERA, 21st. FIP, 23rd. xFIP, 23rd. Obviously, that’s not the kind of group you want when you think you have a real shot at the playoffs.

So GM Jerry Dipoto went about changing that, starting in late June when failed closer Frieri went to Pittsburgh for failed closer Grilli, continuing in early July when Thatcher (and backup outfielder Tony Campana) arrived from Arizona for minor leaguers Zach Borenstein and Joey Krehbiel, and continuing on Saturday when Street and minor leaguer Trevor Gott came to town for prospects R.J. Alvarez, Taylor Lindsey, Elliot Morris and Jose Rondon.

Whether or not Grilli rediscovers his Pittsburgh magic — he’s off to a good start in his first 10 games as an Angel, and more importantly, he isn’t Frieri — it’s clear that this is a much improved group from the one that started the season. Street is having the best season of his life, getting more strikeouts and grounders; rookie Morin and his outstanding change has been a surprise performer; Thatcher has a 17/1 K/BB against fellow lefties this year. Added to mainstays Smith and Jepsen, and suddenly the Angels have a reasonably effective quintet in their bullpen. Though Street has only appeared once so far, the new Angels bullpen has been miles better over the last month, even with obvious small sample size caveats. It’s not the only reason they’ve won 27 of their last 37; it’s not unrelated, either. What was a clear weakness is now, if not a strength, at least not a glaring issue, as the newcomers have pushed incumbents either to lower-leverage roles or off the roster entirely.

Street can’t be guaranteed to continue like he has been, of course — dig that 1.06 ERA against a 2.93 xFIP, .200 BABIP and 100% LOB — and so there’s the question of whether the Angels “overpaid” for him. The answer is yeah, probably, they did. There’s only so much impact a single one-inning reliever who isn’t quite on the Aroldis Chapman / Craig Kimbrel level can have on a few months of a season. It’s likely that the quartet the Padres received will give San Diego more value over their years of team control than Street will over his 1.5 years in Anaheim (assuming the Angels pick up Street’s $7m 2015 option, which seems like a total no-brainer).

Entering the season, Lindsey and Alvarez were two of the Angels’ top four prospects from Baseball America; Rondon, one of the youngest players in Single-A, wasn’t, but certainly would have been this year, and this trio very possibly would have been the team’s top three. This wasn’t a great organization before, and now it’s desolate. If Street even adds one win above replacement to the Angels this season, it will be a lot — again, not because he’s not useful, but because there’s a limit to what a one-inning pitcher can provide. To give up some real talent for that is not an insignificant price.

Of course, it’s there where we need to remember that an individual team’s “top prospect list” is all but useless when evaluating a deal, because even though Lindsey was the “No. 1 prospect in the Angels system,” he was also a borderline top-100 player. In a system like that of the Cubs, Lindsey may have cracked the top 10; that he was the best player in a bad system doesn’t make him a better player than he was. Did the Angels hurt an already mediocre system for Street? Without question. Did they give up anyone they’ll ever really miss? That part is far less certain.

For most teams, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. But the Angels aren’t most teams, and they’re in a position where every win is just so, so valuable. Mike Trout still isn’t 23 for another month, but Jered Weaver, Albert Pujols, Wilson and Josh Hamilton aren’t getting younger. Every year with that quartet that isn’t a successful one is an expensive misfire; Erick Aybar, Chris Iannetta, David Freese and Howie Kendrick are all also at least 30. Despite all the press the Athletics have received for their outstanding season, the Angels are only a game out in the loss column and still have 10 more head-to-head games against Oakland. They’re both basically locks to make the playoffs — these two teams have the most wins in baseball — but in the world of two wild cards, winning the division carries with it an incredible amount of value. No one wants to be the team in the one-game playoff, welcoming the Mariners or Orioles or Indians into town, knowing that a one-game playoff is essentially a coin flip, and that even if they advance, they may have had to burn one of their better starting pitchers to do it. If you’re looking for a win-now situation, especially if you think the Rangers disaster is a one-year thing and that the Astros are coming, this is it.

So yeah, maybe cashing in these prospects for what is a relatively small gain doesn’t seem worth it. Maybe Rondon and Lindsey become the San Diego middle infield of the future, providing years of value, while Alvarez is closing games off. We won’t know the answer to that for many years. What we do know is that none of these players are looked upon like they’re Addison Russell or Byron Buxton or Kris Bryant, and if Street and the rest of the new Angels bullpen helps get them past the A’s and into a home game to start ALDS without needing to win the wild card playoff, it’s certain that nobody in Anaheim will be regretting it.

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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times and TechGraphs, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.

22 Responses to “The Completely Rebuilt, Win-Now Angels Bullpen”

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  1. jmsdean477 says:

    They made this insane run of wins thru a ton of games with the worst teams in baseball, this rotation just doesn’t have what it takes to catch the a’s, and the difference in str of schedule is drastic enjoy 2 Bal and 1 Det series while we get the Astros and Rangers. I will take as special kind of pleasure watching king Felix knock out this overpriced monstrosity in the play in game. Skaggs, Santiago, Shoemaker, aren’t going to get it done, and head to head with the A’s doesn’t look ideal with them already ahead 6-3 this season.

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  2. Fujikawa-Bunga says:

    I just notice the Angels paying out for very minor upgrades whereas the A’s paid for samardjiza and hammel but that was a big time upgrade.

    Street in SD playing against NL West teams will be far worse than Street in LA playing against AL West offenses.

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  3. Johnston says:

    I’m sure that all the people who loved the A’s rent-a-pitcher trade will love this one too.

    Even if it is a serious overpay.

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  4. Luke Appling says:

    Cliff Lee could be the rug that ties the whole room together.

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  5. Bat says:

    I suppose the Angels financial might may make them able to prevent an extended downturn of the major league team, but one does have to wonder a bit about how the Angels will perform from 2016-2018.

    The Angels have mostly aging major league players and no farm system of note: the farm will likely rank last in the next offseason.

    I suppose they can try and restock through the international market like the Yankees did this past offseason and pay financial penalties as necessary, but still…as of right now, perhaps the team will be in the toilet during Trout’s age 24-26 seasons.

    But for sure a lot can happen between now and then: international restocking; free agents; drafting well even if the major league team plays well and the draft picks are not near the top of the draft (for example, assuming the Angels complete this year well, the 2015 draft).

    Anyway, the good news for Angels fans is that even if they are terrible for 2-3 years in the near future (not because of this trade but totality of the circumstances) this is only Trout’s age 22 season (!!!) and they’ll have some more seasons with him.

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    • DM says:

      Perhaps Grant Green, Luis Jimenez, Efrin Navarro, JB Shuck, Colin Cowhill, O’Malley, is enough depth for 2014-2015? We’ve always got the option of retreads like Boesch who are rocking in AAA too- we’ll pick up 10 more next year and maybe 2 will make it. Sean Newcomb may make it to the rotation by the end of next year- there’s still 6 other viable yet unheralded bullpen/emergency start options in the system- unless we lose 3 starting pitchers (like Texas/Oakland) we are likely fine. These young bloods without respect of the columnists seem to do quite well in a lineup with Mike Trout/Pujols/Hamilton. Now if we could pick up a solid .280 hitting catcher that’d be awesome but it’s a hard thing to find these days.

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  6. DM says:

    It was SUCH a shame when the Angels had a #1 ranked farm system by certain media outlets less than a decade ago that they never traded Wood or McPherson. That would have derailed the team big time right?

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    • DM says:
      Here’s one year later – this one sucks to re-read though:

      10. Nick Adenhart, RHP (DOB: 8/24/86; Drafted 2004 14th round – #413 overall)

      Has more upside than any pitcher on this list, including yes, Jered Weaver. He would have been a first rounder had he not got hurt prior to the draft and undergone Tommy John surgery. The Angels though have deep pockets and took a chance on Adenhart in the 14th round and gave him well above slot money to sign, rehab with them, and then return this year. It seems to be paying off so far, as he’s nearly back to 100%, flashing a mid 90s fastball, and solid secondary offerings including a plus change, curve, and slider. Control was an issue at times, but chalk that up to rust. 2006 will go a long way in determining how fast he’ll move. Not sure where he starts, but he has the talent to make the jump to the Midwest League to start 2006.

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    • AA says:

      Wood is such a sad story. So incredibly talented, but just couldn’t hit in the majors. I think moving him of SS, which he was actually still a plus defender at, was the first big mistake.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

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