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LA Angels Bullpen: Depth Chart Discussions

In the Mix
 Ryan Madson (inj.)
Hiroyuki Kobayashi

It’s hard to say that there’s a lot of drama in Angels camp this spring. There’s little doubt about the starting nine, and even the five rotation spots seem pretty secure unless injury issues flare up, most likely with Joe Blanton or Tommy Hanson.

So while Mike Scioscia can focus mainly on getting his team ready for the season without having to make a lot of roster choices — unless they’re the surprise landing spot for Kyle Lohse — the one area that does seem to have some uncertainty is in the bullpen, particularly the ninth inning. The original plan was that Ryan Madson would come to town to be the team’s closer, despite missing all of 2012 before ever throwing a pitch for Cincinnati. Despite the injury, there was merit to the idea; Madson was an effective if under-appreciated arm for years in Philadelphia before putting up 32 saves in 2011 when Brad Lidge finally melted down.

Unfortunately for Madson and the Angels, things haven’t quite gone so smoothly thus far. Madson hasn’t thrown for most of the month while dealing with soreness in the elbow, and while an MRI came back clean, he’s progressed only to the point where tossing for six whole minutes, as he did earlier this week, counts as news. He’s likely to begin the season on the disabled list, though I have to admit, that almost increases his value in my eyes. The big red “+” or “DL” that will be next to his name in drafts will probably cause most to avoid him entirely, but I love to stash players on the disabled list whenever possible, so if Madson is available at the tail end of a draft, it’s well worth grabbing him as a lottery ticket. After all, he was very good in 2011 and if his elbow holds up, it’s clear the Angels would prefer him in the ninth.

In the meantime, Ernesto Frieri, last year’s breakout surprise, is likely to start the season in the closer’s role. After the Angels stole him from San Diego, all Frieri did was rip off a streak of 26 consecutive scoreless outings, striking out 80 in 54.1 innings while collecting 23 saves.  One would think that might be enough to hang onto his job, though there’s always the Jamesian argument that a better pitcher is more effectively utilized in tougher situations — especially one like Frieri who does better with men on base than with the bases empty. Frieri’s strikeout rates already made him one of the few non-closing relievers potentially worth a roster spot, and Madson’s setback increases his value. If he starts well, it’s not hard to see him never giving the job back.

Behind Madson & Frieri, the Angels have a solid trio of veteran in newcomer Sean Burnett, Scott Downs, & Kevin Jepsen. Lefties Burnett & Downs have the potential to be interesting in holds leagues, with Burnett also helping out in other ways thanks to a great 57/12 K/BB ratio in 56.1 innings for Washington last year — along with stealing a few saves each year. Downs actually had nine saves for the Angels last year after Jordan Walden fell apart and before Frieri arrived, but he doesn’t miss many bats and is probably only useful for holds. Jepsen is the type of guy every team needs in real life, yet doesn’t carry much fantasy relevance.

That’s the core five, and like most teams the Angels have a good deal of uncertainty for the final spot or two. One excess starting pitcher — Jerome Williams or Garrett Richards — could start out in the bullpen, along with a grab bag of Quad-A types, injury returnees, and non-roster guys. While I’ll admit that I’m intrigued by the idea of Chad Cordero overcoming a great deal of difficulty to actually get back to the bigs, no one there should even be considered for fantasy rosters right now.