With the current offensive struggles by the Los Angeles Angels’ lineup, a great amount of pressure is being put on the pitching staff. The starting rotation has been able to hold down their part of the work while the bullpen has greatly struggled, demonstrating that they are not capable of pitching consistently well under pressure. Going forward, the bullpen’s issue will only get worse as the pressure of each game will continue to grow nearing the postseason.
Of 35 save opportunities by Angels’ relievers (the fourth most in the MLB), they have only been able to convert 20 of those opportunities into saves, meaning they have blown 15 saves, tied for the most in the MLB with the Detroit Tigers. To put things in perspective, the Angels bullpen have only converted about 57% of their save opportunities while the MLB average is 65%.
Entering Sunday, the Angels sit 9.5 games behind the division-leading Houston Astros and six games back of the second wild spot held by the Seattle Mariners. Due to the big signings of Ian Kinsler, Zack Cozart, Shohei Ohtani, and extension of Justin Upton during the offseason, however, their current standing in the division won’t shift the Angels’ “win now” attitude. It wouldn’t be tactical if the Angels, after signing huge deals, decided to be sellers at the deadline. Instead, general manager Billy Eppler and the front office realize this team can contend and will fill necessary holes in the roster. One of the major holes in the Angels’ roster, as mentioned, is the bullpen. Here are a couple of the many possible bullpen arms the Angels can target.
Joakim Soria (RHP, CWS)
Arguably one of the most underrated bullpen arms in recent years, Joakim Soria boasts a career ERA of 2.86 and a WHIP of 1.12. The 35-year old had a hiccup in his career in the past two seasons, but he has been back to his vintage form this year posting an ERA of 2.89 and a WHIP of 1.11 while walking only five and striking out 32 in 28 innings of relief. Not only has Soria been effective at preventing baserunners but he also has previous experience as a “closer.” After Keynan Middleton got sent to the disabled list, the Angels have missed a reliable back-end bullpen arm that can reliably finish games. In Soria, the Angels can get just that. Along with a 6.40 strikeout per walk ratio, Soria has only given up two home runs.
Xavier Cedeño (LHP, CWS)
In the mid-to-late part of his career, Xavier Cedeño hasn’t had many opportunities to prove himself. His career seemed to kick off during the 2015 season but an injury last year decreased his value. Somewhat of an ugly duckling type of pitcher, the White Sox, with not much to lose, signed him as a free agent during the offseason. Even as a White Sox, Cedeño didn’t begin the season on the Major League roster, but was called up recently. Since being called up, he has not allowed a run in 6.1 innings of work through eight appearances. Cedeño has only given up two hits and allowed two walks for a WHIP of 0.63 while striking out a whopping 11 batters. As a 31-year old, Cedeño doesn’t have overpowering pitches. His main pitch, the cutter, averages at only 88 MPH but its movement is wicked, sitting at a spin rate of 2405 rotations per minute, 60 higher than the Major League average. Along with the wicked cutter, Cedeño’s go-to breaking pitch, the curveball, also has nasty movement that makes the 88 MPH cutter look like it is moving in at 93 MPH. By giving the deception that his cutter is faster than it actually is, Cedeño can become effective against right-handed batters just as much as he is against lefties who are usually caught out front, making them pull pitches weakly. His ability to limit baserunners and be effective at getting left-handed batters out makes Cedeño a valuable asset for the Angels.
Since both Soria and Cedeño are in the later stages of their careers, the White Sox likely wouldn’t ask for much. That along with the fact that the White Sox’ farm system is already stacked should make them acquirable targets. For both, the Angels can afford to give up one of their top 30 prospects like outfielder Brennon Lund and a non-top 30 prospect pitcher. Along with some cash, both sides benefit immensely.
Darren O’day (RHP, BAL)
At 35 years of age and a couple of stints on the disabled list with various injuries in the past two seasons, many consider Darren O’Day’s career to be coming to an end soon. O’Day may not have had success as a rookie with the Angels, but he has since found his groove in his filthy slider. By utilizing his slider more often in recent seasons, he is able to catch hitters off guard more often, getting a fastball half of the time and the slider the other half of the time. After a rough season by O’Day standards last year, he has since re-emerged as a reliable bullpen arm, posting an ERA of 2.70 and a WHIP of 0.90 in 20 innings of relief. In those 20 innings, O’Day has only walked three batters while striking out an amazing 27. Equally effective against both sides of the plate, O’Day has proven he can be a reliable set-up man, or even a long relief pitcher when he needs to be. His versatility can thus provide depth to an out-of-sorts bullpen trying to get on track.
As mentioned, his career may be coming to an end soon as he has been injury-prone in recent times so the Orioles likely wouldn’t ask for too much. Since the Orioles are lacking depth in their position player farm system, they would probably ask for two versatile infield/outfielders which the Angels should be willing to cough up, given that they already have rising prospects developing quickly.
Brad Hand (LHP, SD)
After getting off to a rocky start to his career with the Marlins, Brad Hand has been able to find his groove as a relief pitcher with the Padres. In 2016, he made 82 appearances as a reliever and in 2017, he made 72 appearances. This year alone, so far, he has made 35 appearances, proving that Hand is able to handle being used often, as Angels’ relievers will often be overworked. In those 35 appearances, Hand has pitched 38 innings in relief, posting an ERA of 2.37 with a WHIP of 0.95 while walking 14 and striking out 55. While Hand’s main pitch, the slider, clocks in under the Major League average, its spin rate sits at a magnificent 2629 rotations per minute, more than 200 rotations per minute than the average Major League slider, giving it a late-break bite that makes it almost unhittable. Because of the constant use in his filthy slider, Hand’s fastball that averages around 94 MPH looks to the hitter like a 98 MPH fastball. Hand, like Soria, also has experience as a “closer.” This season alone, Hand has more saves than the entire Angels team at 21. Hand reached 21 saves in only 24 save opportunities, converting opportunities into saves 87.5% of the time.
Since Hand still has gas in the tank, at only 28 years of age, the Padres would likely ask for a pretty penny in return. The Angels, given the current state of the bullpen, should not hesitate to improve their roster holes especially now that they want to be contenders in the playoff race. Though the Padres’ farm system is stacked right now, it is mostly stacked with position players, so they would likely ask for a top pitching prospect in return. The Angels, with a strong farm system as well, should be okay giving up one of their top 30 prospects like Jesus Castillo along with cash.
Ultimately, we know that the Angels want to compete this year and the next, but how badly does the front office want it? They made huge deals during the offseason, so if they want to capitalize on them, then they need to continue acquiring players where there is room for improvement like in the bullpen.
Acquiring a consistent and reliable closer like Soria or Hand should be the main priority, but picking up more than just one reliable reliever should be the goal.