When pressed for an explanation on a disastrous offseason, Angels General Manager Tony Reagins mentioned that the Angels had signed Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi. After losing out on Adrian Beltre and Carl Crawford, this sounded defensive at worst and pathetic at best. But now that the bad feelings of December have melted in the sunlight of Spring Training, let's look at the revamped Angels bullpen and the battles brewing among the hopefuls for membership in it.
The first big tinkering to the pen occurred late last season when Brian Fuentes was traded to the Twins for Loek Van Mil, a tall (7'1") raw right hander who is at least a season away from the bigs. Into this closer vacuum stepped Fernando Rodney, a sloppy reliever who loves to put men on base as if he is the doorman at a downscale nightclub looking to fill up the hall with college kids on a slow night. As a set-up man he was scary and as a closer he is cardiac material. Many bullpen questions for the Angels balance on the question of whether or not Fernando Rodney is going to remain the closer. If he is serviceable in this position, than the bullpen roles become clearer.
With Rodney as closer, Scott Downs becomes the 8th inning setup man. The Downs contract and his reliability demand as much. There is a clause for Games Finished in the Downs contract that adds to his base of five million a year for three years. The team's own website lists Takahashi ahead of Downs closer to Rodney on the bullpen depth chart, but with possible question marks arising form the Angels rotation, the likelihood that Takahashi will be stretched out for starter duty makes Downs the more sure-fire thing here. But these two can be penciled in for the 7th and 8th innings when the Angels have a small lead.
With only three more positions to fill, the Angels suddenly have a wealth of options for bullpen arms to bring into games with the Angels tied early or trailing close late. Jason Bulger is a great mid-90s option if he is back and healthy - and he is in camp. Kevin Jepsen is the most likely candidate to see high leverage innings. He pitched much better in the second half of the season after treatment for a back injury.
Are we at the mop-up man position already? With Bulger's questionable health, look for the best spring training performance out of Francisco Rodriguez, Michael Kohn and Bobby Cassevah to land a spot in the major league pen, especially if Bulger is done. The two mist intriguing arms in the Angels pen, though, are Texan Jordan Waldenand Australian Rich Thompson. Walden hit a hundred miles an hour in the bigs after a late-season call up. After a few seasons of the AAA-Majors shuffle, Thompson has developed a Mariano Rivera-like cutter that might be the single most difficult Angels pitcher pitch to hit. This could be his ticket to a longer stay in the bigs. Thompson and Bulger are out of options.
If Takahashi ends up taking an emergency spot in the rotation and one of these others is injured, two of these arms are still going back to the minor leagues. If Rodney goes down and/or out, look for Downs and darkhorse Walden to enter into a battle of who has the guts it takes to close. It may not be the best pen in the major leagues, but considering the weak link at closer, how it shakes out in Tempe will be one of the more pleasant stories out of the Spring.