Dear Mr. Dipoto,
First time caller, longtime listener, as it were. Having had the unwanted luxury of these last few days to think about 2013, instead of watching the Angels scrapping their way to the 2012 Series, I had a few idea about next season and knew you needed to be gifted with my wisdom and insight.
So, Jerry—may I call you Jerry?—this wasn’t a bad team in 2012, it simply had a few glaring deficiencies which couldn’t be overcome before the final pitch of the regular season. The first obvious area of need is the bullpen, a place I know which is near and dear to your heart, as well as squarely in the wheelhouse of your knowledge base.
The horrible start, as much or more than any single aspect, can be traced to a letdown in the bullpen. 6 of the losses in April were blown by the bullpen. While simply flipping half of those into wins wouldn’t, by itself, have changed the outcome of the season, reducing the hole the team had dug for itself might well have made a difference over the duration of the season, from a psychological perspective.
I know you didn’t bring in Hisanori Takahashi, but LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen were both rolls of snake eyes. Acquiring Frieri was absolute theft from the Padres, and was a huge factor in the upgrading of the pen. But I sense Ernie is better suited to setup, not closing, and finding a closer should be the highest priority for the offseason.
So that means finding a closer on the market, and for that I offer you no half-baked, ill-informed ideas of my own as to whom to pursue. The bullpen was your domain and I trust you have a few good ideas of how to proceed in the trade market. As much as I love Peter Bourjos, I think the future of this team features Mike Trout in Center and therefore Bourjos becomes more of a luxury than a necessity. If he becomes the centerpiece in return for the guy who will anchor the pen for the next few seasons, then I trust you to know when to pull the trigger. I’d add Mark Trumbo / C.J. Cron, Jordan Walden and Hank Conger to the list of players considered in play when the opportunity comes to find the right pieces. Morales might be good as gone at the end of 2013, but Trumbo is under control through 2016 and maybe Cron will be ready to step up in 2015.
I think we’re all in agreement that spending tens of millions on a closer is wasted, for often either the closer is a bust (Heath Bell) or the team doesn’t play well enough to justify having the closer (Jonathan Papelbon). But do keep an eye on Nick Maronde. I think this kid is going to be special in the next couple of years.
That takes me to my next suggestion, Jer—may I call you Jer?—and it has to do with the man who must be your personal Moriarity: Vernon Wells. I haven’t seen this idea floated previously, so I’ll take the time to do so now: Sit down with his agent and renegotiate his contract. He’s owed $42M over the next two seasons, so take $22M of that and defer it for a few seasons. Pay him with interest, give him 5% a year and begin payments when he turns 35 or 40—it’s just mundane details at that point. If you need guidance, pick up the phone and call Ned Colletti across town, since he did this with both Manny and Andruw Jones. The Mets did it years ago with Bobby Bo. There are a few positive outcomes from making such a move:
Wells at $10M a season for the next two years would be easier to trade. The lifting of some of the contract’s burden might ease Wells’ mental load if he stays Such a move would free up $11M each of the next two years to redeploy to another player[s]
What I would admonish, though, is that under no circumstances should Wells be cut. Do so, and watch Texas pick him up, give him the chance to hit some HR in Arlington, and turn him into Napoli 2.0 against the Angels. Either trade him or keep him as a reserve, but control his destiny, in either case.
And speaking of that suddenly-available $11M a season, that would help in an offer to Hunter to return for 2013 and 2014. Give him the $13M qualifying offer as insurance, but cut him a deal for two-and-an-option at $8M to $10M a year. He could get more elsewhere, but I think he wants to stay, and everything I’ve seen shows me he’s an excellent mentor to Trout in the OF. I have no illusions that he’ll hit over .300 again in his career, but the 15 RF assists in 2011 and the 14 this past season tells me he has more than a little in the tank to continue patrolling RF, and I don’t see him blocking a superior player in the system.
To merge the topics of pitching and free agents, do what it takes to sign Zack Greinke. I was about the most skeptical guy in the world about Greinke, but he showed me clearly he is the real deal. He’s young, his (physical) health has been good and he knows what it takes to put batters away. Pick up Haren’s option, since I believe 2012 was an aberration in his career. But it is time to end the feast-or-famine performance known as Ervin Santana’s Angel career. Assuming Wilson bounces back from elbow surgery—and that it fixes what took away the second half of his 2012 season—then a rotation of Jered Weaver, Greinke, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren and Garett Richards would have the depth necessary to compete in 2013. Lock down the back end of the bullpen and we could easily pick up 8 games in the win column, all other things being equal.
Finally, Sugar Pie—may I call you Sugar Pie?—I think I might have identified a crucial missing component of this 2012 Angels team. Like Samson and his hair, like Popeye and his spinach, the Angels teams of past seasons had a consistent component which may have been a wellspring of strength: They had a steady stream of guys named Rodriguez. We had Francisco "Frankie" Rodriguez, Fernando Rodriguez, Sean Rodriguez, Other Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Rodriguez, Shemp Rodriguez, Mitt Rodriguez… it was like we were stockpiling them for some weird, post-apocalyptic society, where one Rodriguez could be bartered for a week’s worth of provisions. We have a Nathaniel Rodriguez who played for Tom Kotchman in Orem last season, but he’s about it. We have an apparent surplus of guys named Jimenez, but I think most folks know that a Jimenez is what comes back as change when it is necessary to break a Rodriguez in a post-apocalyptic transaction (usually one Jimenez and a couple of Hernandezes, though the exchange rate figures to change daily).
So do the due diligence and grab us a brace of Rodriguezes ("Rodrigues" is an acceptable alternative) this off-season, though no Wandy or A-Rod, please.
Your correspondent has spent far too many sleepy mornings at work, after staying up until 1 am or later here on the Wrong Coast and suffering through yet one more game lost in the late innings. I know there is plenty of fine-tuning planned for the 40-man and for the minors in equal measure, but if you follow my guideline above, I think you’ll be done before Christmas. With Texas in complete disarray right now and Houston stepping in to dilute the AL West talent pool, there is enormous opportunity in 2013.
Best wishes to you for great success this post-season.