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The Angels have a bullpen problem

Last season's best team by regular season record is significantly weaker in the bullpen.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

I'll preface this by saying that the offseason isn't over yet. There are many relievers still available on the free agent market. A more appropriate title would have been "The Angels have a bullpen problem waiting to be solved", but brevity is the soul of wit, or so I hear.

I'll explain first how this problem came about. Last season, the Angels decided to fortify their bullpen with mid-season acquisitions Jason Grilli and Huston Street. In acquiring Grilli, the Angels gave up Ernesto Frieri, who was having a miserable season at the time and continued to have a miserable season after the trade. Grilli was having a bad season himself, but he rebounded after joining the Angels. Street also had a pretty good time in LA. Both pitchers significantly reduced their home runs given up. The Angels' bullpen actually finished the 2014 season 13th in fWAR. Things were good.

Then the offseason happened. Like it does every year. Jason Grilli became a free agent and signed with the Braves. For reasons related to the offseason, the Angels traded Kevin Jepsen for Matt Joyce. Joyce bolsters the Angels' offense by providing a solid bat against opposite handed pitching, but he is indeed a platoon player. He is projected for 1.2 fWAR in a part-time role, which is more than Jepsen. Nevertheless, the Angels stand in a poor position at the moment. Shown below is a sortable table. This table contains the relief pitching fWAR of each team in 2014 and each team's projected fWAR according to the FanGraphs depth charts. The last column is the difference between the two.

Team 2014 fWAR 2015 Projected WAR Difference
Yankees 5.9 3.8 2.1
Royals 5.9 4.7 1.2
Red Sox 5.6 2.8 2.8
Nationals 5.2 1.7 3.5
Marlins 4.6 1.9 2.7
Orioles 4.6 2.0 2.6
Mariners 4.5 2.1 2.4
Cubs 4.5 2.1 2.4
Phillies 4.3 1.1 3.2
Rangers 4.0 1.6 2.4
Athletics 4.0 2.4 1.6
Braves 3.8 3.1 0.7
Angels 3.7 0.2 3.5
Padres 3.4 0.4 3.0
Indians 3.1 1.7 1.4
Rays 3.0 3.0 0.0
Diamondbacks 2.6 1.2 1.4
Cardinals 2.3 1.8 0.5
Twins 2.0 1.7 0.3
Brewers 1.9 1.4 0.5
Rockies 1.5 3.1 -1.6
Blue Jays 1.3 2.0 -0.7
Reds 1.1 2.1 -1.0
Dodgers 0.7 1.5 -0.8
Pirates 0.7 2.0 -1.3
White Sox 0.7 2.1 -1.4
Tigers 0.6 2.1 -1.5
Giants 0.5 1.0 -0.5
Astros 0.4 1.5 -1.1
Mets -1.6 0.2 -1.8

The Angels find themselves tied with the Nationals for the largest difference. The thought is that the Angels now have a large amount of ground to make up in order to approximate last season's relief performance. Grilli and Jepsen were 1.8 of the 3.7 fWAR.

In addition to losses, the projections see significant regression from the remaining players. Street and Joe Smith both had large differences between their ERA and xFIP due to low home run rates. Smith and Street will probably give up a few more homers. Fernando Salas is projected for a huge decrease in his strikeout rate. Mike Morin, Cam Bedrosian, Vinnie Pestano, and Cory Rasmus will potentially play larger roles without any improvements by the Angels.

So the bullpen is a problem waiting to be solved. You could argue about the depth charts, but the point is that the Angels will be giving a lot of bullpen innings to relievers who aren't quite as good as last year's stable. There are two places the Angels can look: free agency and trades.

In free agency, names like Neal Cotts, Francisco Rodriguez, Carlos Villanueva, and Tom Gorzelanny remain. There are some decent options out there. The elite guys have already signed, but the Angels need depth more than elite guys. Smith and Salas should be able to fill the back end of the bullpen adequately.

However, should the Angels decide they need an elite, shut-down, lights-out, dynamite, [insert cliche here] reliever, they should call up the Kansas City Royals. The Royals are likely looking to trade either Wade Davis or Greg Holland for salary relief. However, given their free-spending offseason during which all major additions have been free agents, the Royals may not care too much about salary after their World Series run. The Royals may simply be looking to gain value, so the Angels must offer good value in return. At this point, the Angels don't have much of value in the minor league system. It's relatively barren.

The Royals would likely accept pitching or OF depth. Their outfield is set with Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain/Jarrod Dyson, and Alex Rios, but Rios is a stopgap for an also-barren future. Colin Cowgill had a decent season but hasn't shown much before 2014. Kole Calhoun probably figures into the Angels' future. I'm going to guess that Mike Trout figures into the Angels' future. Josh Hamilton's contract makes him nigh-untradeable. The Angels just got Matt Joyce and probably wouldn't trade him just after they got him to restock the position they traded away.

I'm not particularly adept at proposing trade scenarios involving prospects. I'm not a prospect hound, nor do I estimate their trade value. The point is that the Angels would likely have to give up major league assets to acquire a bullpen upgrade in a trade. The free agent market is probably the best bet for a solution.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Kevin Ruprecht is an Editor of Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royals Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinRuprecht.