12/06/12 12:28 PM ET
It's been a winter of content for Angels
Bullpen, rotation additions should have club in thick of AL West race
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
General manager Jerry Dipoto didn't allow himself to be held hostage by the Zack Greinke sweepstakes, and that's a difficult thing to do. Clubs focus solely on one star and become convinced they absolutely, positively have to have that star.
They figure they'll exhaust all their options before moving to a backup plan. Meanwhile, the market changes by the hour, with prices going up or down, with names coming off the board. Suddenly, clubs either can't fill their needs or have to overpay for them.
Dipoto identified players who were available and made the Angels better. Could he have done better by waiting for the January market to develop as unsigned players scramble to find work? Sure, he might have.
There's always an unknown in free agency. But no general manager was more aggressive in addressing his needs, and as the Winter Meetings ended Thursday, few general managers should be feeling better about his club.
OK, Dipoto has not landed Greinke, and with his payroll commitments already at $142 million, he seems unlikely to. He'd like to keep his payroll under last year's record $159 million, and if Greinke lands a $20-million-a-year deal, it probably won't be with the Angels.
If Dipoto does land Greinke, he might very well have the American League's best club. Without him, he'll have some question marks. And so will every other team.
Then again, the Angels left Spring Training this season as one of the consensus favorites to play deep into the postseason, and they ended up finishing behind the A's and Rangers in the AL West.
Regardless, Dipoto has improved his team, and not in a small way. First, he landed closer Ryan Madson. The Angels were tied for the AL lead with 22 blown saves in 2012, and if Madson's right elbow is sound -- and he says he'll be ready to go Opening Day -- the Angels will have taken a huge step for solving their biggest problem.
Then Dipoto got left-hander Sean Burnett, a proven commodity, for the bullpen, meaning that manager Mike Scioscia will have all kinds of options he didn't have in 2012.
Scott Downs and Ernesto Frieri will slide into different roles in 2013, either as one-batter specialists or to help get the game into Madson's hands. No matter how it plays out, the additions of Madson and Burnett appear to make the Angels way better.
Scioscia might also have right-hander Jerome Williams for the bullpen. Dipoto's signing of Joe Blanton gives the Angels six starting pitchers. This rotation doesn't look nearly as good as the one they ran out on Opening Day last season, but they couldn't have predicted the problems Ervin Santana and Dan Haren would have.
Allowing Haren to leave via free agency is a gamble, especially because he made such a nice adjustment down the stretch in learning how to pitch with diminished velocity. The Nationals were thrilled to add him to the back of their rotation, behind all those power arms.
So for the Angels, it's about having some of their starting pitchers regain their footing. They're confident a healthy C.J. Wilson will line up behind Jered Weaver in the rotation and that Blanton will throw his usual 180 innings.
To overtake the A's and Rangers, the Angels need Garrett Richards, a 2009 first-round pick, to take a step forward.
And there's Tommy Hanson, the one-time future ace of the Braves. He's still just 26 years old, and after an alarming drop in velocity last season, the Angels hope he still can be an impact starter.
Yes, that's a significant number of questions. But the game is funny like that sometimes.
At this time last season, the Angels seemed to have zero questions. Albert Pujols had been added to the middle of their lineup, and Wilson was going to be the finishing touch on baseball's best rotation.
The bullpen fell apart, Pujols started slowly and the Angels missed the playoffs for a third straight season.
Expectations will be more cautious this season. Mike Trout has given the Angels a dazzling presence at the top of the lineup, and if Dipoto is right about Hanson and Blanton, the Angels are plenty good enough to go back to the postseason.
If Greinke lands on their doorstep at an affordable price, they'll be thrilled. If he doesn't, they're still good enough to win their division.
"We're very, very comfortable and confident in the team that we're going to have," Scioscia said.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.