While everything else seems to be falling perfectly into place for the Los Angeles Angels, important questions loom. The Halos put last year’s surprise second-place finish in the American League West into the rearview mirror with the acquisition of Shohei Ohtani. However, there are still some doubts about the team picked “most likely to challenge the Houston Astros.” Specifically, they seem to have eight listed starters (though one is out recovering from Tommy John surgery) and no closer in a thin-looking bullpen.
This isn’t a huge worry, of course. Spring training has yet to start, and the usual injuries, decline, and other complications will whittle down that roster of pitching, as it does every spring. The Angels have indicated that they’re planning to use a six-pitcher rotation, taking one spot from the average bullpen roster, but it’s a rare team that goes into spring training with only a seven-man pen. There is a legitimate question around the Angels’ closer — and whether the team should acquire one before April.
On the current pitching staff, right-hander Blake Parker racked up the most saves in 2017, a princely sum of six. If the Angels decide to go with a determined closer, Parker seems like a decent candidate for the role. He had the best season of his career in 2017, holding an ERA under three over 67 1/3 innings, the second-most relief innings on the team, behind Yusmeiro Petit. Parker throws a fastball, a splitter, and a curve — a slightly unusual arsenal that might make him the best option for the dude batters least want to see at the end of a game. He also improved over the season while being responsible for the end of more games.
While Parker may be the best bet, the Angels might also audition Cam Bedrosian for the role. Bedrosian doesn’t have the third pitch of Parker, and didn’t quite have the same results last season, but when he is pitching well, he can be unhittable. Unfortunately for both Bedrosian and the Angels, he wasn’t unhittable that much in 2017. An option for Los Angeles would be a closing tandem, bringing the different look to the back end of their bullpen that they supposedly plan to bring to their rotation.
Los Angeles might consider converting whichever starter doesn’t make the opening day rotation to the closing role. This doesn’t work as well or as often as you’d think — the style of pitching is so much different, with starters having to conserve energy and closers often trying to maximize every single pitch — but sometimes, the attitude is correct and the conversion works out. Of all the starters, J.C. Ramirez seems to be the most likely candidate — he wasn’t a starter at all until he came to the Angels.
The Angels could also try to acquire a closer, either before the season starts or in the first real trading period of the year. Interestingly, in what has been deemed an incredibly slow offseason, most of the top free-agent relievers have already signed. 32-year-old Greg Holland is still available after an incredibly solid bounce-back season with Colorado. Holland might be the best option for the Angels, especially if they believe that his solid results in the city where the ball flies farthest might be repeatable in a park that is also friendly to the home run.
The bullpen situation is a reminder that no matter how far the Angels seem to have come, they’re not all the way there. With the addition of Ohtani and the rearrangement of their other pieces (as well as the peak years of Mike Trout), they’re a team to watch in the A.L. West, but like nearly every team, they do have their weaknesses. With the lack of depth available, it would only take an injury or two to make a mockery of that competitive dream.