Dipoto is betting Angels' bullpen won't blow up again
The Angels tied for the American League lead with 25 blown saves in 2011 including 10 by rookie closer Jordan Walden, who tied Cubs left-hander Carlos Marmol for the major league lead in that category.
And yet, Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto has made only one minor change to the makeup of the team's bullpen this winter, adding veteran setup man LaTroy Hawkins on a one-year contract.
"Our stance is the same as it's been from the start, just try to be opportunistic," Dipoto said of his stance on upgrading the bullpen. "We're still trying to find the guy who can add to the mix, give us a different dimension or a different look and give us depth, and that depth needs to go beyond the six or seven guys in the major league bullpen at any given time.
"With the guys we have coming back -- Walden and (Scott) Downs and Hawkins and Rich Thompson, (Hisanori) Takahashi, (Bobby) Cassevah -- and adding guys like Michael Kohn and Kevin Jepsen into the mix, the comfort level right now is pretty high."
The Angels have only been on the fringes when it came to possibly landing spots for established closers on the free agent market like Heath Bell, Ryan Madson and Francisco Cordero, never making an aggressive effort to sign any.
Bell signed with the Marlins and Madson the Reds. Cordero remains unsigned.
But Dipoto said this week the Angels are "very unlikely" to make any more significant additions of free agents and said he did not feel replacing Walden as closer was something that needed to be done this winter.
"With that particular spot at this point, we've supported and I've supported Jordan Walden," Dipoto said. "He has earned that with his performance last season and he has earned that opportunity to be the anchor again."
--1B Kendrys Morales has been cleared to begin full, weight-bearing running on a treadmill and increased baseball activities after a re-examination by the doctor who performed the second of two surgeries on his left ankle. Morales has not played since breaking that ankle in May 2010, but the Angels remain "cautiously optimistic" he will be ready to return in 2012. The latest step forward reinforced that optimism, according to general manager Jerry Dipoto. Morales and the Angels agreed on a one-year contract for the 2012 season. Morales was eligible for arbitration, but agreed on a deal that will pay him the same $2.975 million salary he received while not playing a game in 2011. The contract also includes a $50,000 bonus if he makes 550 plate appearances.
--SS Erick Aybar and 3B Alberto Callaspo are the Angels' remaining unsigned arbitration-eligible players. The Angels have had preliminary discussions on a multi-year extension for Aybar but nothing appears imminent. Aybar will be eligible for free agency next winter if he does not sign a multi-year deal.
--INF Jorge Cantu and OF Doug Deeds agreed to minor league contracts with non-roster invitations to spring training. Cantu, 29, had a 100-RBI season in 2009 and 29 home runs the season before (both with the Marlins) but was designated for assignment by the Padres in mid-season last year and finished the season with the Rockies' Triple-A team. Deeds has spent the last three years in Triple-A and has never made the majors during his 10 professional seasons.
--General manager Jerry Dipoto will be one of the guest speakers at the inaugural SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix on March 15-17. Dipoto's inclusion is another sign of the Angels' new embrace of statistical analysis in team-building since the front office was reconstructed under Dipoto.
BY THE NUMBERS: .762 -- Combined OPS of Angels second basemen in 2011, primarily Howie Kendrick, fifth-best in the American League.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There is no timeline. There is no gauge. There is no calendar. And we don't need there to be. This is purely, as Kendrys' body wants to heal, we're going to be there to help that out." -- Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, on the team's stance regarding Kendrys Morales' comeback.
Angels owner Arte Moreno clearly did not enjoy finishing out of the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in his ownership. In response, Moreno fired GM Tony Reagins and a handful of long-time employees in a front-office purge that brought in new GM Jerry Dipoto and a fresh front-office vision. Fueled by a new TV contract that could pay the team more than $2 billion over the next 20 years, Moreno turned Dipoto loose on the free agent market, landing the best hitter of his generation (Albert Pujols) and the best available starting pitcher (C.J. Wilson) in the biggest single-day expenditure in the history of free agency. The acquisitions addressed the Angels' glaring need for an elite-level offensive hitter as well as their lack of depth in a rotation that dropped off dramatically after a front three of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. The Angels have now positioned themselves for a run at the reigning power in the AL West and two-time defending AL champion, the Rangers.
ARRIVALS: 1B Albert Pujols (free agent from Cardinals), LHP C.J. Wilson (free agent from Rangers), RHP LaTroy Hawkins (free agent from Brewers), LHP Brad Mills (trade with Blue Jays), C Chris Iannetta (trade with Rockies).
DEPARTURES: C Jeff Mathis (traded to Blue Jays), RHP Tyler Chatwood (traded to Rockies).
FREE AGENTS: RHP Fernando Rodney, RHP Joel Pineiro, 1B Russell Branyan, LHP Horacio Ramirez.
The Angels will be glad to shed themselves of Rodney, who started 2011 as their closer. The Angels quickly realized that was a mistake and Rodney stumbled through a poor season. Pineiro gave the Angels quality starts at times during two injury-marred seasons and is not likely to be re-signed. Branyan was an in-season pickup who contributed little.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: SS Erick Aybar, INF Alberto Callaspo.
Aybar is in line for a pay raise after a solid season in 2011 and could be a candidate for a multiyear deal.
--1B Kendrys Morales (fractured left ankle) has not played since getting hurt May 29, 2010. He had a second surgery on the ankle in May 2011, and the Angels are hopeful the second operation addressed lingering issues that prevented Morales from playing in 2011. Morales has been hitting in a batting cage and has been cleared to begin light jogging on an "anti-gravity" treadmill equipped with a harness that carries much of his body weight. Morales never progressed much beyond that stage last spring in his first attempt to come back. The Angels are much more guarded in their optimism about Morales' return in 2012.
--1B Mark Trumbo (stress fracture in right foot) was told in mid-November that the foot would need another four to six weeks to fully heal.