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February 18, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Monday, February 18

by Daniel Rathman

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The Reds invested $8.5 million in Ryan Madson last offseason, only to watch the former Phillie go down with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on April 11. Madson declined the mutual option included in his contract to hit the market for the second time in his career, and quickly drew a $3.5 million gamble from the Angels, who hoped to buy low on the recovering right-hander and thereby address their late-inning relief struggles.

Now, as most Americans enjoy their Presidents Day off, Madson will come to the Angels facility in Tempe facing a big day at the office. Today’s Roundup begins there…

Madson could start throwing again today
The Halos and their fans got a minor scare last week, when the team’s beat writers, including MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez, reported that Madson was dealing with soreness in his surgically repaired elbow and had been shut down since February 1. The 32-year-old righty called the lingering ailment “a little discouraging,” but fortunately, a subsequent MRI revealed no further damage, putting him on track to resume his throwing program after a bit more rest. According to Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register—who spoke with Pete Barrett on The Squeeze, as part of the Effectively Wild preview of the 2013 Angels season—Madson might now be ready to kick it back into gear.

If Madson is able to endure a throwing session on Monday and stay pain-free for the rest of spring training, then he might be able to make his Angels debut within the first couple of weeks of the regular season. As the northpaw himself told Fletcher, his desire to accelerate his rehabilitation and strength-rebuilding process in an effort to be ready for Opening Day may have contributed to the recent setback. And, with that in mind, it seems fair to assume that when the Angels begin their campaign at Great American Ball Park on April 1, in the new scheduling format’s first interleague series, they will do so without their marquee bullpen addition.

General manager Jerry Dipoto did not stop looking for relief upgrades after adding Madson, though; he also picked up ex-National Sean Burnett on a two-year, $8 million deal, to serve as the primary left-handed setup man to Madson, who at that point was still on track to be the closer at the beginning of the season. Burnett is likely to stay in that role, which means that Ernesto Frieri, who came over from the Padres last May 3, will retain the ninth-inning reins for at least the first half of April.

Frieri faded in the second half after a dazzling start, in which he pitched 13 consecutive hitless innings following the trade, but he still amassed a 35-to-9 K:BB over 28 innings after the All-Star break. The 28-year-old was felled by the gopher ball down the stretch, as he served up seven of them in the 28-inning span, but his track record of success against both righty and lefty batters should enable him to continue handling the closer role with aplomb.

A heavily fastball-oriented pitcher, Frieri used his mid-90s heater on 85 percent of the pitches that he threw in 2012, per his Brooks Baseball player card, and with good reason: Hitters swung-and-missed at a tick more than 17 percent of them. The fastball was effective essentially regardless of location, so even though Frieri’s curveball and slider control remains spotty—more than half of the benders were taken for balls last year—he is a formidable one-trick pony.

For the Angels, that ought to inspire confidence in the bullpen’s ability to hold leads in the late innings, whether Madson’s timetable is stretched only to April 15 or into May. For fantasy players, that makes Frieri a critical handcuff to Madson in the early going. Jason Collette pointed out in his annual Closer Matrix column that Madson’s particular skills portend better results, but Frieri’s strikeout volume and virtually guaranteed role on Opening Day are likely to make him one of the first non-full-time closers off the board in drafts this spring.

Athletics exploring options at first base
Meanwhile, the Angels’ rivals up the California coast are looking for ways to ensure that their stunning, 94-win, American League West title campaign from 2012 won’t be a fluke. According to San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Susan Slusser, that effort is currently focused on first base, where the Chris Carter-for-Jed Lowrie trade left incumbent Brandon Moss without an obvious platoon partner. The 29-year-old Moss’ breakout season, marked by a .291/.358/.596 triple-slash line and 21 home runs in just 296 plate appearances, was a key component of the Athletics’ Cinderella run, but banking on an encore without developing a fallback plan would almost certainly contribute to the team’s widely expected regression.

That’s why, as Slusser wrote on Friday, manager Bob Melvin and his assistants are holding tryouts at the position. Seth Smith, who has made all 483 of his major-league appearances at a corner-outfield spot, is open to turning back the clock to his days as a ninth grader at Hillcrest Christian High School in Mississippi, in order to garner playing time on a crowded roster. Former blue-chipper Michael Taylor— whose stock has dimmed considerably since three years ago, when Kevin Goldstein ranked him as the 20th-best prospect in all of baseball—is hoping to regain some of his lost luster by showing added versatility, too. And, as Slusser mentioned in the afore-linked column, the A’s are well equipped to help interested outfielders to learn the nuances of first base, with Scott Hatteberg and Phil Garner on the coaching staff and Daric Barton just three years removed from a 4.4 WARP (+3.6 FRAA) campaign as the team’s everyday first baseman.

PECOTA believes that some of the prodigious power that Moss flashed last year is legitimate, projecting him for 20 more long balls in 535 plate appearances, but his lack of secondary skills dampens his projection to 0.6 WARP. If the A’s could overcome some of that lost value with enhanced versatility, as a result of spring-training work and the Lowrie acquisition, then they will be poised to clear one of the most significant hurdles in their attempt to avoid a slide down the standings.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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