The Los Angeles Angels are in desperate need of some bullpen help. They had one of the worst bullpens in baseball this past season, and have a lot of question marks heading into 2024.
Carlos Estevez is going to play a big role, but he finished so poorly to the point where it's worth discussing whether he should be their closer or not next season. Young arms like Jose Soriano, Ben Joyce, and Sam Bachman all showed flashes but also came with their deficiencies. The rest of the bullpen, including the newly signed Adam Kolarek, leaves a lot to be desired.
With bullpen upgrades in mind, the Angels have already been linked to right-hander Robert Stephenson. He makes some sense for the Angels after his resurgent 2023 season, but also comes with the question of whether that level of play is sustainable.
It's tricky to come up with a projection for Stephenson's contract because of how inconsistent his career has been. Perhaps his deal with the Angels or wherever he signs will be similar to Emilio Pagan who has had a similar trajectory and just signed a deal with the Reds.
LA Angels should consider Robert Stephenson if he gets a similar deal to Emilio Pagan
Stephenson has had some good years mixed in with some poor ones. He was dreadful in 2022 and struggled to begin the 2023 season before being traded to the Rays. After he got to Tampa Bay, he immediately turned his season and potentially his career around by posting a 2.35 ERA in 42 appearances. His partial season with the Rays will get him paid handsomely.
Pagan looked like a promising reliever following the 2019 season and was traded from the Rays to the Padres in the deal that sent Manuel Margot to Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, he'd struggle in his two years in San Diego and pitched poorly in Minnesota last season before a dominant 2023. Pagan had a 2.99 ERA in 66 appearances and posted a 1.91 ERA in 32 second half appearances. Similar trajectories.
The 32-year-old Pagan signed a two-year deal worth $16 million to join the Reds. The deal includes performance bonuses and has a player option at the end of the first year. It's obviously expensive, but considering how expensive good relief pitching is, it makes sense. Keeping the term short plus giving him the incentive to pitch well enough to opt out and earn more money makes a lot of sense.
Stephenson is two years younger which could help him earn more term, he's had a ton of interest around him, and he also pitched better in 2023 than Pagan did. The chances of him earning more than Pagan are quite high, the question is how much more.
If the Angels can ink him on a deal structured similarly to the Pagan deal I think it'd make a lot of sense. I have my doubts about that actually coming to fruition, however.