The Angels unveiled the prestige of their effort to rebuild their bullpen Friday night by acquiring Padres closer Huston Street and a minor league reliever for four prospects including second baseman Taylor Lindsey, shortstop Jose Rondon and right-hander R.J. Alvarez. Street, who leads the major leagues in save percentage over the last three seasons, will close for the Angels. He anchors a bullpen recently reinforced by the previous additions of lefty Joe Thatcher from the Diamondbacks and former Pirates closer Jason Grilli, who is now working in a set-up role.
Street arrives in Anaheim as arguably the most underrated closer in baseball. Since the start of the 2012 season, Street leads all pitchers with more than three saves in save percentage, having blown just four of 80 save chances over that stretch. Saves aren’t the best indication of the quality of pitcher’s performance, but for a pitcher charged with converting save opportunities, a high save percentage is certainly a positive, and Street’s excellence has not been limited to his ability to get the final out. His ERA over the last three years has been 2.03, which even after adjusting for the Padres’ pitcher-friendly home ballpark, translates to a 174 ERA+, the eighth-best mark by a reliever with 100 or more innings pitched over that span.
Highest save percentage since 2012 (min. 80 opportunities)
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Thus far this season, Street has posted an absurd 1.09 ERA, though that has been the result of considerable luck on balls in play, something that has been the case in all three of his Padres seasons. Street’s collective BABIP as a Padre was a miniscule .200. That suggests that he is due for a considerable correction upon leaving Petco Park.
Certainly he is unlikely to maintain an ERA around 1.00 for the entire season, but arguing in favor of Street’s continued success outside of San Diego are his strong peripherals. Before being traded to the Padres after the 2011 season, Street spent three years pitching his home games in the exact opposite run-scoring environment with the Rockies, but the one constant over those six years was Street’s excellence in the strike zone. He struck out more than a man per inning over those last half-dozen seasons while walking fewer than two men per nine innings over the same stretch (a 4.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio). This year he has been right in line with those figures, striking out 34 men in 33 innings against just seven walks (1.9 BB/9). Street, who made the National League All-Star team this year as a replacement for teammate Tyson Ross, should enjoy continued success with the Angels and help solidify a bullpen that could prove to be a strength for the Angels in the second half.
The Angels’ bullpen posted a collective 3.89 ERA before the All-Star break, a mark that ranked 24th in the major leagues. However, having jettisoned incumbent closer Ernesto Frieri (6.39 ERA) in the trade for Grilli, the collective 2014 ERA of the seven men in the Halos’ bullpen after the acquisition of Street -- Street, Thatcher, Grilli, Joe Smith, Kevin Jepsen, Mike Morin and Fernando Salas (assuming Cory Rasmus is the reliever optioned to make room for Street) -- is 2.37, which would rank first in the majors. Of those seven, only Grilli, at 3.96, has a season ERA higher than the Angels’ bullpen’s collective ERA on the season, and Grilli has, unlike Frieri, pitched better since being traded, albeit in a tiny sample of eight appearances. If Street does continue to perform at his established level over the remainder of this season, the Angels will likely be motivated to pick up his $7 million option for the 2015 season, making this more than a hired-gun stretch-run addition.
That option is no small thing, as the Angels gave up several of their top prospects to land Street. The caveat there being that the Angels’ farm system in the wake of the Zack Greinke trade and two consecutive drafts in which they lost their top picks to free agent compensation, was largely barren to begin with. That Lindsey, the Triple-A second baseman heading up the package for Street, was the Angels’ top prospect is less a compliment to Lindsey than a condemnation of the Angels’ farm system.
Lindsey, drafted with one of the compensation picks the Angels received when Chone Figgins signed with the Mariners, is a 22-year-old offense-first second baseman who has hit .247/.323/.400 in Triple-A this season and is considered average or worse in terms of his fielding, running, and power potential. He could be the Padres’ second baseman as early as next year, with Jedd Gyorko moving to third base in the wake of Chase Headley’s likely departure, be it via an in-season trade or postseason free agency. Lindsey won’t be an impact player, and he’s unlikely to make the Padres a better team.
R.J. Alvarez is a 23-year-old righty reliever who has been excellent in Double-A this year and could move quickly toward the Padres bullpen. A third-round pick out of Florida Atlantic University in 2012, Alvarez has struck out 13.5 men per nine innings in his minor league career and has kept his walks under control this year.
He throws in the mid-90s with a nasty slider and has been working on a third pitch. However, he also missed six weeks with an elbow issue earlier this season. He returned in late June and has been plenty dominant since and could eventually emerge as a closer, though he’s more often projected as a future set-up man.
Jose Rondon may prove to be the best prospect in this trade, though he was rated the third-best of the three named prospects involved coming into the season. A 20-year-old Venezuelan shortstop, Rondon is hitting .327/.362/.418 in the admittedly hitting-friendly High-A California League this year, and while not an elite defender, he is well regarded in the field. Given his potential for continued growth, he’s a player Padres fans should keep an eye on.
The fourth minor leaguer going to the Padres is 22-year-old righty starter Elliot Morris, a fourth-round pick out of Pierce College last year who has posted a 4.17 ERA since being promoted to High-A in late May. Neither he nor the Double-A reliever the Angels received, 21-year-old righty Trevor Gott, a sixth-round pick out of the University of Kentucky a year ago, is a prospect, and neither seems likely to be anything more than an organizational arm for their new team.
With Street gone, Joaquin Benoit will close for San Diego, though he, too, could be traded before the July 31 non-waiver deadline. Street, meanwhile, returns to the American League West in an attempt to help the Angels catch the A’s, the team with which Street won the Rookie of the Year award in 2005. If he succeeds, it would be particularly galling for the A’s, as they traded Street and Carlos Gonzalez to the Rockies in November 2008 in a three-player package for Matt Holliday. Oakland then traded Holliday the following June for what has proven to be a bust of a three-player package headed by Brett Wallace. That may seem like ancient history now, but Street could prove to be a very-present reminder of that failed sequence over the remainder of the season.