ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Right-handed reliever Robert Stephenson agreed to a $33 million, three-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday.
The 30-year-old Stephenson joins his fifth major league team after an impressive finish last season with Tampa Bay, where he adjusted his slider into a faster, more dangerous pitch after joining the Rays in a trade last June. He will get a salary of $11 million annually from the Angels.
“When you look at his track record in the different stops he's made, there's been improvement in a lot of those places,” Angels general manager Perry Minasian said. “That being said, he went to Tampa last year, he had a new toy to play with, changing speed with his slider, and he was one of the best — if not the best — relievers in baseball over his last 40 innings.”
Minasian confirmed the contract includes a conditional $2.5 million club option for 2027 that could be triggered if Stephenson is forced to spend 130 consecutive days on the injured list due to an elbow ligament injury during the first three seasons.
“Just some protection from an injury standpoint,” Minasian said. “We're signing the player for three years. We definitely hope to get three years of performance, whether that's through three years or four years.”
Stephenson split last season between Pittsburgh and the Rays, going 3-4 with one save, a 3.10 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 66 appearances. He was particularly adept at missing bats with that new-and-improved slider: His 46.5% swing-and-miss rate was the third-best in a big league season since 1988.
Stephenson said he didn't join the Angels with a promise to be their closer. His former Colorado Rockies teammate, Carlos Estévez, had an All-Star season as the Halos' closer last year.
“I come into this figuring I'll be somewhere in the back of the bullpen,” Stephenson said. “I love Esty, and as far as I'm concerned, he's the closer right now. Should something happen (and) they decide to have me slot in as the closer, I'm going to pitch whenever they tell me to take the ball. I'm not here to try to take anyone's job.”
Stephenson spent his first five major league seasons with Cincinnati, which drafted the Bay Area native in 2011.
“It's awesome to have the opportunity to be so close to home now,” Stephenson said. “That was one of the biggest factors going into the decision. ... I've got two little kids, so being able to see them as much as possible makes a world of difference.”
He will provide a boost to the Angels' bullpen, which be revamped for new manager Ron Washington after posting the majors' sixth-worst ERA last season (4.88). Los Angeles already signed Adam Cimber, Luis García and Adam Kolarek earlier in the offseason.
“We had a hard time in the sixth, seventh, eighth innings, we really did,” Minasian said. “For us to win more games and compete, we have to be better in those middle innings.”
Infielder Alfonso Rivas was designated for assignment, opening a roster spot.
The Angels haven't added a significant position player or starting pitcher in the offseason after losing Shohei Ohtani to the Dodgers in free agency, but Minasian said they're still shopping. Los Angeles finished 73-89 for the second consecutive season, extending their major league-worst streaks to eight straight losing seasons and nine straight non-playoff seasons.
“We're definitely not done from an offseason standpoint, work-wise,” Minasian said. “It's just got to be the right fit. It's got to make sense ... but I do believe there's still players out there that can help us improve and make us a more competitive club.”
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