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How the L.A. Angels Lost Money By Not Paying Francisco Rodriguez $12 Million

Admit it Angels fans. You’ve been spoiled.

Since Bryan Harvey took over the role in 1989, the Angels have been blessed with a shut-down closer every year until now.

Harvey, Troy Percival, Francisco Rodriguez and yes, Brian Fuentes, have provided an unbroken, 20-year chain of confidence for Halo managers to go to the pen in the ninth.

That amazing streak of good fortune seems likely to be ending this year.

In just 11 appearances this season, Fuentes has already allowed four homers, blown two saves, and lost a game.

With an ERA hovering near 6.00 and a WHIP of 1.31, Fuentes has been far from automatic and anything but intimidating for opposing batters.

Normally, a sampling of 11 games might not be all that much to be concerned about—especially for a guy that led the majors in saves last year with 48 and made the All-Star team.

Lost in those stats from 2009 are his seven blown saves, five losses, 1.40 WHIP and a blown save in the playoffs.

A trip to the DL earlier this year gave the newly acquired, former Detroit Tigers closer Fernando Rodney a shot at locking down wins. Rodney promptly went five-for-five in save opportunities and had fans advocating for manager Mike Scioscia to make the change permanent.

Rodney then promptly blew a save against St. Louis on Sunday, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of Angels fans everywhere.

With all the hand-wringing over the Angels’ offense and inconsistent starting pitching, the biggest letdown of all has been the bullpen. No longer can they count on the best set-up man in baseball to hand the game over to one of the best closers in baseball—a luxury Scot Shields and Brendan Donnelly provided for the past decade.

If the Angels could have simply held on to leads this year in the same way they have held on in the past, they still would be tied for first place despite all of their other woes.

Until the Halos solve their relief problems, the $30 million they are spending on their starting rotation will be utterly worthless, which begs the question: Was Francisco Rodriguez worth $12 million per year after all?

I was front and center on the “don’t re-sign K-Rod” bandwagon two years ago. After all, the Angels had rookie sensation Jose Arredondo, who looked like he was separated at birth from K-Rod with his 1.62 ERA.

Paying the league minimum to a guy that might end up being as good as Rodriguez seemed to make far more sense than paying $12 million for redundancy.

The Angels still obviously put a high priority on the closer slot, despite letting Franky walk. They spent $9 million to bring in Fuentes, 34, because of reservations management had about Arredondo’s readiness in making the jump to closer.

After Arredondo flamed out in his sophomore season, and ultimately ended up needing Tommy John surgery, the insurance move paid off for the Halos.

However, with Fuentes seeming to have lost a step just one year later, questions about the wisdom in letting Rodriguez walk in the first place deserve to be revisited.

Did the Angels actually save money with the move or did they waste $9 million by making Brian Fuentes their highest-paid pitcher?

For $3 million more, would they have been better served to keep the real deal in K-Rod?

$3 million more might start to look like a bargain when you consider K-Rod is only 28 and has already accomplished the following:

He’s a season away from already joining the 300-save club.

Crushed the all-time single-season save record with 62.

Has more saves than any other closer since 2005.

685 K’s in 542 innings pitched (they don’t call him K-Rod for nothing).

Batters are hitting .191 against him for his career (lower than Mariano Rivera).

He’s a World Champion.

Consistently one of the top three most intimidating closers in baseball.

Through 21 appearances this season, he has 25 K’s, with a  1.96 ERA.

Further consider that the Angels spent $5.75 million to sign Rodney as a backup plan to Fuentes this season. That means the Angels ended up spending more on two mediocre closers than they would have if they had just signed their elite closer in the first place. $2.75 million more, which ironically is almost the exact difference between the Fuentes and Rodriguez contracts.

Granted, hindsight is 20/20, but I promise I will never take pitching depth for granted again. It would be wise for General Manager Tony Reagins to take heed as well. It may have taken this year to remind the Angels and their fans what pitching is worth.

The Angels have gone from having the third best team ERA in baseball two years ago, to the second worst in the American League this season.

Now, the Angels are seeing the consequences.

Until the bullpen gets righted, a team that has been built on pitching a defense for the past decade with much success can no longer succeed.

Don’t look for the Angels to make any trades to remedy the problem. They are pretty much stuck with what they have for the season because of all the money they have already allocated to Rodney and Fuentes.

Unless several relievers step up from within the organization in the next month, the Angels will be in for a long, frustrating and forgettable summer.

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Try-Out Over: Wood Needs to Ride the Pine for Good

Former Mets General Manager Steve Phillips once said on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, “There is a saying among general managers. Prospects will get you fired.”

Nothing could illustrate that statement more than the L.A. Angels’ version of Ryan Leaf— third baseman Brandon Wood.

Alex Rodriguez, Roy Halladay and Carl Crawford.

Just three names that were bandied about as potential trade bait for Brandon Wood (and a few of his fellow underachieving Halo prospect brethren) over the past several years. Names that could have helped the Angels to their second world championship in their 50-year history, at a time when the team was in a far better position to win.

Fans called into Angel Talk and wrote letters to their newspapers begging management to make a move for a big right-handed bat. Ever since the Angels let Troy Glaus go in 2005, power had been the missing ingredient in their lineup.

The pleas fell on deaf ears as management insisted that Brandon Wood was the next Michael Jack Schmidt, Howie Kendrick was a future batting champion and Jeff Mathis was the next Johnny Bench.

Perhaps that is why manager Mike Scioscia is feeling pressure to give Wood a chance that few players ever get—to struggle at the major league level for an indefinite amount of time totally on the basis of speculation and perceived potential.

The speculation was spurred on by a couple of big power years at AA Arkansas and AAA Salt Lake. What the scouts failed to note was that nobody at the AA or AAA levels has a Barry Zito curve, Mariano Rivera Cutter or Fernando Rodney change-up. If they did, they would be playing at the major league level.

Former Angels GM Bill Stoneman tried to sell him so hard that at one point I thought he was going to start citing his American Legion statistics as grounds for keeping him.

Brandon Wood can now be viewed under the same prism as Orange County’s real estate market—it’s hard to believe how much more he was worth just two years ago.

Wood, who has constantly been referred to all season as a kid (even though he is roughly the same age as half the team at 25), figured to get his one last good look at the majors after the Angels let Chone Figgins walk.

I even said in an earlier column Scioscia should be patient and give him until the All-Star break to prove himself. That was assuming he would at least hit above the Mendoza line, show some pop and not be a total defensive liability.

Bad assumptions on my part.

Wood has managed to make Mario Mendoza look like a batting champion with his .167 batting average in 114 plate appearances. In fact, even his slugging percentage (.228) is only a few points higher than Mendoza’s lifetime batting average of .215.

To compare Wood to the former flashy shortstop would also imply that he was at least good defensively. His five errors and poor decision making have been evidence to the contrary.

Wood not only has been beyond bad, he shows no glimmer of ever getting better. He now has a lifetime batting average of .183 in 338 at-bats, with 108 K’s to 9 walks. He has shown no pop, no speed, no defense, no nothing.

Compare Wood’s numbers to someone like Robb Quinlan, who has never had the opportunity to win the third base job like Wood has. Quinlan is a lifetime .279 hitter in almost 1,200 big-league plate appearances and strikes out only 15 percent of the time compared to Wood’s 31 percent.

Where is Robb Quinlan’s big chance? He shuffles back and forth between AAA and the bigs with no fanfare whatsoever because he never had the expectations of Wood. Perception is apparently more valuable than reality in the eyes of the Angels.

If Brandon Wood was going to be an everyday player in this league, much less an impact player, he would have shown us something by now. To put it in perspective, Scott Kazmir is only one year older than Wood and people are already saying the two-time all-star is washed up.

Yet, despite seeing the emperor trot out to third with no clothes on every game, we are supposed to ignore our eyes and still buy into the propaganda of the coming Angels Messiah.

I’ve got news folks. He’s not coming.

The bigger question is, when will management admit their mistake and move on? Will they make an attempt to sign a veteran like Mike Lowell once he asks for his release from Boston or will they risk Wood potentially ruining their entire season in an attempt to justify sticking with him all these years?

In the short-term, Quinlan is certainly the better option. They couldn’t do much worse.

The Angels are playing in the worst division in baseball this year and still have time to recover. However, giving Wood more time to prove himself may make the West seem a lot tougher for the Angels than it actually is.

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