PHOENIX — Angels fans won't have Joe Blanton to kick around anymore. The Angels released the struggling and oft-criticized right-hander on Wednesday and ate the remaining $8.5 million on his contract, a move that was probably more difficult for General Manager Jerry Dipoto to digest than Blanton.
"It's regrettable, it's a mistake on my part, there's no one else to blame," said Dipoto, who signed Blanton to a two-year, $15-million deal before 2013. "I made the call on signing Joe Blanton, and obviously this isn't the way he or I wanted it to work out. Unfortunately, that's the way it goes sometimes."
The Angels thought Blanton, based on his track record — he had an 83-75 record and 4.37 earned-run average in his first eight seasons — would be a durable and effective innings-eater.
But Blanton went 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA in 2013, the highest ERA among pitchers with at least 100 innings, and he gave up 29 homers. He was demoted to the bullpen in late July.
Though Blanton, 33, rarely pitched over the final two months, he remained an object of derision of fans and media, and that criticism continued this spring.
"It got more personal than most — unfortunately, that happens from time to time," Dipoto said. "Joe didn't come here and try to pitch poorly. He worked hard, he was in the weight room all the time. It didn't work out here for Joe."
With Garrett Richards securing a rotation spot behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson in the final two months of 2013, and the Angels acquiring young left-handers Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs in the Mark Trumbo trade, it was clear there was no room for Blanton in the rotation.
But Blanton might have won a long-relief spot had he pitched better this spring. Despite several mechanical adjustments and a move from the first-base side of the rubber to the third-base side, Blanton had a 7.08 ERA in 20 1/3 innings.
"We wanted to see some adjustment, some type of move forward, an improvement in performance that led us to believe something better was coming," Dipoto said. "We just didn't see that."
The Angels, who will pay Blanton and former outfielder Vernon Wells a combined $27 million this season, tried to trade Blanton, hoping a pitching-starved team would eat even a fraction of his contract.
But they found no takers and decided to cut their losses on the morning of their final Cactus League game, a 6-2 win over the Oakland Athletics in Phoenix Municipal Stadium. A team that signs Blanton would have to pay him the prorated portion of the major league minimum salary of $500,000.
"As we project our pitching depth, Joe wasn't a fit to be one of our 12 guys," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "In that regard, it was definitely better for him to try to hook on somewhere else."
As difficult as it is to swallow so much money with no return, Dipoto said the Angels had no choice but to sever ties with Blanton.
"It's always tough, whether it's zero dollars or $8.5 million," Dipoto said. "Arte [Moreno, Angels owner] has long been of the mind that whatever decisions are best for quality of the product on the field and give us the best chance to win, those are the decisions we should make. And that's the decision we made today."
Twitter: @MikeDiGiovannaCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times