Rodriguez, Angels to face off

Times Staff Writer

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Maintaining a proper frame of mind might be a challenge this season for Francisco Rodriguez, the Angels closer who is headed for arbitration Thursday and, it’s beginning to seem, out the door as a free agent after 2008.

Upon arriving for his first spring-training workout Sunday, Rodriguez was asked whether he’s going into this season thinking it will be his last with the Angels.

“Yeah, probably,” he said. “If they wanted me here, they would have done something a long time ago. In the meantime, I have to put that out of my head and do my job.”

Rodriguez is quick to answer when asked whether he feels the Angels don’t want him here.

“No, no, that’s not what I’m saying, I don’t want that in the paper,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just something I can’t control.”


Why hasn’t he signed a long-term deal by now? “You’re asking the wrong person,” Rodriguez said, putting the onus on the team.

The Angels tried to secure Rodriguez to multi-year deals after the 2005 and 2006 seasons, and the sides couldn’t agree to terms. The 26-year-old right-hander signed one-year contracts both winters.

The Angels made another offer, believed to be in the three-year, $34-million range, after last season. Rodriguez turned it down -- he is apparently looking for something closer to Mariano Rivera’s deal (three years, $45 million) -- and the Angels pulled it off the table.

“We made what we thought was a fair offer, and it wasn’t accepted,” General Manager Tony Reagins said. “They said they were probably going year to year, which, to me, means they’re going to explore their opportunities.”

So are the Angels. Reagins said he has no plans to trade Rodriguez this season, but he is planning for a future without the closer. Setup man Scot Shields could close, and starters Kelvim Escobar or Ervin Santana could be moved to short relief.

“There are scenarios that include Francisco, and there are scenarios that don’t include him,” Reagins said. “He has an opportunity to explore free agency, so it wouldn’t be smart on my end not to consider that there’s a possibility he may not be here.”

Rodriguez has been on the disabled list only once in five years, but some scouts believe his violent arm action and across-the-body motion make him more susceptible to injury. That could add some risk to a long-term investment in Rodriguez.

There is also the question of Rodriguez’s value, in 2008 and beyond. Rodriguez has asked for $12.5 million this season; the Angels countered at $10 million, the second-largest gap of any arbitration filing this winter.

Rodriguez has a major league-leading 132 saves over the last three seasons, but in 2007 he had the highest earned-run average (2.81) and walk rate (34 in 67 1/3 innings) and lowest strikeout rate (90) of his career.

His 1.25 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) was a career high, his batting average against right-handers has risen for three years, and he gave up a prodigious walk-off home run to Boston’s Manny Ramirez in Game 2 of the division series in October.

Rodriguez struggled with his command at times in the second half of 2007, when he had a 3.45 ERA and four of his six blown saves. The right-hander had a 2.33 ERA in the first half.

“The second half of last year,” Rodriguez said, “I didn’t execute.”

There’s a slim chance negotiations for a long-term deal could resume after Thursday’s arbitration hearing in Florida, but Rodriguez doesn’t want contract talks to become a distraction.

“I don’t want to put any stress on myself, I want to pitch,” Rodriguez said. “Right now, I want to go through my regular year, then we’ll see what happens.”

If he loses Thursday, though it’s difficult to think of a player forced to accept $10 million as a loser, there will be no hard feelings.

“I understand this is part of the business,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think it’s anything personal against me.”