Angels really need to close this deal


Did you see it?

Were you watching last week during the ninth inning, the Angels leading the Rangers, the best reliever in baseball hurling his curveball right down the pipe?

Did you hear it?

The gasps of astonishment when a Rangers hitter smoked that Francisco Rodriguez pitch for a two-run homer?

The game was over and the Angels had lost -- a result that in the context of this season was nearly unbelievable.


That’s because when it comes to closing out games with his team on top, Rodriguez this season has been nearly as reliable as a clock set to Greenwich Mean Time. No player in either league has been better than the spindly, 26-year-old Venezuelan. His 37 saves in 40 chances after a 4-1 win at Oakland on Saturday are more than any relief pitcher has ever had before the All-Star break. He’s on course to bust past the single-season mark of 57 saves.

But the cold reality of baseball business looms. The Angels and Rodriguez are locked in a dangerous game of chicken. This is the last year of the ace reliever’s contract and negotiations on a new deal appear to be going nowhere. If nothing changes, there’s a good chance this will be the last season Rodriguez takes to the mound as an Angel.

Letting that happen without a harder fight would be a fool’s move on the part of Angels ownership and the team’s new GM, Tony Reagins -- particularly because they’ve built a team that thrives on singles, solid glove work and airtight pitching capable of holding slim leads. The Angels, more than any other high-caliber team, need a closer like the one they’ve got.

Remember, this isn’t any other “pretty-dang-good” reliever we’re talking about. This is a player whose sudden emergence in 2002 was a key to the Angels’ only World Series win. He’s pretty much been the definition of elite ever since. Nobody has more saves over the last three seasons than Rodriguez.

How far apart they truly are is impossible to say with absolute precision, but it’s widely held that Rodriguez and his agent want a deal worth $15 million a year, maybe for as many as five years, vaulting him into the same salary stratum as a star position player.

A contract like that, in yearly salary, would be equal to the three-year, $45-million deal signed last fall by the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera. But Rivera’s deal was a one-off. Who could imagine the 38-year-old Rivera, so closely associated with the Yanks, in another uniform? That $15 million was as much about insuring that an unsullied icon never don a Mets or Cubs cap as it was payment for future performance.


Fine, right now $15 million a year is too much for any reliever in baseball other than Rivera. But given how this season is going and his recent past, the $10 million a season that Rodriguez gets now is too low.

How hard can it be to find middle ground? We know the market for the best relievers. Two-time All-Star Francisco Cordero, for example, recently signed a four-year, $46-million deal with Cincinnati the same week Rivera agreed to his Yankees contract. Cordero is an Acura TL, reliable and speedy. Rodriguez, however, is a Porsche Carrera.

Arte Moreno, the Angels’ owner, should make an offer splitting the difference between Rivera and Cordero. An annual salary of $13.75 million for Rodriguez sounds fair -- that’s a little more per year than the Twins gave 33-year-old closer Joe Nathan (four years, $47 million) in March and the Phillies gave 31-year-old Brad Lidge (three years, $37.5 million) a week ago.

Should Rodriguez and his agent demand five years, Moreno and Reagins would be wise to back off. That’s too long a deal for a wiry reliever with a jerky motion. No matter how good he is now, the risk of injury is too high for that kind of cash.

Still, unless Rodriguez and his agent are more like Elton Brand and David Falk than we want to believe, three years with an option for another should do the trick.

If they walk away from such a deal, well, don’t fault the Angels for not trying.

Some say Rodriguez is expendable, that an up-and-coming, quite serviceable reliever can be had for much less money. Fine, but right now, why take the chance?


Part of this is that the Angels are too close to winning a World Series and then defending that title to start looking for another superb reliever.

Part of it is that they are a team that consistently claims victory by thin margins, heightening the need for iron-strength relief.

The Angels aren’t built like that paragon of power, the Boston Red Sox. Let’s face it, in the foreseeable future, they won’t be. The Red Sox have David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, big-bop firepower to give their relievers, including standout closer Jonathan Papelbon, plenty of breaks.

After Saturday, Boston and the Angels both had 56 wins, but Papelbon had 10 fewer saves than Rodriguez. Teams like the Red Sox simply rely less than the Angels on having a top-of-his-class closer.

Rodriguez, of course, is just that. Always has been, never more than this season. It’s time for the Angels to hit the bargaining table, make some compromises, open the checkbook, and do all they can to ensure he stays in the fold.


Kurt Streeter can be reached at To read previous columns by Streeter, go to




Pursuit of the saves record

The Angels’ Francisco Rodriguez has already broken the record for saves recorded by the All-Star break. A look at others high on the list and how they finished the season:

Sometimes results are more important than style points. Rodriguez has nine more saves than any other reliever in the major leagues, despite other numbers that are less impressive. How Rodriguez rates among the top 25 pitchers on this season’s saves leaders list:


*--* Player Team Year @Brk Tot Francisco Rodriguez Angels 2008 37 -- John Smoltz Atlanta 2003 34 45 Danny Graves Cincinnati 2004 33 41 Eric Gagne Dodgers 2002 32 52 Mariano Rivera N.Y. Yankees 2004 32 53 *--*

Note: Smoltz spent a month during the second half of the 2003 season on the disabled list. Graves missed 24 games during the second half in 2004 because of injury and illness. The all-time single-season leader, Bobby Thigpen of the Chicago White Sox, had 27 of his record 57 saves by the All-Star break in 1990.



*--* Saves 37 1st Earned-run average 2.41 11th Batting average allowed 184 5th Opponents’ on-base percentage 303 13th Strikeouts per nine innings 8.56 17th *--*