Thwarted in attempts to bolster their offense, the Angels chose to strengthen their pitching staff, on Wednesday using a chunk of the money they allocated for slugger Mark Teixeira to reach an agreement with free-agent closer Brian Fuentes on a two-year, $17.5-million deal.
Had the Angels retained Teixeira, they would have gone with a lower-budget option -- either Scot Shields or Jose Arredondo -- at closer, a role vacated by Francisco Rodriguez, who signed a three-year, $37-million deal with the New York Mets in early December.
But when Teixeira agreed to an eight-year, $180-million contract with the New York Yankees last week, spurning the Angels’ eight-year, $160-million offer, the Angels shifted their focus -- and their financial resources.
In Fuentes, the Angels have a 33-year-old left-hander who was 1-5 with a 2.73 earned-run average and 30 saves, striking out 82 and walking 22 in 62 2/3 innings for the Colorado Rockies in 2008. The three-time National League All-Star, who converted his last 17 save opportunities of 2008, will make $8.5 million in 2009 and $9 million in 2010. His deal includes a $9-million club option for 2011 that vests if he finishes 55 games in 2010.
“Brian strengthens our bullpen in a significant way,” said Angels General Manager Tony Reagins, who tried to acquire Fuentes before the July 31 trading deadline last season. “He gives us some depth and really solidifies the back of the bullpen.”
Reagins said it was a “safe assumption” that Fuentes will be the team’s closer, and that was fine with Shields, the versatile 33-year-old right-hander who spent the last four years setting up Rodriguez.
“Once Frankie left, if we didn’t sign anyone, I was hoping to get a chance to close,” said Shields, who played with Fuentes on U.S. teams that participated in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and a 2006 postseason all-star series in Japan.
“Since we signed Brian, who has a good track record, I’m definitely OK with him doing the job. It makes our bullpen that much deeper. And with his personality, he’ll fit in well.”
Fuentes has good command of a fastball, slider and changeup. He also has a funky, side-winding, short-arm delivery that some have compared to throwing a Frisbee, making him extremely tough on left-handers, who hit .184 with 20 strikeouts in 49 at-bats against him last season.
Fuentes held right-handers to a .211 average with 62 strikeouts in 180 at-bats, and he gave up only three home runs -- total -- on the season.
The St. Louis Cardinals also pursued Fuentes, who said he did not receive a “formal” contract offer from the Rockies. The Angels, he added, were always his No. 1 choice.
“I knew with Frankie on the free-agent market I had a chance to get to Anaheim,” Fuentes said. “Being from California, it’s always nice to stay here and have that comfort zone. . . . The Angels are a class organization, they’re in the playoffs just about every year, and I hear [Mike] Scioscia is a players’ manager.”
Fuentes, who has a 17-27 career record, 3.41 ERA and 115 saves in seven seasons, became the Rockies’ closer in 2005, going 2-5 with 31 saves in 34 chances and a 2.91 ERA in 78 games. He was 3-5 with 20 saves in 27 chances and a 3.08 ERA in 64 games in 2007, the year the Rockies reached the World Series, but was replaced as closer that midseason by Manny Corpas. Fuentes got his job back early in 2008 when Corpas faltered.
Fuentes said he has been asked to play for the U.S. team in the upcoming WBC but hasn’t made a final decision.
The Angels will relinquish a first-round pick in next June’s draft to the Rockies as compensation for signing Fuentes, but they gained first-round picks for losing Teixeira and Rodriguez.
As for the team’s next move, Reagins said he has no “clear-cut” plan to add another hitter or a fifth starter.
“We’re going to continue to work the phones and look for other opportunities to make the club better,” he said, “and we will pursue them aggressively.”