Angels trade Brian Fuentes to Twins

Most teams with playoff aspirations consider their closer an integral, almost irreplaceable, part of the club. The Angels on Friday discarded theirs like yesterday’s newspaper, sending Brian Fuentes to the Minnesota Twins for a player to be named.

The deal, which came after the Twins made a waiver claim on Fuentes, has “surrender” written all over it for the Angels, who were 9½ games behind Texas in the American League West entering Friday night’s game against the Baltimore Orioles.

But Manager Mike Scioscia insisted the trade of Fuentes for what General Manager Tony Reagins called “a prospect with upside” does not mean the Angels have given up on 2010.

“If we didn’t have a guy like Fernando Rodney, I think you could make that argument,” Scioscia said, referring to the pitcher who will replace Fuentes. “But I think our bullpen is going to be as strong as it was. We intend to hold leads.”

Reagins was also asked whether the move, which could save the Angels as much as $1.89 million in salary, meant the club was looking to 2011.

“Not at all,” the general manager said. “What it means is Fernando Rodney is going to pitch in the ninth inning a lot more regularly.”

If anything, it’s an admission that the Angels consider Fuentes, who led the major leagues with 48 saves in 2009 and was 4-1 with a 3.52 earned-run average and 23 saves this season, expendable and had no intention of bringing him back for 2011.

The Angels signed Rodney, the former Detroit Tigers closer, to a two-year, $11-million deal in December in anticipation of the right-hander taking over as closer in 2011.

Rodney assumes the job a month early, and Scioscia said hard-throwing right-handers Kevin Jepsen, Francisco Rodriguez and Jordan Walden, who has spent all of one week in the big leagues, will fill short-relief roles ahead of Rodney.

“In the big scheme of things, the eighth inning is almost as important as ninth,” Scioscia said of Rodney, who entered Friday with a 4-1 record, 3.83 ERA and six saves. “He’s been there before. He’s come into some high-pressure games and held leads.”

This was a move many felt the Angels should have made in May, when Fuentes, the soft-throwing left-hander, was struggling and Rodney, who has a 96-mph fastball, was dominating hitters.

But the Angels stuck with Fuentes, who rewarded them with a 20-appearance stretch from June 22-Aug. 21 in which he allowed one earned run in 20 innings.

And what was Fuentes’ reward? He was sent to the Twins, who entered Friday with a 31/2-game lead over the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central and will use Fuentes as an eighth-inning reliever ahead of closer Matt Capps. The teams have until Oct. 15 to agree on the player to be named.

“It’s kind of a whirlwind right now,” said Fuentes, who has limited left-handers to a .132 average. “I’m trying to take it all in. I enjoyed my time here. It’s a great group of guys. But the business side took over, and they had an opportunity to make both clubs better.”

Fuentes, who was often booed when he entered games at home, was asked whether he felt appreciated by the fans in Anaheim.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I feel like I was pitching on the road quite a bit here. I came in to a lot of boos. But the fans here come out in droves, they’re here to be entertained, and one way or another, they’re going through my frustrations and my success.

“I feel like I gave them a lot more success than failure, but at the same time, there’s no resentment toward them. I came out and put it on the line every time I pitched. A few times, I came up short. I think I was appreciated by quite a few fans, but I’m sure some were disappointed.”