12/31/08 6:34 PM EST
Fuentes, Halos agree to two-year deal
Lefty closer returns home after pitching seven years in Denver
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
Announcing on Wednesday that they'd reached agreement with the veteran left-hander on a two-year deal with a club option for 2011, the reigning American League West champions solidified the back end of their bullpen with a man familiar with ninth-inning pressures.
"First and foremost, I want to thank the Angels' organization and [owner] Arte Moreno for giving me the opportunity," Fuentes said in a conference call. "I feel privileged to have the opportunity to join a team I've watched a long time ... a class organization."
General manager Tony Reagins called it "a safe assumption" that Fuentes, 33, would inherit K-Rod's role as the club's closer. The Angels, Reagins added, made an unsuccessful effort to acquire the lefty at the non-waiver Trade Deadline last July.
"What I can say is Brian Fuentes has been in our sights for some time," Reagins said when asked about moving on to Plan B after Plan A -- signing Mark Teixeira -- flamed out. "Obviously, this strengthens our bullpen in a very significant way. Brian joining Jose [Arredondo], Scot Shields, [Justin] Speier and [Darren] Oliver should give us a good opportunity to close games."
Fuentes, who reportedly had been seeking a three-year free-agent deal in the $30 million range after earning $5.05 million in 2008, signed for $17.5 million for two years with a $9 million option for '11. Rodriguez's deal with the Mets is for three years and $37 million with a $14 million option for '12.
Fuentes, a Merced, Calif., native who made no secret of his desire to pitch for the Angels, has saved at least 30 games in three of the past four seasons for the Rockies, producing 111 of his 115 career saves in the span. Oddly, the one season of the past four when he faltered somewhat, going 20-for-27 in save chances in 2007, happened to be the greatest season in franchise history, culminating in a World Series ride.
"It's funny ... once you get there, all the bad seasons are washed away," Fuentes said. "Obviously, it's not every year you get to the World Series, but the Angels are in the playoffs year in, year out. To have that opportunity is very appealing."
"I'm very happy with how it worked out," he said. "Being in California, it's always nice to have that comfort zone."
He'll also find some comfort in familiar faces, having pitched alongside Speier and Oliver in Colorado and with Shields on Team USA in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006. Fuentes said he has been contacted about returning to the Classic this spring, but he has not made a decision.
A big man at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds who attacks the strike zone with a 90-mph heater and rides a biting slider in on right-handers' hands, Fuentes is coming off perhaps his finest season. He had 30 saves in 34 opportunities (.882 success rate) in 2008 with a career-best 2.73 ERA, including a 1.84 road ERA.
While this appears to pale in comparison with K-Rod's 62 saves in 69 chances (.899) and 2.24 ERA, Fuentes had several, clear disadvantages with the Rockies. Coors Field is a notorious hitters' park, and the Angels won a whopping 61 games, more than any team in the Majors, in contests decided by two or fewer runs.
Fuentes' second half of 2008 was as dominant a stretch as he has enjoyed in his eight-year career. He nailed down all 16 of his save attempts with a 1.75 ERA, holding hitters to a .156 batting average and 45 strikeouts (against 11 walks) in 25 2/3 innings.
Agreeing that it was as effective as he's ever been, Fuentes said, "I pitch better the more I pitch."
Fuentes finished with 82 strikeouts against 22 walks in 62 2/3 innings, holding hitters to a .205 batting average. K-Rod had 77 strikeouts and 34 walks in 68 1/3 innings, limiting hitters to a .216 average.
For his career, Fuentes owns a saves success rate of .827, compared to K-Rod's .863. Fuentes was a setup man in 2003-04 before becoming the Rockies' primary closer in '05, the same process that Rodriguez experienced in Anaheim before assuming the reins from Troy Percival in 2005.
"As a reliever, I never get too caught up in the numbers game," Fuentes said. "I'm really just taking it one opportunity at a time."
Left-handed hitters batted only .184 against Fuentes in 2008 with a .226 on-base percentage and .245 slugging percentage. For his career, lefties are hitting .215 against him compared to .225 by right-handed hitters.
Having labored almost entirely in the NL, Fuentes is not entirely unfamiliar with Angel Stadium. He made one appearance in Anaheim during Interleague Play, working a scoreless inning while striking out two batters in 2006.
Originally selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 25th round of the 1995 First-Year Player Draft, Fuentes was traded to the Rockies, along with two other pitchers, for infielder Jeff Cirillo in December 2001, after appearing in 10 games for the Mariners in that season.As for moving on to Plan C, Reagins wouldn't indicate which direction the Angels were leaning -- toward upgrading the offense or adding a fifth starter.
"We're going to keep our options open and look for other opportunities to make our club better," Reagins said. "Whatever that is, we're going to be aggressive. Right now, there is no clear-cut [preference] of going for a pitcher or position player. We're going to continue to work the phones and see what we can do to make us better."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.