Admit it Angels fans. You've been spoiled.
Since Bryan Harvey took over the role in 1989, the Angels have been blessed with a shut-down closer every year until now.
Harvey, Troy Percival, Francisco Rodriguez and yes, Brian Fuentes, have provided an unbroken, 20-year chain of confidence for Halo managers to go to the pen in the ninth.
That amazing streak of good fortune seems likely to be ending this year.
In just 11 appearances this season, Fuentes has already allowed four homers, blown two saves, and lost a game.
With an ERA hovering near 6.00 and a WHIP of 1.31, Fuentes has been far from automatic and anything but intimidating for opposing batters.
Normally, a sampling of 11 games might not be all that much to be concerned about—especially for a guy that led the majors in saves last year with 48 and made the All-Star team.
Lost in those stats from 2009 are his seven blown saves, five losses, 1.40 WHIP and a blown save in the playoffs.
A trip to the DL earlier this year gave the newly acquired, former Detroit Tigers closer Fernando Rodney a shot at locking down wins. Rodney promptly went five-for-five in save opportunities and had fans advocating for manager Mike Scioscia to make the change permanent.
Rodney then promptly blew a save against St. Louis on Sunday, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of Angels fans everywhere.
With all the hand-wringing over the Angels’ offense and inconsistent starting pitching, the biggest letdown of all has been the bullpen. No longer can they count on the best set-up man in baseball to hand the game over to one of the best closers in baseball—a luxury Scot Shields and Brendan Donnelly provided for the past decade.
If the Angels could have simply held on to leads this year in the same way they have held on in the past, they still would be tied for first place despite all of their other woes.
Until the Halos solve their relief problems, the $30 million they are spending on their starting rotation will be utterly worthless, which begs the question: Was Francisco Rodriguez worth $12 million per year after all?
I was front and center on the “don’t re-sign K-Rod” bandwagon two years ago. After all, the Angels had rookie sensation Jose Arredondo, who looked like he was separated at birth from K-Rod with his 1.62 ERA.
Paying the league minimum to a guy that might end up being as good as Rodriguez seemed to make far more sense than paying $12 million for redundancy.
The Angels still obviously put a high priority on the closer slot, despite letting Franky walk. They spent $9 million to bring in Fuentes, 34, because of reservations management had about Arredondo’s readiness in making the jump to closer.
After Arredondo flamed out in his sophomore season, and ultimately ended up needing Tommy John surgery, the insurance move paid off for the Halos.
However, with Fuentes seeming to have lost a step just one year later, questions about the wisdom in letting Rodriguez walk in the first place deserve to be revisited.
Did the Angels actually save money with the move or did they waste $9 million by making Brian Fuentes their highest-paid pitcher?
For $3 million more, would they have been better served to keep the real deal in K-Rod?
$3 million more might start to look like a bargain when you consider K-Rod is only 28 and has already accomplished the following:
He's a season away from already joining the 300-save club.
Crushed the all-time single-season save record with 62.
Has more saves than any other closer since 2005.
685 K’s in 542 innings pitched (they don’t call him K-Rod for nothing).
Batters are hitting .191 against him for his career (lower than Mariano Rivera).
He's a World Champion.
Consistently one of the top three most intimidating closers in baseball.
Through 21 appearances this season, he has 25 K’s, with a 1.96 ERA.
Further consider that the Angels spent $5.75 million to sign Rodney as a backup plan to Fuentes this season. That means the Angels ended up spending more on two mediocre closers than they would have if they had just signed their elite closer in the first place. $2.75 million more, which ironically is almost the exact difference between the Fuentes and Rodriguez contracts.
That difference is also roughly the amount for which divisional rival Texas signed the Angels' most reliable reliever of 2009, Darren Oliver.
That means for almost the exact same amount of money, the Angels could of had K-Rod and Oliver, who has a 1.59 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 21 appearances this season, closing out games.
Granted, hindsight is 20/20, but I promise I will never take pitching depth for granted again. It would be wise for General Manager Tony Reagins to take heed as well. It may have taken this year to remind the Angels and their fans what pitching is worth.
The Angels have gone from having the third best team ERA in baseball two years ago, to the second worst in the American League this season.
Now, the Angels are seeing the consequences.
Until the bullpen gets righted, a team that has been built on pitching a defense for the past decade with much success can no longer succeed.
Don’t look for the Angels to make any trades to remedy the problem. They are pretty much stuck with what they have for the season because of all the money they have already allocated to Rodney and Fuentes.
Unless several relievers step up from within the organization in the next month, the Angels will be in for a long, frustrating and forgettable summer.
UPDATE: Brian Fuentes blew his third save of the season against Toronto Wedinesday, after Bobby Abreu committed a two-base error to open the inning. The error was Abreu's fifth in 45 games this season—giving him a fielding percentage of .938. That is the worst of any outfielder in the majors.