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Brian Fuentes brings a new angle to a filthy pitching staff that'll play wellin October

IT WASN'T justthe deceptive delivery that appealed to the Angels, or the 111 saves over thepast four years, or the career-best 2.73 ERA last season, or the fact thatcloser Brian Fuentes put up those numbers while playing his home games at CoorsField. There was also the quote that Fuentes gave to his hometown newspaper,the Merced, Calif., Sun-Star, in December: "Anaheim would be a great fit.That would be my first choice."

The Angels areused to being a popular destination for free agents. But after first basemanMark Teixeira spurned their contract offer of eight years and $160 million,forgive them if they felt a little insecure. Fuentes reminded the club that itis still an attractive draw. "His desire to be an Angel definitely played apart in [our signing him]," general manager Tony Reagins says.

Though Fuenteshad a two-year offer on the table from the Cardinals for a reported $16 millionto $18 million, he decided to wait for the Angels, knowing they could affordhim if they lost Teixeira. Two days before Christmas, Teixeira signed with theYankees; eight days later Fuentes signed a two-year, $17.5 million contractwith Los Angeles.

The Angels hadtried to acquire the 33-year-old Fuentes at the trading deadline last July, butnot to be the closer. They already had Francisco Rodriguez, who was on his wayto setting the major league record for saves in a season (62). And even afterRodriguez signed a free-agent deal with the Mets in early December, L.A. didn'tnecessarily need to sign a new reliever. The Angels' bullpen is among thedeepest in baseball, and they could have promoted a setup man, either ScotShields or Jose Arredondo. Still, Shields says, "when we got [Fuentes], Iwas happy. You can never have too much bullpen."

Fuentes is aunique asset—a side-winding, short-arming lefthander with a 91-mph fastball.Plenty of closers throw 91, but not many hide the ball as effectively asFuentes. He keeps his arm close to his side, making the ball seem as if it'spopping out of his body. Lefties hit .219 against him in his seven years withthe Rockies, and he struck out a stunning 11.8 batters per nine innings, aratio better than that of such closers as Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon andK-Rod himself. The far more pitcher-friendly confines of Fuentes's new homepark, too, will benefit him greatly.

Fuentes came upthrough the Mariners' system as a starter with a more traditional over-the-topmotion. But he struggled with location—"One game, it's great, and the nextgame you can't get out of the second inning," he says—and then tinkeredwith his arm angle. Seattle turned him into a reliever in 2001 and traded himafter that season to Colorado, where he earned the nickname T-Rex because ofhis short-arming.

At AngelsStadium, Fuentes will not have to worry about the altitude, but he will have tocope with more attention. The Angels were hit as hard as any team thisoff-season, losing Teixeira and Rodriguez. They are counting on Fuentes, alongwith newly signed outfielder Bobby Abreu—one of the great bargains of theoff-season at $5 million for one year—to soften the blow and help deliver theirthird straight AL West title. The club is October-ready in the startingrotation and bullpen, but the offense, without Teixeira, could use an infusionof patience and power. And face it, even with Teixeira, who had a .449 on-basepercentage and slugged .632 in two monstrous months with the Angels, LosAngeles remained a middling offensive team that could muster only 13 runs inits four-game Division Series loss to the Red Sox.

The Angels willnot win 100 games again, yet there is little question that they will get to thepostseason, where underdogs have ruled since the end of the Yankees' dynasty.With the dependable, Fuentes-anchored bullpen and a similarly deep rotationbolstered by the return of Kelvim Escobar—who missed all of last season with ashoulder injury but was one of the AL's top five starters in '07—the Angels canmatch the Yankees and Boston arm-for-arm. Power arms win in October and L.A.has more than enough to go deep into the final month.

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

The long-runningbattle for the shortstop job between twentysomethings Erick Aybar and BrandonWood has been resolved in favor of Aybar, who started 91 games at short lastyear (to Wood's 19) and enters '09 still on top. The Angels, however, are justdesperate enough for more offense that they should reverse that decision andgive Wood the job. Aybar, 25, is a slap hitter who could bat .280 withoutgenerating many runs and could save five to 10 runs in the field. But the24-year-old Wood (left) has cut down on his strikeout rate to the point that hecould bat .260, and with his walks (a career .353 OBP in the minors) and power(31 bombs in Triple A last year) he would be a more valuable player than Aybareven with a lesser glove. The Angels, for once, need to choose the bat over theglove and the power over the contact rate.



Innings—more than6 1/3 per outing—that Angels starters pitched in '08, the second-most in themajors behind the Blue Jays' rotation. L.A.'s bullpen is deservedly praised forits effectiveness, but the starters' ability to go deep into games has limitedthe wear and tear on the relief corps. Even without Kelvim Escobar, who spentthe year on the DL, the Angels' top five starters in '08 each won at least 11games and pitched no fewer than 163 innings.

The Lineup

Manager MikeScioscia

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

B-T: Bats-throws
*2007 stats
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)


August 30, 2004

Vladimir Guerrero's mother remembers her four boysputting on shows for the family in which they imitated the popular merenguerosLos Kenton. They concocted costumes that vaguely approximated the spiffyoutfits the band wore, and they perfected the acrobatic moves Los Kentonperformed in concerts and on television. But it was Vladimir's ability to playbaseball that distinguished him early from other boys. He says his strengthcomes from his work in the fields. "I had to bring in the cattle," hesays. "The bulls were stubborn, and I had to pull them until they did whatthey were supposed to." He points to his arms: "That's what made mestrong up here."

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HIDDEN GEM Not overpowering, the fastball of Fuentes is hard to pick up, which explains his ridiculously high strikeout rate.