Frankie’s Future

Francisco Rodriguez told the press Sunday that 2008 is "probably" his last season with the Angels.

The story du jour in the Sunday papers was Ervin Santana. Today it’s Francisco Rodriguez.

Which further demonstrates what I wrote yesterday about the local press being steered by the Angels’ Media Relations, but I digress.

Today’s editions of the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise all report that Frankie answered "Probably" when asked if he thought 2008 will be his last year with the Angels.

Rodriguez will be a free agent after this season. He’s scheduled to go to arbitation in a few days. The Angels have offered $10 million. Rodriguez wants $12.5 million. If he wins, that would be the equivalent of being paid $185,643.66 for each inning he pitched in 2007. If he loses, he’d be paid the impoverished wage of $148,514.93.

For ten minutes of work, he’d make more than I get paid in a year and a half.

I wrote last October, shortly after Frankie decided to test his manhood by challenging Manny Ramirez with a fastball that seconds later cost the Angels Game #2 of the ALDS, that the Angels should consider trading Rodriguez. Subsequent events didn’t turn out as I suggested, but the reality remains that Rodriguez is likely to leave Anaheim next winter.

Knowing Frankie a little from his minor league days, I suspect his ego wants Mariano Rivera money, and that’s confirmed by the newspaper articles suggesting a deal near Rivera’s recent three-year, $45 million contract with the Yankees is what the Angels would have to offer to keep him here.

Rodriguez had been a starter during his minor league career, but the Angels moved him to the bullpen for 2002. His mechanics were violent, which led to repetitive injuries, and he stubbornly refused to work on his secondary pitches. The Angels decided to put him in the Arkansas bullpen. Travs manager Doug Sisson told me in May 2002 he was directed to use Frankie two to three times a week, 30 to 45 pitches an appearance. How and when was up to him.

Although he hated it, Frankie blossomed in the role. He found he no longer needed to work on a changeup because he was going to face the opposition lineup only once. He could throw his fastball and slider to his heart’s content. After closer Charlie Thames injured his elbow and eventually retired, Rodriguez became the full-time Travs closer and was promoted to Triple-A in July.

Shortly after Rodriguez was promoted from Double-A Arkansas to Triple-A Salt Lake in July 2002, I was in Salt Lake City for a few days’ photography with the Stingers (now called the Bees). I interviewed him for an article that was later published in the Halo Insider magazine sold at Angel Stadium.

After the interview, we just talked since we’d known each other from Lake Elsinore and Rancho Cucamonga days. I told Frankie I’d looked up Rivera’s history, and found that Mariano had also been a starter early in his career; in fact, during his first season in 1995, Rivera started ten games for the Yankees before moving to the bullpen full-time in 1996. Frankie seemed to light up when I compared him to Rivera, a reaction I’ve always remembered.

My guess is that Rodriguez wants to be seen as the next Rivera, which is why he wants Rivera money.

If Rivera hadn’t just signed his contract with the Yankees, I’d fully expect Frankie to be wearing Yankees pinstripes next year. He might anyway, if he’s willing to pitch setup for Rivera to be his teammate. Failing that, Rodriguez could wind up anywhere, most likely with the team willing to offer him the most money. Although he’s told the press he enjoys working for the Angels, he views the game as a business and will go where it’s most lucrative. Don’t expect a "hometown discount" from Frankie because he doesn’t see it that way.

The Angels could bolster their relief corps in a trade, but Rodriguez won’t bring too much if his contract costs $10 million or $12.5 million, and he can walk at season’s end. Absent a trade, the Angels have some depth in their system or could move a starter to the bullpen.

Kelvim Escobar or Ervin Santana would be the likely candidates. Escobar has bullpen experience, but normally you want guys with a large pitching repertoire in the starting rotation. That’s because a starter goes through the opposing lineup three or four times, and wants to show batters different pitches each time. With a reliever, his repertoire can be limited, needing only one "plus" pitch to get batters out. Santana lacks the bullpen experience, but his confidence issue might be a concern should he move to the closer role.

Another scenario might be to move Justin Speier or Scot Shields into the closer role. Both have been setup guys but seem mature enough to handle the closer role. Of course, that would leave their current jobs open.

The Angels have a few internal candidates.

Jason Bulger, 29, was acquired from Arizona for Alberto Callaspo in February 2006. Injuries and mechanical problems set back his development. In 2007, his overall ERA was 3.76 with an opponents’ AVG of .249 and a 1.42 WHIP. But as I’ve often written, with Salt Lake you have to look at home/road splits due to the high elevation. On the road, Bulger had a 1.93 ERA, .179 AVG and 1.11 WHIP. The big number, though, is his SO/IP ratio. Jason struck out 81 in 52 2/3 innings (he walked 24).

Aussie Rich Thompson, 23, could probably use another year at Triple-A although he did make his Angels debut in September after the rosters expanded. He’s known as "Chop" for his plus curve ball.

Down the line, Jose Arredondo and Darren O’Day are probably 1-2 years away. Arredondo, 24 in March, was converted from the infield in 2004 and features high-90s velocity. He had a meltdown at Arkansas in 2007. Jose was insubordinate to his manager on the field, then took a swing at teammate Curtis Pride. Arredondo was suspended, then demoted to Rancho Cucamonga where he posted a 6.43 ERA. O’Day, 25, is a submariner who was signed as an amateur free agent by Tom Kotchman. Darren split 2007 between Rancho and Arkansas, then went to the Arizona Fall League.

Whether he wins or loses his arbitration hearing, I really don’t think it’s going to have any impact on Frankie’s pending free agency. In my opinion, his ego wants to have a Mariano Rivera type of contract, and he’ll go where he can get it. Trading your closer in spring training obviously creates upheaval, but it might be the best move in the long run.

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