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Wednesday, January 26, 2011
How Napoli could've helped Angels bullpen

By Justin Havens

Mike Napoli
Napoli
The Los Angeles Angels didn’t make any moves Tuesday, yet the team’s offseason managed to become even more bizarre.

Last week, the Angels traded catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder/DH Juan Rivera to the Toronto Blue Jays for outfielder Vernon Wells. As the trade was almost entirely about dumping salary for the Blue Jays, the inclusion of Napoli and Rivera can be viewed as a throw-in from the Angels side to help mitigate the impending payroll increase.

That trade has been analyzed by many, but it became even more perplexing Tuesday.

Why? Because on Tuesday, Toronto traded Napoli to the Texas Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco. While neither of those names is front-page material, it relates directly to the core issues: the Angels undervaluing Napoli, and their offseason-long pursuit of relief pitching.

On December 2, 2010, the Angels signed Hisanori Takahashi to a two-year, $8 million deal. Ten days later, they signed Scott Downs to a three-year, $15 million contract. Clearly, the bullpen was an area in which the Angels were looking to invest.

While Downs has been a consistently good reliever, and Takahashi showed the ability in his first major-league season last year, Francisco has also shown that ability.

Rather than committing multiple years to multiple relievers, the Angels could have used a commodity (Napoli) to acquire a high-strikeout pitcher for the back end of the bullpen (Francisco). While Downs is solid, predicting reliever performance two or three years down the line is difficult.

The Angels would have been on the hook for just one year with Francisco instead of multiple years for Downs and Takahashi, not to mention at a lower yearly rate.

To make matters worse, the Angels surrendered a second-round pick in this year’s MLB Draft to the Blue Jays when they signed Downs.

So, while the Wells trade made headlines, the peripheral moves have been filled with questions.

Francisco has equaled Downs in Wins Above Replacement the last three seasons (3.6), while posting a significantly higher strikeout rate per nine innings (10.6 to 7.5).

Although both Downs and Takahashi might have been effective last season, it’s an issue of efficiency. The Angels spent $23 million on free agent relievers, when Napoli could have been moved to acquire a much less expensive reliever of similar value.