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Thursday, February 25, 2010
What a deal

By Mark Saxon
ESPNLosAngeles.com

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It was like walking into divorce proceedings with your mistress on your arm.

The Angels were in a lousy bargaining position when they went looking for a place to unload Jose Guillen after the 2004 season. Every team in baseball knew they had to dump the guy. His clubhouse run-in with manager Mike Scioscia -- which came after Guillen was lifted for a pinch runner -- and his suspension from the team were common knowledge, broadcast on the airwaves and printed in all the newspapers.

It seemed like the kind of setup where the Angels could hope to get a 50-50 prospect or a serviceable middle reliever in return, if they were lucky. Instead they hauled in a couple of front-line players whose impact on the team has grown year by year and figures to peak in 2010.

Hindsight tells us this: If the Angels had only landed Juan Rivera from the Montreal Expos for Guillen, they would have been making a shrewd move. In the five seasons since the trade, Guillen has batted .268 with 85 home runs and 352 RBIs while playing for three different teams. In more than 600 fewer at-bats, Rivera has hit .284 with 77 homers and 285 RBIs.

Juan Rivera
Juan Rivera waited for an opening in a crowded Angels outfield. In 2009, he hit 25 home runs and drove in 88 runs.

It was far from a one-for-one deal, though. The Angels also landed an acrobatic young shortstop named Maicer Izturis. Nobody really knew how good Izturis could become as a hitter, so his ascent has been a surprise to many. Even without an everyday position last year, he batted .300, got on base at a .359 clip and scored 74 runs, fourth-most on the team.

Former Angels general manager Bill Stoneman was often maligned for his inability to swing impact trades, but he's rarely given enough credit for picking Jim Bowden's pocket that winter.

"He didn't fit in," Stoneman said of Guillen. "The question was could we move him or couldn't we move him? We were fortunate someone was interested in him. We were able to move him and get some guys back that helped us and continue to help us."

Patience was never a virtue Guillen could muster. Most of his run-ins with management resulted from being benched for one reason or another. For Rivera and Izturis, the ability to wait in line for their opportunities has served them well.

At the time of the trade, Izturis remembers being shocked and a bit dismayed. After the Expos' final 2004 game at New York's Shea Stadium, manager Frank Robinson called him into the office. According to Izturis, he encouraged him to get as many at-bats as he could playing winter ball in his native Venezuela and told him there might be an everyday job at shortstop waiting for him when he got back.

Maicer Izturis
Maicer Izturis was one of two players then-GM Bill Stoneman got for Jose Guillen in 2004.

"I was working over there and they called me and said, 'Hey, you got traded to Anaheim.' Sometimes, that makes your mind strong, because you learn how baseball is," Izturis said. "I came here and, 15 days later, they signed [Orlando] Cabrera."

Izturis, 30, wouldn't play much in 2005, stuck behind Cabrera, one of the game's ironmen at the time. But he has gotten into at least 100 games in three of the past four seasons. Now, he enters 2010 as insurance in case either Howie Kendrick (second base) or Brandon Wood (third) struggles. Scioscia is a big believer in Izturis and wouldn't hesitate to use him every day. At the very least, he'll be one of the league's most capable backup infielders.

Rivera, 31, waited behind Garret Anderson for three seasons, had one year wiped out by a broken leg, then earned his first everyday job in 2009. He swings one of the Angels' steadiest, most productive bats. He had career highs in home runs (25) and RBIs (88) last season.

He has similar memories of the trade. He remembers being energized by the promise of playing time when he was traded by the New York Yankees to Montreal the year before, then wondering where the opportunities would arise when he got shipped out to Anaheim.

"I try to be professional, just quiet," Rivera said. "I learned that from the older players. Don't talk, don't worry about the lineups, just wait."

Rivera said it was a festive offseason in Venezuela, with friends and family members congratulating him on his strong 2009 season. He also took the Angels' advice and skipped winter ball, since he had suffered significant injuries in each of the previous two winters there.

It may have been good fortune. Maybe Rivera and Izturis fell in the Angels' laps. It may have been smart bargaining by Stoneman. But the day of the trade, Nov. 10, 2004, was one of the turning points in recent Angels seasons.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com