12/10/10 8:13 PM EST
Angels lock up Downs with three-year contract
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
In signing veteran left-hander Scott Downs to a three-year deal on Friday, the Angels feel they have put together a balanced, deep bullpen that will assemble for Spring Training in Tempe, Ariz., in mid-February.
It apparently will not include Rafael Soriano, the free-agent closer who, like most of the high-profile talent in the marketplace, has been linked to the Angels throughout the winter.
"I believe we are where we need to be at this point," Angels general manager Tony Reagins said in announcing the signing of Downs, who reportedly will earn a total of $15 million for the three years, not including incentives.
It comes on the heels of the signing of another lefty, Hisanori Takahashi, to a two-year deal. This gives the Angels two more lefty relievers than they had last season after sending closer Brian Fuentes to the Twins at midseason.
"Adding these two veteran arms deepens us," Reagins said. "This is how we're going to look [in the spring]."
Downs has been primarily a setup man -- and one of the game's best -- throughout his Major League career, which began in 2000. His 2.36 ERA is the fifth best among American League relievers over the past four seasons and the lowest among lefties. He had 26 holds in 2010 for the Jays and owns 84 since '07, third most in the league.
Downs can be viewed as a left-handed version of Scot Shields, who is leaving the Angels after a distinguished run.
"Every out from the sixth and seventh to the ninth are big outs," Downs said when asked if he felt any significant difference in working the ninth as opposed to earlier innings. "Sometimes the eighth inning is more important than the ninth. Some hitters could be coming up who are more dangerous."
Downs, who was in demand as the premier southpaw reliever available, said the closing role never came up during negotiations with the Angels. He was lethal against left-handed hitters in 2010, holding them to a .152 batting average and .241 slugging mark. Righties batted .243 and slugged .354.
"Scott's going to be able to pitch in a variety of roles," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Scott's definitely a guy who can get the last out if you need it. He's not your typical lefty as far as matchups. He can handle anybody. Scott's definitely a guy who can hold a lead."
The early favorite to handle the closing job is Fernando Rodney, who pitched brilliantly in Fuentes' absence early in 2010 but faltered late in the season when it became clear the Angels were headed for their worst record in seven years.
Scioscia, welcoming Downs with excitement in his voice along with pitching coach Mike Butcher on a conference call, feels the back end of the bullpen will fall into place according to performance. Along with Rodney, Downs and Takahashi, young right-handers Kevin Jepsen and Jordan Walden will be available to bring the heat. Both have the ability and temperament to close, in Scioscia's view.
"Our bullpen's going to evolve any way it's successful," Scioscia said. "I don't think it's going to be a very large committee -- maybe five guys. One or two guys are going to emerge.
"Whoever ends up being that closer, we're very confident somebody's going to emerge. We're very confident we're going to hold leads."
With Downs and Takahashi, the Angels certainly figure to have more lefty-righty balance than they've had in several years. Reagins nixed speculation that the Downs acquisition allows the Angels to move Takahashi, a starter in Japan who filled a variety of roles for the Mets last season, into the rotation and create the possibility of swapping a starter for a hitter.
"This is not the precursor to another deal," Reagins said.
Downs' leadership was mentioned by Scisocia, Butcher and Reagins as a peripheral benefit of the signing.
"The last couple years in Toronto we had some young guys coming up and down," Downs said. "We're a family now and we all have one goal -- and that's winning. I look forward to working with the young guys.
"I'm looking forward to this journey. I'm excited to work towards the main goal this organization prides itself on -- and that's winning championships."
Downs, a Type A free agent who costs the signing team a high Draft pick, was 5-5 with a 2.64 ERA in 67 appearances for the Blue Jays in 2010. He had 48 strikeouts against only 14 walks (three intentional) in 61 1/3 innings while allowing only 47 hits. His club-record 26 holds were tied for third in the American League.
Downs, who turns 35 on March 17, is 27-28 in his career with a 3.79 ERA. He made his Major League debut in 2000 with the Cubs before moving to Montreal for two seasons. He joined Toronto in 2005 and led the AL in appearances in '07 with 81.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.