Angels, K-Rod cool in game of chicken

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

TEMPE, Ariz. – Next week, Frankie goes to arbitration, where the owners happen to be throwing a shutout (4-0). But, that's not important.

Neither the Angels nor Francisco Rodriguez's agent, Paul Kinzer, seem inclined to settle anywhere between the club's $10 million and the player's $12.5 million. That's not important, either.

"We were both filing numbers to go," Kinzer said Friday evening. "But, nothing hostile."

Of greater significance, there hasn't been much talk, if any, lately about a multi-year contract for Rodriguez, not since the Angels offered about $34 million over three years and Rodriguez countered by expressing his deep admiration for Mariano Rivera's new deal, which goes $45 million over three years.

And while Angels owner Arte Moreno and Kinzer said there'd be plenty of time to talk again after Wednesday's arbitration showdown in Florida, it was difficult to sort through it all Friday and not arrive at the conclusion Rodriguez is entering his final season in Anaheim. Rodriguez is due for free agency in November.

"I don't want to negotiate through the media, but there aren't a lot of guys with his body of work at his age," Kinzer said. "In fact, there aren't any of them."

Five-and-a-half years have passed since Rodriguez ravaged hitters in the 2002 postseason, when he was just 20 and an eye-opening September call-up and a lightening-strike World Series hero. He became the Angels' regular closer in 2005, and in three seasons has 132 saves, more than Trevor Hoffman, more than Billy Wagner, more than Rivera. More than anyone, in fact.

But, the more the Angels look at $15 million a year for Rodriguez, the more their minds appear to wander to Scot Shields or Justin Speier in the ninth. Joe Nathan could be a free agent.

There are alternatives.

"All options are open," Angels general manager Tony Reagins said. "And Francisco is one of those options."

For years scouts have looked upon the violence in Rodriguez's delivery, marveled at its wicked results, and cringed at what it might mean for his elbow and shoulder. Yet, Rodriguez takes the baseball; 69 times in 2004, 66 times in 2005, 69 times in 2006, 64 times in 2007.

Indeed, Rodriguez's signature fastball-fastball-slider-sit-down appeared to require more effort than ever last season, when he also integrated a changeup to keep lefties off his fastball. His ERA rose. His walks rose. He blew six saves, and they're still charting Manny Ramirez's walk-off home run in Game 2 of the AL division series. But, he threw 17 more innings in the Venezuelan winter league, was effective again, and reports to camp nothing less than one of the great closers in the game.

Presumably, he'll be here any day.

The Angels had received word Rodriguez would arrive in Phoenix (by private jet) in time to report Saturday and get into uniform Sunday. They're convinced his delay is unrelated to the absence of a multi-year contract or the pending arbitration hearing, and Kinzer said, "Something personal came up." Rodriguez has reported on his own schedule before, so the Angels shrug and allow him a veteran's space, even at 26.

"He's ready to go," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He wants to achieve. The last thing you have to worry about with Francisco is him being ready to pitch during the season.

"There's no question in our minds he's going to be where he needs to be."

For the moment, and the next seven or eight months, that would appear to be in Anaheim. After that, there's no telling.

On the grounds of his baseball complex here, walking the corridors among minor leaguers and the sidewalks among fans, Moreno avoids no one. In fact, he initiates eye contact, extends his hand first, inquires about the sore hammy, wants to know where you're from.

When he's stopped to pose for a photo with a young boy, Moreno hoists the child into his arms and holds him like one of his own.

As he does, the topic of Rodriguez comes up again. There are others, too. Garret Anderson could be a free agent at the end of the season. Chone Figgins, too. By this time next year, John Lackey and Shields could be the only players left from the World Series team. Vladimir Guerrero has an option for 2009, which should be the starting point of a multi-year extension. But, Rodriguez, absent when the rest of the pitchers and catchers (all except Ervin Santana, who had a visa issue) splashed through puddles on Day 1, was the topic of the afternoon.

Moreno is going into his fifth year of ownership. The Angels make money. They fill their ballpark. They contend. They spend with most. And Rodriguez has been there all along, turning the ninth inning into a show, hurling himself from the mound with every delivery, screaming to the sky with every save.

"I love the guy," Moreno said. "He's exciting. Exciting to watch."

He laughed.

"Sometimes too exciting," he said, "but you have that with any closer. And he'll probably say it like we say it: It's a business. Just going through arbitration is a sensitive thing. Everybody's going to have their opinion.

"To me, it's the way it is. We have tried to sign him. We have made five or six good offers. We will keep the door open. But, realistically, economics are economics. If he believes it's going to be better to be somewhere else, then that's what it will be."

So, everybody waits. And Rodriguez pitches. And maybe he'll be back, and maybe he won't, and that's where it stands. That's the important part.

"We haven't ruled out signing there," Kinzer said, "but we'll see how things go."

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