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Blanton no stranger to being a team's backup plan

Blanton no stranger to being a team's backup plan

Blanton no stranger to being a team's backup plan
ANAHEIM -- This awkward position Joe Blanton now finds himself in, as somewhat of a disappointment to a new fan base because he isn't the guy they envisioned, is nothing new to him.

Back in July 2008, the Phillies needed a starting pitcher and fans were zeroing in on ace CC Sabathia, whom the Indians were making expendable. But the burly left-hander was instead traded to the Brewers, and 10 days later, the Phillies wound up making a trade with the A's for Blanton.

Now Angels fans know him by a different name: Not Zack Greinke.

"I don't blame them," Blanton said. "He's one of the best pitchers in the game, to be honest with you. They got a little taste of him for a couple of months, and I think he's proven over the years that he is one of the best. He got paid because he is one of the best. I wouldn't say you can really replace somebody like that. That's awful hard.

"But at the same time, I personally feel it's not necessarily one guy who brings a championship to a team. It's 25 guys. It's not two guys, it's not three guys. It takes every single guy. The deeper, I feel like, you make a team, I feel like in the long run it's better."

And that was essentially the underlying theme behind Wednesday's casual availability at the ESPN Zone in Downtown Disney -- quite different from the grandiose joint press conference for Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson at around this time last year.

There, Blanton was introduced alongside fellow starter Tommy Hanson and the club's two new power relievers, lefty Sean Burnett and potential closer Ryan Madson. One day earlier -- amid plenty more cameras, reporters and national intrigue -- Greinke was unveiled at Dodger Stadium following a deal that made him the richest right-hander ever.

The Angels, who couldn't match up with the $147 million price tag Greinke came with, are trying to combat for his loss in numbers with a deeper bullpen and stable innings-eaters in the rotation.

The face of that approach -- whether you want him to be or not -- is Blanton.

"Joe Blanton's pretty solid, and I think he knows that," general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "Joe Blanton wakes up in the morning and he realizes he's pitched in this league a long time, he's been steady and durable, he's been on winning teams, he's carried the ball through six-plus innings a night and given you 30 starts a year. I think Joe knows who he is, and we're glad to have him because the stability that he brings is required."

Blanton's deal is for $15 million with an $8 million club option for 2015 (and a $1 million buyout). The 32-year-old right-hander will make $6.5 million next season and $7.5 million in '14, with a chance to make up to $500,000 each season in incentives for innings pitched.

Burnett, formerly of the Nationals, signed a two-year, $8 million contract with a $4.5 million club option (and a $500,000 buyout). That option, however, can automatically vest if Burnett appears in a total of 110 games from 2013-14. The 30-year-old southpaw gets a $250,000 signing bonus and will make $3.5 million in '13 and $3.75 million in '14, with up to $625,000 in incentives each season for games pitched.

Both agreed to terms last Wednesday, two days after Dipoto became certain he couldn't re-sign Greinke and one week after signing Madson and trading for Hanson, who came from the Braves in exchange for hard-throwing reliever Jordan Walden.

Blanton is the only one of the foursome not coming back from injury.

The 32-year-old Madson, who posted a 2.37 ERA with 32 saves for the Phillies in 2011, is recovering from Tommy John surgery. However, he expects to be throwing off a mound by early January and could be full-go by Spring Training. Hanson, 26, was hindered by shoulder and back issues last offseason, which played a part in him losing some velocity and finishing 2012 with a career-high 4.48 ERA in 31 starts. And Burnett, who has posted a 2.85 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP the last four years, had minor surgery to clean up bone spurs in his elbow shortly after the playoffs, but it didn't interrupt his throwing program.

The quartet will cost the Angels at least $30.5 million and upwards of close to $50 million -- or no more than one third of what Greinke got.

With Burnett and Madson joining an already formidable trio of Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen and Scott Downs, the bullpen is no doubt stronger.

But the rotation is potentially weakened, with Hanson, Blanton and (likely) Garrett Richards sliding behind Jered Weaver and Wilson while essentially replacing Greinke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.

"These guys are all going to have to pitch to a certain point in the game," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "and they have the capabilities to do that."

That, in many ways, is where Blanton comes in -- and why the injury-prone Brandon McCarthy, who got a similar deal from the D-backs, wasn't an ideal fit.

Blanton posted a 4.79 ERA and gave up 61 homers over the last three years. But his strikeout-to-walk ratio has improved each season, all the way to a career-high 4.88 mark while pitching for the Phillies and Dodgers in 2012. And most importantly, he's topped 190 innings in six of eight seasons.

Blanton is stable and reliable. But he isn't Greinke -- or even Anibal Sanchez or Kyle Lohse or Ryan Dempster, all of whom are demanding much larger contracts. Four years ago, though, he wasn't Sabathia in Philadelphia.

And that turned out pretty well for the Phillies.

"We won the World Series," Blanton recalled. "I'm not even comparing myself to [Sabathia] -- the things he's done have been unbelievable. But I think that just proves the point that 25 guys win the World Series, not one."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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