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Halos get bang for their 'Teixeira bucks'
Halos get bang for their 'Teixeira bucks'
By Lyle Spencer
NEW YORK -- The Big Apple loves Mark Teixeira, and the feeling clearly is mutual. This doesn't surprise the Angels, who are about to experience the Yankee Stadium love-fest in a fascinating American League Championship Series, opening on Friday night at 4:57 p.m. PT.
The Angels also loved Teixeira, to the extent that retaining him as a free agent became the primary focus of their offseason planning last winter.
While you can't always get what you want, you just might find you get what you need.
Ten months later, that's what we have here: a win-win-win for Teixeira, the Yankees and, amazingly enough, for the Angels as well.
Feeling jilted and a little jolted when the slugging first baseman they'd acquired from the Braves at the 2008 Trade Deadline opted for Yankees riches, the Angels went on a shopping spree targeting lower-priced merchandise.
With the $20 million they had budgeted for Teixeira, who accepted $22.5 million a year for eight years from the Yankees, the Angels honed in on outfielders and a closer.
Signing Juan Rivera ($3.25 million), Bobby Abreu ($6 million with incentives met) and Brian Fuentes ($8.5 million), the Angels committed $17.75 million to three performers who would play pivotal roles in the club's ascension to a third consecutive American League West title.
As a crucial bonus, at $1.1 million, Kendry Morales emerged from the shadows to deliver a blockbuster season while replacing Teixeira at first base.
Teixeira has been everything the Yankees imagined and more with his booming bat, brilliant defense and winning personality, but the Angels struck gold with their investments.
"The Yankees signed a tremendous player in Tex," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "But we were able to sign three guys who have been terrific for us. I think it worked out well for everyone."
Abreu, Rivera, Morales and Fuentes each contributed heavily to the AL Division Series sweep of Boston.
TEIXEIRA VS. MORALES
A side-by-side comparison of two of the American League's top first basemen
Abreu batted .556, scoring four runs with a .692 on-base percentage. Underscoring his reputation as one of the game's premier clutch hitters, he pounded a two-out RBI double in the ninth preceding Vladimir Guerrero's game-winning two-run single against Jonathan Papelbon.
Rivera batted .273 in the series and had a huge two-out, two-run single in the eighth inning against Papelbon that got obscured by later events.
Morales bombed a mammoth Game 3 homer against Clay Buchholz that lifted the offense and played solid defense despite batting only .200 in the series.
Calmly throwing strikes in good spots, Fuentes got the last three outs in Game 3 and the final two outs in Game 2, giving up no hits and one walk. His two saves brought him to an even 50, including the regular season, a remarkable number for a lefty whose previous career high had been 31 with the Rockies (2005).
The regular-season numbers produced by the Angels' imports (and Morales) tell only part of the story, but they are beyond impressive.
Abreu's wisdom and leadership were vital in the improvement of Morales, infielders Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis and Howard Kendrick, even established veterans such as Torii Hunter and Chone Figgins.
"Bobby helped everybody with his approach and his easy manner and his willingness to share his knowledge," Figgins said. "He meant so much to this team. I think only the players really understand that."
Abreu batted .293 with a .390 on-base percentage, driving in 103 runs while scoring 96 and stealing 30 bases.
He became only the fifth player in history to record five seasons combining at least 30 steals with 100 or more RBIs while joining another exclusive club, six members strong, with at least 250 career homers, 2,000 hits, 1,000 runs, 1,000 RBIs and 300 steals.
WHERE DID THE MONEY GO?
The Angels made good use of the $20 million they had earmarked for Teixeira
"Abreu, for the balance he gave our offense, was our MVP," Scioscia said late in the season, adding parenthetically that Hunter was on his way to claiming the AL MVP Award before missing a month with a groin injury.
Rivera, back in the form he showed before breaking a leg after the 2006 season, delivered career highs in homers (25) and RBIs (88) while batting .287.
Playing quality left field, accented by a powerful, accurate arm, he was tied for fourth in the AL with 11 assists, one more than Abreu.
Fuentes had a few rocky stretches that inflated his ERA to 3.93, but his 48 saves led the Majors and endeared him to teammates impressed by his grit and selfless manner.
"Brian had a great season," setup man Kevin Jepsen said. "He's so even-keel and such a great teammate. We knew if we could get the ball to Brian, we'd be in good shape."
Morales simply exploded at midseason, driven in part by Abreu's urgings to show more patience at the plate, especially with runners in scoring position.
Batting .306, Morales led his team with 34 homers and 108 RBIs, finishing second to Joe Mauer in AL slugging percentage at .569 and third in extra-base hits with 79.
"He had as much talent as anyone we've brought through the organization," Scioscia said of Morales, a Cuban exile signed in 2004 after his 13th attempt to flee his homeland finally was successful.
"If we had signed Tex, we'd have looked at Kendry in the outfield. He's made great strides defensively and done a terrific job at first."
After Abreu had been named AL Player of the Month in July, Morales claimed the award in August.
Teixeira was Teixeira: simply great. Overcoming his customary slow start, he tied for the AL lead in homers with 39, led in RBIs with 122 and total bases (344) and extra-base hits (85).
There are few in Teixeira's class defensively, his educated glove saving errors and runs all season long.
"It was the best situation for my family," said Teixeira, who grew up in the Baltimore area. "I hope there are no hard feelings. ... When we lost to Boston in the playoffs [last season], it hurt. I cried by my locker. I knew what a special group we had and let it slip away. I'll never forget that.
"I had the best 2 1/2 months of my career in Anaheim. I loved it there."
Until, that is, he donned pinstripes and began pounding baseballs with old buddy Alex Rodriguez and Co.
It might have taken some time, but there are no hard feelings in Southern California. Fans have embraced the new athletes who figured so prominently in bringing the Angels to this ALCS showdown with Tex and his storied Bombers.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.