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Oliver not invaluable to Angels after all

Dec 2, 2009, 7:08 PM EDT

darren oliver.jpgSure, Darren Oliver was eligible for free agency again this winter, but the Angels could have essentially held him hostage for the second year in a row by offering him arbitration. It’s the tactic they used last year, knowing that Oliver, as a Type A free agent, wouldn’t have a market once teams had to give up a draft pick to sign him.
Oliver accepted arbitration then, re-signed for $3.665 million and posted a career-best ERA for a second straight season, finishing at 2.71 in 73 innings. He won five games, lost just once and recorded a 65/22 K/BB ratio. He also played a key role in all three wins over the Red Sox in the ALDS and gave up runs in just one of his eight postseason appearances overall.
Given that it worked out so well last year, the guess was that the Angels would offer arbitration one more time. However, they declined to do so before Tuesday’s deadline, a decision that placed Oliver on the open market for the first time in three years. Since anyone can sign him without surrendering a draft pick and he’ll likely want just a one-year deal — he’s indicated that he’d retire after next season — several contenders figure to pursue him.
It suggests the Angels financial picture is even murkier than was anticipated at season’s end. Oliver was certainly the team’s best reliever last year, but if he re-signed for $4 million, he’d be just the team’s fourth-highest paid reliever in 2010. Well, technically, third, since Justin Speier, who will earn $5.25 million, was already released in August. The Angels also owe Brian Fuentes $9 million and the rehabbing Scot Shields $5.35 million.
The Angels still have the most major league talent in the AL West, but the bad contracts they’ve handed out suddenly seem to have caught up to them. They’ll be the division favorites in 2010 regardless, but GM Tony Reagins will have quite a challenge on his hands to keep the Halos on top in 2011 and beyond.

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