Speier to add depth to Angels 'pen

Speier to add depth to Angels 'pen

The Angels' first acquisition of the offseason underscored their basic belief that pitching still remains the backbone of the team.

So despite what can already be considered the best bullpen in the American League, it was reliever Justin Speier the Angels were able to lure to the West Coast, while much of the focus has been on the offense from both outside and inside the organization.

"[The bullpen] had a lot to do with the strength of the ballclub," general manager Bill Stoneman said. "That is why we wanted Justin here and he is the guy we wanted."

Officially a part of the Angels on Tuesday after passing his physical examination, Speier cited winning over individual achievements for signing with a club that already has an established back end in closer Francisco Rodriguez and setup man Scot Shields.

"There were some other teams offering me a chance to close but that has never been an issue with me. I had a chance to close with Toronto and I set up for B.J. Ryan last year," Speier said on a conference call with reporters. "I like to pitch with the game on the line whether it is in the sixth, seventh or eighth inning. It is not an ego thing with me."

Pursued by Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco and the Yankees, Speier signed a four-year deal with the Angels worth a reported $18 million, a high price considering he will not be handed the ball in the ninth inning and asked to save ballgames, but one that reflects the value for the pitchers that bridge the gap between starter and closer.

"I think a lot of GMs are watching the playoffs and know that a strong bullpen is going to win games," said Speier, whose dad Chris was an infielder with the Giants, Expos, Cubs, Twins and Cardinals.

The right-hander went 2-0 with a 2.98 ERA in 58 appearances with the Blue Jays last season but found that he was more effective against lefties, much like Shields. Speier held left-handed hitters to a .183 batting average while right-handers hit .264 against him.

Speier throws a fastball and a slider but credits his split-finger pitch for his success against lefties.

"I'm a baseball historian and a baseball fan. I know that a north and south pitch gets lefties out," Speier said. "My split-finger pitch is my top to bottom pitch and keeps hitters off my fastball."

The 33-year-old also credits a four-year tour of duty as a Marine Corps Reservist for helping him to handle the physical and mental aspects of his job. But after a big-league career that has taken him to Chicago, Atlanta, Florida, Cleveland and Colorado in addition to Toronto, playing for the Angels will be a highlight.

"This is a dream job with a team that is going places and a team that is capable of making a championship run every year. It was a chance I couldn't pass up," Speier said.

The signing bolsters an Angels 'pen that not only can feature Rodriguez and Shields at the back end but also has right-hander Hector Carrasco in a swing role. Uncertain now is the status of Brendan Donnelly, who is likely due a raise over his $925,000 salary from last year. The Angels have until Dec. 12 to tender Donnelly a contract.

The depth of Speier also provides the club with greater flexibility to make a deal this winter, if it is unable to sign a free-agent hitter to improve the offense.

"Ideally we would like to not have to give up something to get something but that may not be possible," Stoneman said, adding that center field, third base and first base remain targets.

Gary Matthews Jr. is the top free-agent candidate in center while Toronto's Vernon Wells is signed through 2007 and would require a trade. Boston is reportedly interested in moving Manny Ramirez and free agent J.D. Drew is another outfield possibility.

Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.