‘Tis the season to designate lousy veterans for assignment. In recent days the Blue Jays (B.J. Ryan), Red Sox (Julio Lugo), Phillies (Tyler Walker), Rockies (Matt Belisle), Indians (Matt Herges), and Diamondbacks (Tony Clark) have either designated or outright released a veteran of some renown as they begin their positioning for the trade deadline wheelings and dealings. Frankly, I feel left out and think the Angels need to horn in on that action and I think I know just the guy to go: Justin Speier.
Now settle down, I know you are shocked that I didn’t say Gary Matthews and even more shocked that I dare suggest the Angels do anything to further deplete their already shaky bullpen, but hear me out. Let’s just take into consideration why teams designate veterans: 1) The veteran is underperforming and 3) the team could use an open roster spot and 2) said veteran is vastly overpaid considering their newfound level of poor performance.
Check, check and check for Justin Speier. The veteran middle reliever signed a cushy four-year, $18 million deal with the Angels back in 2007 with the idea that he would be a lockdown middle inning guy to help out Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez. Well, that sure seemed like a good idea at the time, especially after Speier collected 24 holds via a 2.88 ERA in his first year with the Halos. And then things took a turn for worse.
In 2008, Speier went from a being a free agent bargain to a massive bust, struggling all season long before finishing with a 5.03 ERA and getting demoted so far down the bullpen totem pole that he was left off the post-season roster in favor of Kevin Jepsen who had a whopping 8.1 innings of major league experience under his belt. This is what happens to veteran relievers who lose their command and velocity and allow 15 dingers in just under 70 innings of work. Halo management was no doubt hoping that this stinker of a season was just an aberration. Silly rabbits.
Speier has been better in 2009, but only marginally as his ERA is just a hair under 5.00 rather than just a hair above it. I suppose that could be quantified as progress, right? It actually did seem for a bit this year that Speier had finally turned things around when he finished June with an ERA of 1.04 for the month, slowly gaining the trust of Mike Scioscia who is so desperate to find a reliable set-up man that he has taken out an ad on Craigslist. But just when Speier’s ERA was on the precipice of getting into the respectable sub-4.00 range at the end of June, Speier once again went to pieces.
The tipping point for Speier came just last night, the second consecutive appearance in a row for Speier where he entered the game with the Angels nursing a modest lead only to face three batters and get exactly nobody out all the while making a seemingly easy win much more stressful than it needed to be. This kind of thing is excusable once every blue moon, not on consecutive outings for anyone lest a 35-year old veteran who is trying to convince his manager that he isn’t washed up. Which brings us back to designating him for assignment.
Ideally speaking the Halos could find some poor sucker to claim Speier outright and relieve them of the remaining year-and-a-half of his contract left, saving the team approximately $8 million in the process. That has absolutely no chance of happening with two-thirds of the league practically holding garage sales in order to boost their flagging revenues, but what could happen is that some team will put in a claim and work out a deal with the Angels so that they can at least get a tiny bit of value back in return for a player they no longer want (like the Angels did when they traded Jeff Weaver for Terry Evans a few years back). If he goes unclaimed, then Speier gets put down like Old Yeller and is released into free agency and out of the Angels lives forever, freeing up a 40-man roster spot for the quality reliever Tony Reagins is bound to acqiure in the next two weeks. I want to call it a win-win situation, but either way it causes the Halos to have to eat Speier’s remaining contract, so it really is more making lemonade out of lemons and that is just fine with me.