Brian T. Chan, Sports Editor

It Takes Two to Close
After exhibiting a reluctance to spend money last offseason, many teams have taken a different route this winter, signing relief pitchers – not even the premium guys – to multi-year contracts. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signing Fernando Rodney for two years and $11 million to consolidate the back-end of the bullpen poses a challenge for Brian Fuentes.

Despite picking up a career-high and major league-leading 48 saves, Fuentes blew seven save opportunities and had his lowest strikeout rate in his career. The Rodney acquisition may signify the Angels’ distrust in Fuentes holding the closer incumbency without a little competition.

With the Detroit Tigers last season, Rodney converted 37 of 38 saves. Known for his mid-90s gas, Rodney saw his groundball rate swell to 57.9 percent with his effective changeup. Yet, in spite of the positive aspects from 2009, Rodney still struggled with his control. He walked 4.88 batters per nine innings (BB/9), an improvement from 6.69 BB/9 in 2008, but in addition to a plunge in his strikeout rate, his strikeout-to-walk ratio actually decreased as well. Rodney’s role for 2010 is undetermined since Fuentes will likely reprise his role as the closer, but the Rodney signing does not make up for the losses of John Lackey and Chone Figgins.

Risky Business for the Diamondbacks
In his major league debut as a 20-year-old, Edwin Jackson was the kid who outpitched the future Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks. After six years, the kid returns to where he began his major league career, in Arizona. In a three-way trade with the Tigers and the New York Yankees, the Diamondbacks acquired Jackson and another pitcher, Ian Kennedy. Last season, Jackson had a surprisingly dominant start as opposing batters hit in the low .200s off him in the first three months. Then, he was no longer unhittable as he regressed to his normal rates.

The Diamondbacks shored up their rotation with Jackson and Kennedy, neither of whom are as valuable as the pitcher they gave up. Max Scherzer, the Diamondbacks’ first round pick from the 2006 draft, emerged as a solid strikeout pitcher. Now, Scherzer can further develop into a solid starter with the Tigers. Kennedy, another first round pick from the 2006 draft class, had an abysmal 2008 season at the major league level and missed most of 2009. Kennedy still has room for potential, but the Diamondbacks are major risk takers in unearthing the high reward in the former Yankees’ pitching prospect.

On Top of the Hill in Washington
Before their prized pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg walks down the red carpet, the Washington Nationals seek to bolster the rotation.

Even after signing veteran Jason Marquis, there are still many voids in the rotation. John Lannan is not necessarily an ace, but he is the Nationals’ best pitcher from last season.

Marquis and Lannan draw similar comparisons and even though Marquis has the edge in experience, the Nationals would be in a similar predicament if they were to consider Marquis for the ace slot. This situation does not provide much of a shock for a perennial last place team.

In Marquis’ case, he induced more groundballs and gradually improved his home run allowed rate from 1.62 home runs per nine innings (HR/9) in 2006 to 0.63 HR/9 last season. Signing Marquis for two years and $15 million may provide good value to the Nationals, but this also creates a problem for their future.

It came down to the wire to settle on a contract with Strasburg, and for the upcoming draft, the Nationals are expected to select the 17-year-old phenom Bryce Harper with the top pick.

To avoid another last-minute drama session, the Nationals could have settled for cheaper options because Marquis only makes the Nationals a marginally better team.