The Angels agreed to terms with veteran left-handed reliever Scott Downs on a three-year, $15-million contract Friday, a move that adds balance and depth to the bullpen and probably ends speculation the team is pursuing free-agent closer Rafael Soriano.
Downs, 34, appeared in 67 games with the Toronto Blue Jays last season, going 5-5 with a 2.64 earned-run average in 61 1/3 innings and a club-record 26 holds.
"We're going to continue to look at opportunities to make us better," General Manager Tony Reagins said, "but as far as the bullpen, this is how we're going to look going into spring training."
That means right-hander Fernando Rodney, who had a 5.65 ERA and blew four of 11 save opportunities last September, will enter spring training as the closer, with Downs and hard-throwing right-handers Kevin Jepsen and Jordan Walden in the wings.
Downs' signing brings the Angels' projected 2011 payroll up to about $132 million. He is the second left-handed reliever the Angels acquired this month, following the signing of Hisanori Takahashi to a two-year, $8-million deal Dec. 2.
Takahashi has extensive experience as a starter, which raised the question: Could the Angels, who were unable to sign their top free-agent target, left fielder Carl Crawford, move Takahashi to the rotation and use a starter such as Jered Weaver or Ervin Santana in a trade to acquire an impact hitter?
"We're not looking at it as a precursor to another deal," Reagins said. "We're looking at it as a way to hold leads, to finish games."
Downs has been one of baseball's most dependable relievers over the last four seasons, compiling a 2.36 ERA, the fifth-lowest mark among relievers, and 84 holds in 262 appearances.
"He will definitely be more than a situational left-hander for us," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's a guy who will get us big outs and hold leads, and he can get the last out of the game if needed."
Downs is a Type A free agent, but because the Angels' first-round pick is protected, they will relinquish only a second-round pick to the Blue Jays as compensation for signing him.
"Sometimes the eighth inning is more important than the ninth," Downs said. "I think every out from the sixth inning on is big."