The Angels may have found their closer in Ernesto Frieri

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Ernesto Frieri was plenty good in a year and a half with the Padres, yet manager Bud Black never seemed to want to trust him in close games. Perhaps that was a mistake.

Frieri struck out the side in the 11th inning to earn his first career save as the Angels beat the A’s 3-1 on Thursday. In nine appearances for the Halos, he’s yet to allow a hit and he’s struck out 19 in 8 2/3 scoreless innings.

Command has always been Frieri’s biggest problem. He did walk a batter today, giving him six walks in his time with the Angels. Overall, he’s walked 62 batters in 117 innings as a major leaguer. However, that comes with a 2.15 ERA and 156 strikeouts.

The Padres couldn’t get past the walks. Last year, Frieri made 59 appearances and picked up a win (1), a loss (2), a hold (4) or a blown save (0) in just seven of them. Mostly, he pitched in games that were already decided. He pitched 14 2/3 scoreless innings in his final 14 appearances of the season, but 10 of those games were losses and the four wins were by 10, six, four and seven runs.

The Angels thus far have found no fault with Frieri. All but one of his nine appearances have come in a win and the one loss he appeared in was a 3-2 game. He’s been flat-out dominant in all of them. For the modest price of Alexi Amarista and Donn Roach, the Angels appear to have found the right-handed reliever they needed, and with Jordan Walden also having turned it around, the bullpen has suddenly become a strength, rather than a weakness. Score one for new GM Jerry DiPoto, who saw plenty of Frieri while with the Diamondbacks.

Mark Lerner says Nationals can’t afford both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg

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The defending champion Washington Nationals may have to replace two star players in third baseman Anthony Rendon and starter Stephen Strasburg as both are free agents. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras and both are expected to command lucrative contracts. As a result, Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner said the club can’t afford to bring back both players, Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington reports.

Lerner told Donald Dell in an interview, “We really can only afford to have one of those two guys. They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”

As Dybas notes, there are myriad reasons why Lerner would say this publicly. If Lerner had instead said, “Yeah, we’re filthy stinking rich, especially coming off of a World Series win. We could afford to get every free agent if we wanted to,” then the Nationals would have no leverage in negotiations. Creating artificial scarcity increases the Nationals’ leverage when negotiating with Boras and his clients. And as Dybas also points out, Lerner’s statement also prepares fans for an unsatisfactory outcome not unlike when the club took itself out of the running to bring back outfielder Bryce Harper earlier this year. This not to say Lerner’s statement is justified; it’s just how things work in the current system.

Lerner also defended the Nationals’ approach to free agency. He said, “They think you’re really back there printing money and it’s whoever goes to the highest bidder. It’s not that way at all. You give these fellas — there’s a negotiation that goes on, but…We’ve been pretty successful in free agency over time. You’re not going to get everybody. Certain players may want to go home, closer to where their home is. You never know the reason why people move on. But, we’ve been very successful. Probably one of the most successful teams in free agency the last 10 years. We’re very proud of our record. But, again, I think people have to realize, it’s not all up to us.”

It is true that the Nationals have been one of the most active teams in free agency in recent years. In a league that has otherwise done the opposite, they deserve some credit for that. But the Nationals are also keenly aware of the competitive balance tax threshold, which teams use as a de facto salary cap. They don’t have to, but they choose to because it’s a convenient structure that allows them to limit expenditures.

At the end of the day, it’s baseball’s financial structure that is rotten. It forces constant misinformation out of everyone’s mouths so as to protect their financial interests and leverage, and incentivizes teams to value profits above all. In a perfect world, MLB team owners wouldn’t need to cry poor every offseason, but we don’t live in such a world.