SAN FRANCISCO -- Free agent Armando Benitez and the San Francisco Giants agreed Tuesday to a $21.5 million, three-year contract, a move that stabilizes the club's closer role that's been in flux since Robb Nen got injured two years ago.
"He's the prototype," general manager Brian Sabean said. "He has been and will be a dominant force at the end of the game. ... He's a guy we had our eye on."
Benitez bounced back from a subpar 2003 season to save an NL-leading 47 games in 51 chances and lead major league relievers with a 1.29 ERA for the Florida Marlins this year. His signing fills one of the Giants' biggest offseason needs.
Since Nen was sidelined with a serious shoulder injury following the 2002 World Series, the Giants have pieced together their bullpen. Tim Worrell closed in 2003 before leaving for Philadelphia as a free agent and San Francisco struggled at the end of games last season.
Matt Herges started the year as closer before being replaced by Dustin Hermanson in August. Hermanson saved 17 games but couldn't hold a three-run lead on the final Saturday of the season against Los Angeles, helping cost San Francisco a playoff berth.
|Armando Benitez wanted to be on a playoff contender and that's just what he gets with his new deal.(AP)|
Hermanson is a free agent and is unlikely to return to the Giants, Sabean said, because he would like to close or start next season.
The Giants previously signed shortstop Omar Vizquel to a $12.25 million, three-year contract and will turn their attention to upgrading their lineup around NL MVP Barry Bonds.
"We wanted to fill this need so we could move to other areas to address what we could do in the lineup or outfield," Sabean said.
Benitez is an intimidating presence on the mound and is one of the game's most overpowering pitchers, striking out 826 batters in 654 innings.
But while Benitez has been one of the game's top closers in the regular season with 244 saves in 283 chances - the fourth best percentage all-time -- his postseason history is spotty.
He has blown six of 10 postseason save opportunities -- a major league record -- with Baltimore and the New York Mets, including the opener of the 2000 World Series against the Yankees and Game 2 of a first-round playoff series that year against San Francisco.