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Update: Merced's Brian Fuentes takes deal with Angels

New year, new team.

Brian Fuentes got his wish, after all.

The former Merced and Merced College standout is headed back to California and the American League, agreeing to terms with the Los Angeles Angels.

The announcement was made on Wednesday by Angels general manager Tony Reagins.

“It was nice to get it done,” Fuentes said in an exclusive interview with the Sun-Star. “It’s my first time through this (free agency) process, and there’s a lot of things you learn along the way.

“The whole time I wanted to stay close to home.

“To go to an organization like Anaheim ... it’s going to be a great experience for me.”

Fuentes didn’t get the three-year contract he coveted. Instead, the free-agent closer agreed to a two-year deal with an option for 2011.

Though the club didn’t release financial terms of the deal, ESPN.com is reporting that Fuentes will receive $8.5 million for 2009, $9 million for 2010 and a $9 million vesting option in 2011 — based on performance.

“I have all the confidence in the world in myself,” Fuentes said. “So it’s nice to have that option. The ball’s in my court.“If I do what I’m capable of doing, I’ll be fine.”

The left-hander fills an immediate hole at the back-end of the Angels’ bullpen.

Record-setting closer Francisco Rodriguez bolted Southern California after saving a major-league record 62 games in 2008. Rodriguez signed a three-year deal worth $37 million with the New York Mets earlier this month.

Rodriguez’s loss, Fuentes said, will be his gain. The Angels have won four of the last five AL West crowns — including the last two — and were a major-league best 100-62 last season.

“Mike Scioscia is an unbelievable manager,” Fuentes said. “They have a nice group of guys, so hopefully I can fit right in and help any way that I can.”

Scioscia phoned Fuentes over the weekend after a deal was reached in principle.

“He was really positive. He’s just that type of manager,” Fuentes said. “He congratulated me and welcomed me into the organization.

“We’re both looking forward to getting after it.”

Fuentes, who began his career in the AL West with the Mariners, blossomed into one of the game’s top closers during a seven-year stay in Colorado.

The three-time All-Star recorded at least 30 saves in three of his last four seasons with the Rockies, including 30 of 34 in 2008 with a 2.73 ERA.

Fuentes finished the season strong, converting 17 consecutive opportunities — the second-longest active streak in the majors.

“We’re thrilled for him,” Merced College coach and close friend Chris Pedretti said. “He wanted to be on the West Coast. He’s going to a contender and has a chance to go back to the World Series.

“It’s nothing but positives — great weather, great situation. I think it’s everything he wanted going into free agency.”

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