For a second straight offseason, they've stolen thunder from the cross-town Dodgers, plucked players from the division-rival Rangers and set themselves up for World Series contention with a bold move nobody saw coming.
On Thursday, 370 days after signing Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million contract, the Angels stunned the baseball landscape by landing free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton with a five-year, $125 million deal, sources told MLB.com.
Hamilton, one of baseball's best all-around players, joins a lineup that includes Pujols and Mike Trout, gives Anaheim the flexibility to trade for a necessary starting pitcher and, most importantly, puts the Angels in prime position to snap a three-year playoff drought.
"It's a huge signing; huge addition to the lineup," said outfielder Mark Trumbo, whose name will no doubt be brought up in trade rumors because of it. "His numbers pretty much speak for themselves. Phenomenal athlete, and I think it can only serve to bolster an already-strong team."
Since the contract isn't official yet, the Angels didn't speak about it publicly, saying via statement: "As per team policy and MLB rules, the Angels will not comment on the status of any contract negotiations with players. With that said, we continue to look for ways to improve our team. As soon as we have something formal to announce, we will do so."
The Angels went into the offseason unwilling to go higher than $145 million on the 2013 payroll.
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto then balked at Zack Greinke's contractual demands on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings, then pushed the payroll to about $140 million by acquiring two starters (Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton) and two back-end relievers (Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett), providing the impression that he was done making big free-agent signings.
"Sometimes," Dipoto said last Thursday, "the smartest thing you can do is just make practical decisions."
But Angels owner Arte Moreno agreed to stretch the Angels' 2013 payroll to a franchise record of about $160 million for Hamilton.
There were three key benefits to it:
1. It makes cost-controlled Angels outfielders like Peter Bourjos and/or Trumbo, and perhaps even designated hitter Kendrys Morales, expendable. Dipoto could use that flexibility to add another starter pitcher -- like knuckleballer R.A. Dickey of the Mets, or perhaps Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays, or Ricky Nolasco of the Marlins -- to a currently mediocre staff.
2. It counters the big-ticket moves made by the crosstown-rival Dodgers, who are fresh off signing Greinke to a six-year, $147 million contract that the Angels were at one point unwilling to offer. Like the Dodgers, the Angels recently landed a lucrative new media deal.
3. It further cripples the division-rival Rangers, who lost out on trading for James Shields, sent from the Rays to the Royals; seemingly won't be able to add D-backs right fielder Justin Upton; and now can't bring back Hamilton. Adding Hamilton comes one offseason after the Angels signed C.J. Wilson, the Rangers' former ace, to a five-year, $77.5 million deal.
"Really excited to dust off the Xbox controllers for the next few years on the road," Wilson wrote on his Twitter account, @str8edgeracer. "It's a great day to be an Angel/Angel fan!"
Speaking to Rangers reporters at a media luncheon on Thursday, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said Hamilton never gave his former club a chance to match the Angels' offer.
"Our full expectation was that the phone call was going to be before he signed, certainly not after and giving us an idea," Daniels told local reporters. "Josh had indicated recently, last week, he told us he felt it might be time to move on, but that we were still talking. I'm not going to get in to the reason, technically, why. I thought we had additional conversations this week that had moved it along in a positive direction. Apparently not."
The 31-year-old Hamilton won the American League's Most Valuable Player Award in 2010 and has long been considered one of baseball's best all-around players, hitting .313 while averaging 33 homers and 107 RBIs the last three seasons.
Now, his left-handed bat seemingly fits perfectly behind Pujols in the cleanup spot, giving the Angels one of the deepest-looking lineups in baseball. Add that to a bullpen that's much improved, and a rotation that could get better if the right deal is struck for a starter, and the Angels suddenly look a lot more poised to end their drought of three straight playoff absences.
"Wow," Trout simply wrote on his Twitter account, @Trouty20 -- and everyone knew what he was referring to.
But Hamilton also comes with baggage, questions and concerns. He was the Rays' No. 1 overall Draft choice in 1999, but drugs and alcohol, in addition to a few injuries, derailed his career two years later. He failed his first drug test in '03, took the rest of the season off, didn't play for almost four full years and was taken in the '06 Rule 5 Draft by the Cubs, who quickly flipped him to the Reds.
Hamilton eventually got sober and finally lived up to the hype, in the process writing one of baseball's greatest comeback stories. He posted a .292/.368/.554 slash line in 90 games with the Reds in '07, as a 26-year-old rookie, then was traded to the Rangers, catapulting him to five straight All-Star Game appearances and elite-level status.
Hamilton struggled mightily in the second half of 2012, which ended amid a chorus of boos in what would be his final game in Arlington. But he still finished the season batting .285 with 43 homers, 128 RBIs and a .930 OPS, giving him his third Silver Slugger and placing him fifth in AL MVP voting.
"I've always wanted to stay here -- they understand that and they know that," Hamilton said of Texas after losing in a one-game playoff to the Orioles. "When we talked earlier in the year, we didn't get things worked out, so we said we'd wait until the year was over and obviously, they'll get the first shot. But we'll see what happens. I've enjoyed the last five years here playing with these guys. It's the most fun I've had in my life playing baseball."
Fittingly, the Angels open 2013 in Cincinnati on April 1, then travel to Texas for a weekend series.
Hamilton's $25 million average annual value (AAV) ties him with Ryan Howard for the second-highest-paid player in baseball, trailing only Alex Rodriguez ($27.5 million).
He becomes the third Angels player with an AAV of at least $20 million, joining Pujols and Vernon Wells. After back-to-back $100 million deals, the Angels owe four players -- Hamilton, Pujols, Wilson and Jered Weaver -- about $90 million as far ahead as 2016.
The Hamilton signing clearly opens an avenue for Dipoto to flip an outfielder for a starting pitcher. And while a lot is still on the table, the likely scenario seems to have Hamilton starting in right field, Trout staying in center and Trumbo in left, making the chances of Bourjos being dealt more likely than ever.
Bourjos wants to stay in Anaheim, but he also wants an opportunity.
"I'm not sure what's going to happen now," he said when reached by phone Thursday. "But at the end of the day, from my perspective, I just want to play. I really don't want to go through what I went through last year where I wasn't playing. The last two months, I got like three at-bats. So hopefully, if I'm the odd man out, hopefully they're willing to trade me and I'm able to go somewhere and play every day."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. T.R. Sullivan contributed reporting. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less