It's hard to imagine a baseball experience to rival winning a World Series, but shortstop Orlando Cabrera seemed as giddy after signing a four-year, $32-million contract with the Angels on Monday as he was after helping the Boston Red Sox end their 86-year championship drought in October.
"I couldn't even sleep [Monday] night," Cabrera said Tuesday by phone from Cartagena, Colombia, where he was born and raised and still lives in the winter. "I was jumping around, laughing, my wife, [Eliana], was jumping around.... I couldn't even talk. We went to bed, and my wife said, 'Go to sleep.' My eyes were wide open. I couldn't.... I cannot be more happy than I am right now."
This is the ending Cabrera envisioned in his first winter as a free agent, being reunited with his friend and former Montreal teammate, Angel right fielder Vladimir Guerrero, and signing with baseball's only Latino majority owner, Arte Moreno.
"It's like a dream," Cabrera said.
But for weeks, Anaheim seemed as distant as a dream.
After being traded from the Expos to the Red Sox on July 31 and helping Boston win its first World Series since 1918, Cabrera, 30, instructed his agent, Dan Lozano, to contact the Angels to see if they'd be interested in a slick-fielding shortstop with power.
"They were on the top of my list," Cabrera said.
Cabrera wasn't even on General Manager Bill Stoneman's list. The Angels needed a starting pitcher, a center fielder and a reliever, and Stoneman told Lozano he wasn't in the market for a shortstop.
For the next few weeks, "Dan would call to tell me about the teams that were interested, and I'd say, 'What about the Angels?' " Cabrera said. "It was always, 'No, nothing.' "
Until Monday. With some wiggle room in his budget because pitcher Matt Clement spurned his three-year, $23-million offer, and the pool of impact free-agent pitchers dried up, Stoneman decided to upgrade at shortstop.
Stoneman called Lozano on Monday, and in eight hours, the two negotiated a contract. Cabrera, who batted .294 with six home runs and 31 runs batted in for the Red Sox last season, was the new Angel shortstop, and David Eckstein, the gritty shortstop who endeared himself to underdog-loving fans, was cut loose.
"David is a really cool guy, and I wish him the best -- wherever he goes, he's going to do his thing," Cabrera said. "I'm coming to Anaheim to do my thing. I'm not trying to disrespect anyone or show anybody I'm better than anyone else. I just want to show the best Orlando Cabrera I can every day."
Cabrera believes being part of a lineup that includes Guerrero, the reigning American League most valuable player, Garret Anderson and Steve Finley "will elevate my game," which features Gold Glove-caliber defense, good gap power -- Cabrera averaged 43 doubles a season from 2001 to '03 -- and an ability to deliver in the clutch.
"The good thing is I've already played three months in the American League, so I'm not going to have to get used to AL pitching," said Cabrera, who played 6 1/2 seasons in Montreal.
As thrilling as it was to be cited as one of the driving forces behind the Red Sox's championship run last fall, Cabrera didn't exactly set down roots in Boston. He was a hired gun, and when the Red Sox signed shortstop Edgar Renteria to a four-year, $40-million contract, Cabrera realized just how fleeting his Red Sox experience was.
"The Boston team ... I felt I was part of the moment," Cabrera said. "I helped them win and moved on. Signing with the Angels is a commitment I'm making -- and they made with me -- for four years. Hopefully, it will be longer than that and I'll finish my career there. That's really important for me. My father taught me before he died to always be loyal. When I put that Angel uniform on, I'm going to defend it with my heart. To win a World Series in Anaheim would be amazing."