Former Texas Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson, left, and former St. Louis Cardinals… (Matthew Emmons / U.S. Presswire;…)
In a record spree that sent shock waves through baseball — and could dramatically alter the Southern California sports scene — the Angels on Thursday announced they had spent $331 million to acquire baseball's most feared slugger and one of its top left-handed pitchers.
Within a span of two frenzied early-morning hours, the Angels reached agreements with first baseman Albert Pujols for 10 years and $254 million and C.J. Wilson for five years and $77.5 million.
Pujols' deal is the second-largest in major league history. And it gives the Angels the kind of star power to challenge the Dodgers, who are struggling on and off the field, as the region's premier baseball franchise.
"It's a very exciting day for the Angels community and for Southern California as a whole," General Manager Jerry Dipoto said at a news conference. "We're talking about an iconic offensive player in this generation."
Pujols, who will turn 32 next month, is a three-time National League most valuable player who has Hall of Fame qualifications. Wilson, 31, was the top pitcher on the free-agent market and should make the Angels' starting rotation among the best in baseball.
As Jack Zduriencik, general manger of the division-rival Seattle Mariners put it: "Anaheim fans should be happy."
The tug-of-war for Southern California baseball fans has heated up considerably since Arte Moreno purchased the Angels in 2003 for $183 million — $148 million less than he spent Thursday — and changed their name to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Angels won plenty of supporters when Moreno assumed control almost eight years ago, cutting ticket and beer prices. But the Angels failed to reach the playoffs in each of the last two seasons and Moreno had been criticized some for not adding needed pieces to the team.
Thursday's announcement, which boosted the Angels' 2012 payroll to about $167 million, was the kind of move for which fans had been clamoring.
"[Pujols] would make everybody significantly better," said Brian Cashman, the New York Yankees general manager. "He's a special player."
Sports business experts say Moreno has a chance to make substantial headway with the Dodgers losing on the field and mired in bankruptcy proceedings and an impending sale.
Playing his entire career for the St. Louis Cardinals, who won the World Series in October, Pujols has compiled a .328 batting average with 445 home runs and 1,329 runs batted in. The Dominican Republic native should also boost his new team's marketability.
"It gives them an opportunity to connect even deeper with the Hispanic community and increase attendance that way," said George Belch, a professor at San Diego State's sports management program.
In terms of the effect on the Southern California sports landscape, signing Pujols might be second to the 1988 trade that brought Wayne Gretzky to the Kings and made hockey an overnight sensation in a land of sunshine and palm trees.
Other big splashes have included Shaquille O'Neal signing with the Lakers in 1996, David Beckham with the Galaxy in 2007 and the trade of Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers in 2008.
"It's a wow factor," Belch said of the Pujols addition. "Clearly he's one of the few people in baseball who can do that."
The Angels landed their prize catch after several years of frustration on the free-agent market. Last winter, they were outbid for Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre. The year before that, it was Mark Teixeira.
This time, they refused to give up on a player who had received offers from the Cardinals and the Miami Marlins. Wilson, an Orange County native, also received an offer from the Marlins that was more lucrative than the one he accepted from his hometown team.
The deals came together between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. PST on Thursday. Angels right fielder Torii Hunter and newly acquired reliever LaTroy Hawkins were working out together about 45 miles north of Dallas when they received the news.
"LaTroy started screaming, 'Oh my, we just signed Albert Pujols for $250 million!'" Hunter said. "I fell over and started rolling. While we were screaming and yelling, we found out we signed C.J. 'What?' I was like a kid in a candy store.
"It's unbelievable. Arte is the best. ... He's putting it out there. This is one owner I know who is crazy about winning."
It was also a signature accomplishment for Dipoto, who has been on the job for less than two months. The new general manager credited Moreno.
"He's made it clear he wants to win championships, he wants to win rings," Dipoto said, "and we think this is a way to move toward that goal."
Pujols' contract, which includes a full no-trade clause, is surpassed only by the 10-year, $275-million deal Alex Rodriguez received when he re-signed with the New York Yankees before the 2008 season.
Pujols' statistics have declined in recent years, but his .299 average, 37 homers and 99 RBIs last season, Dipoto noted, still qualify him as an offensive force.