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Angels add more power with Josh Hamilton

The five-year, $125-million deal for the former MVP catches many in baseball by surprise, but especially the Rangers.

December 14, 2012|By Mike DiGiovanna

The Angels made another stunning free-agent splash Thursday, coming to an agreement with slugger Josh Hamilton for a five-year, $125-million contract just one day after General Manager Jerry Dipoto said a significant move was not "imminent, pressing or required."

Neither Dipoto nor the Angels would comment because the deal is pending a physical, which the former Texas Rangers outfielder and 2010 American League most valuable player is scheduled to undergo Friday.

But the deal, which could give the Angels one of baseball's most formidable lineups, was confirmed by a person familiar with the negotiations and not authorized to speak publicly about them, as well as Texas GM Jon Daniels. Hamilton's agent, Mike Moye, told Daniels on Thursday that Hamilton was signing with the Angels.

"I don't know what this means for me, but if you have the money to sign a guy like Josh Hamilton, you should probably do it," said Angels outfielder Peter Bourjos, who appears expendable and could be traded for a pitcher. "Things change in this game so quickly."

The deal, coming three days after star pitcher Zack Greinke signed with the Dodgers, is considered risky by some because of Hamilton's struggles with drugs and alcohol, his age (31) and injury history. Last winter, the Angels shocked everyone with a 10-year, $240-million splurge on first baseman Albert Pujols.

At last week's winter meetings, Dipoto insisted he was focused "100%" on pitching and was satisfied with a position-playing lineup that was among baseball's most productive from last May 15 through the end of the season.

When the Angels failed to make a significant effort to retain Greinke, who signed a six-year, $147-million deal with the Dodgers, and plugged their rotation with middling right-handers Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton, it appeared owner Arte Moreno was unwilling to push his payroll to last season's record $159 million.

But with another bold move that could steal some headlines from the crosstown Dodgers, the Angels put a huge dent in the AL West-rival Rangers' lineup and gave themselves three of baseball's best hitters — Mike Trout, Pujols and Hamilton. The Angels' 2013 payroll will be in the area of $160 million.

"I was told money was tight, but I guess Arte had money hidden under a mattress," tweeted outfielder Torii Hunter, who signed a two-year, $26-million deal with Detroit after the Angels declined to make him a qualifying offer in November. "Business is business, but don't lie."

Hamilton's $25-million average salary will match that of Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard for second highest in baseball, trailing only Alex Rodriguez's $27.5-million average with the New York Yankees.

The Hamilton deal, according to a person familiar with the talks, came together "over the course of the last several days." Moreno and Angels President John Carpino visited Hamilton at his Texas home this week, another person said.

Hunter later tweeted: "Great signing by the Angels. One of the best players in baseball."

The left-handed-hitting Hamilton, who probably will bat cleanup behind Pujols, will balance a predominantly right-handed lineup, and could allow the Angels to use a young outfielder such as Bourjos or Mark Trumbo or designated hitter Kendrys Morales to be traded for a pitcher such as R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets.

But if Trumbo stays, the 2013 lineup could feature four players — Trout, Pujols, Hamilton and Trumbo — who hit 30 homers or more in 2012.

"They were a great team on paper beforehand," said Daniels, speaking to reporters in Texas. "They're a great team on paper now."

Daniels was miffed that the Rangers did not get an opportunity to match the Angels' offer, something the GM thought he would have. The fallout from the Hamilton negotiations could spice up an already heated rivalry between the Angels and Rangers.

"It was our full expectation that the phone call was going to be before he signed, and certainly not after," Daniels said. "Josh had indicated recently, last week, that he felt it might be time to move on, but we were still talking. We had additional conversations this week that I thought moved in a positive direction."

Moye, Hamilton's agent, told Fox Sports: "Neither Josh nor Moye Sports ever told the Rangers they would be given the right to match offers received."

Hamilton was the first overall pick in the 1999 draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, but his career has been derailed by injuries. He has reached 500 at-bats in only three of the last six seasons. He also has a much-publicized addiction to drugs and alcohol and was on baseball's restricted list from 2003-2005.

When he reached the big leagues in 2007, Hamilton quickly emerged as a star, batting .304 with 32 home runs and 130 runs batted in for the Rangers in 2008 and winning MVP honors in 2010, when he hit .359 with 32 homers and 100 RBIs.

Hamilton, who was also pursued by Seattle and Philadephia, hit .285 with 43 homers and 128 RBIs in 2012, including a torrid April in which he hit .395 with nine homers and 25 RBIs. On May 8 in Baltimore he became the 16th player in major league history to hit four homers in a game.

But after hitting .308 with 27 homers and 75 RBIs in the first half, Hamilton cooled considerably in the second half, hitting .259 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs. He also had a career-high 162 strikeouts for the season, and for much of the second half, left-handed pitchers often retired Hamilton with ease.

In his autobiography, "Beyond Belief," Hamilton explained how he quit drugs and alcohol in 2005 and found a relationship with God.

But he also admitted to relapsing twice in 2009 and once last spring. In order to comply with baseball's drug policy, he must undergo three drug tests a week.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

twitter.com/MikeDiGiovanna

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