Working back from a disappointing 2012 season, the Los Angeles Angels reached a contract agreement with free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton on Thursday, according to industry sources.
The contract is worth $125 million over five years.
The Angels released a statement that read: "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."
A year after committing nearly $320 million to Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and then falling to third place in the American League West, owner Arte Moreno and the Angels appeared to strike quickly on Hamilton, whose history of offensive production and personal issues made for a cloudy free agency.
Hamilton's former team, the Texas Rangers, was known to have some interest in having the All-Star and former MVP return, though perhaps not at the terms the Angels offered. In what may have come down to a three-way tug-of-war in the AL West, the Seattle Mariners reportedly also were players.
[Related: MLB free-agent tracker]
Instead, Hamilton will be an Angel, in the same outfield as Mike Trout, in the same batting order as Pujols, and in the same division as the Rangers. The addition of Hamilton would create a surplus for the Angels, who could look to trade Vernon Wells, Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos or Kendrys Morales. They could use one of those to match up with the New York Mets, who would move R.A. Dickey, or the Tampa Bay Rays, who have available starting pitching.
Not only had the Angels failed to qualify for the playoffs after pushing their payroll to a club-record $151 million, they'd watched the neighboring Los Angeles Dodgers get healthy after years of financial woes. The Dodgers have added nearly $600 million in player contracts since midsummer, most recently signing former Angel Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million contract.
The Angels countered Thursday with Hamilton.
Hamilton, 31, played five seasons in Texas, where he was the 2010 AL MVP (and in the top seven two other times) and an annual All-Star. He helped push the Rangers to consecutive World Series – in 2010 and 2011, neither of which ended well for the Rangers. He won a batting title, and in another season led the league in RBIs. Over those five seasons, Hamilton missed 163 games – what amounts to an entire season – because of various injuries, ailments and other circumstances.
In spite of Hamilton's production – he batted .305 and averaged more than 28 home runs and 100 RBIs – the reason for the Rangers' reluctance to re-sign Hamilton lay partly in the games Hamilton did not play. A recovering drug addict and alcoholic, Hamilton twice relapsed. Amid speculation his past substance abuse had rendered his body vulnerable to the stresses of the game, Hamilton frequently fought injuries small or debilitating. For a period he struggled to hit during day games because of the glare. And last season he slumped after quitting chewing tobacco.
Still, by the end of most seasons, Hamilton often had produced with the best in the game. He had played an effective and elegant outfield. And the Rangers, with Hamilton in the middle of their batting order, were regular winners. His time in Texas appeared to end, however, on Oct. 5, when the Rangers were eliminated by the Baltimore Orioles in a wild-card game at the Ballpark in Arlington. Two days after he dropped a fly ball in Oakland, helping the A's to their unlikely AL West title, Hamilton was hitless in four at-bats against the Orioles and was heavily booed in his home park.
"If they don't receive you in a town," Hamilton said later, quoting from the Bible, "shake the dust off your feet and move to the next."
He'd just finished a season in which he batted .285, hit a career-high 43 home runs and driven in 128 runs. After a season in Cincinnati, he'd retaken his professional career in Arlington, gradually earning the trust of a city – of a sport – that had viewed him for years as a talent wasted on vice.
The first overall pick by the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999, Hamilton in short time lost touch with his career. He later admitted to abusing alcohol, crack cocaine and other drugs. He missed several baseball seasons in his early 20s, those spent either using drugs or attempting to quit them. Clean and still possessing great physical gifts, including a fluid power swing from the left side, Hamilton arrived in the big leagues with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007. With him, a sponsor aided in Hamilton's daily struggle with recovery. Hamilton called him his "accountability partner," whose duties included carrying his meal money. Presumably, Hamilton will continue the arrangement.
[Related: Twitter reaction to Hamilton-Angels union]
All of which made Hamilton one of the more unique free agents in recent memory and perhaps served to limit his market and payday. The Rangers, who know him best, made little effort to re-sign Hamilton before he hit free agency and seemed reluctant to commit to him beyond his mid-30s. Other teams' general managers seemed equally wary of Hamilton, particularly in a longer-term contract.
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