For the second straight season, Jerry Dipoto and the Angels pulled off a stealth free agent blockbuster deal. A year after luring Albert Pujols from his vaunted place in St. Louis history, they stole away Texas outfielder and former MVP Josh Hamilton at 5 years and 125 million. Below are reactions from some of the Halos Daily staff (with my own thoughts at the bottom).
When I got the news that Hamilton had signed with the Angels, I shut down for a good 10 minutes. Not only was it shocking, but it caused a rush of mixed emotions for me. My first thought was I don’t like it too much for the Angels. They are paying significant money for the backside of a player’s career, and Hamilton has quite a few question marks. I was also pretty set with the idea of a Trout/Bourjos/Trumbo outfield. But the more I think about it, I’m beginning to love this deal, especially from a fan’s perspective. Hamilton makes this team one of the best in baseball on paper, and they immediately become a World Series favorite in my eyes. I also love the idea of putting Trout back in center to maximize his value, and the flexibility this move gives the Angels. Now if only we had another starter….
In hindsight, I wonder if the Angels were even “in” on Zack Greinke at all. Sure, they might have feigned interest, but even Greinke himself said the Angels never made a serious offer. It seems odd for a team that desperately needed starting pitching to not even seriously bid on the best free agent starter on the market, but with the Josh Hamilton signing, the strategy comes into focus. For $21M less than what they would have given Greinke, the Angels acquired the best free agent hitter on the market. Say what you will about the risks involved,* but Josh Hamilton makes the 2013 Angels lineup an effing nightmare for pitchers. You have speed. You have power. You have balance. The only real complaint you could make is the lack of high OBP guys — but a 2012 Angels lineup without high OBP guys still scored the fourth most runs in baseball, and that was without Trout in April, Iannetta for a prolonged stretch, Morales playing his first baseball games in about two years, and Pujols enduring the worst slump of his career. Simply put, if Angels offense isn’t better in 2013, it will be a mild upset.
* They are indeed many and they are indeed valid.
Though improving a strength is still improving, Hamilton by himself obviously doesn’t improve the pitching. But this might be my favorite aspect of the trade: it gives the Angels a surplus of outfielders they could move for starting pitching. Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo are young, cheap, and under team control for years. Oh yeah, and both have valuable skill sets and demonstrated they can handle major league competition. What can the Angels get for them? It’s hard to say, but it would be surprising if Jerry Dipoto couldn’t fetch a very solid starting pitcher for a package including Bourjos or Trumbo.
As I argued in my Nick Swisher piece a couple weeks ago, signing Swisher would improve the offense directly and the pitching indirectly. Consider the Hamilton signing the same thing, just on steroids (not literally, I hope). Had they Angels signed Greinke, they most likely don’t sign Hamilton and are probably done spending for the winter. That’s fine, but now they get Hamilton AND a pitcher, upgrading two positions rather than one. In my mind, the Angels are about one starting pitcher short of being legitimate AL pennant contenders. And if they don’t get that pitcher? Then they’re going to be fun as hell to watch mash on a nightly basis anyway.
I was in the car headed to see my grandparents when my phone started to buzz. Initially, I didn’t believe it. The Angels needed pitching; what kind of offer would it take for Josh Hamilton to sign with the Angels? The Halos Daily staff had been discussing possible moves just a few hours earlier; and Hamilton never really seemed like a viable, or realistic, option. When the report was confirmed, I found an excuse for us to pull over. I sat in our Honda Civic shocked. I began covering the Angels because I was fascinated by all the stories the team had to offer. I knew Jerry Dipoto was willing to pull the trigger on risky moves, and his latest acquisition rejuvenated my interest in the Angels and reminded me why I love about baseball.
Drew Mumford Jr. gave the sort of immediate reaction I think we all shared:
For my part, the Hamilton signing is best looked at as a form of addition and subtraction. After back-to-back seasons with a WAR around 3.5, we can reasonably assume that in the immediate future, Hamilton takes a couple of wins from Texas and gives them to the Angels (provided the Rangers can’t replace his value with anything above league average production). We know the risks Hamilton carries in his body and his personal demons so banking on 150 games played every year would be unwise. But we know he produces, with a lifetime 135 OPS+ largely thanks to premier power.
I’m reaching the early stages of “back in my day” fandom, balking at the size of Hamilton’s contract. Still, the money seems to be ready for him, with Moreno’s pockets deep thanks to huge revenue streams primarily from television contracts. With Vernon Wells ending the local nightmare after this year, the Angels continue to buffer the damage of one huge contract whenever a past one comes off the books (Gary Matthews Jr., Torii Hunter). Taking contract totals out of the equation, I like the Hamilton deal. He’s a slugger in the truest form and generates prime enthusiasm from a fan-base getting too used to Texas outstripping the Halos. Since the Angels and their 160+ million dollar payroll can afford to overspend, we only need to look at the numbers to figure if Hamilton improves their team.
Hamilton’s 2012 season marked an extreme case of peaks and valleys. He slammed 21 home runs through May and carried a 1.016 OPS heading into the All Star break. While his power remained strong throughout the year, Hamilton’s batting average plummeted beneath .250 in 3 of the final 4 months of the year and his walk totals are never high enough to keep him on base when the hits stop falling. We can look at Hamilton’s brutal stretch as an anomaly thanks to some bad luck (a .175 BAbip during a brutal July) and pressing based around frustrated fans and a team-wide September fade. Like Albert Pujols and his woeful start to 2012, Hamilton’s late-season struggles shouldn’t immediately provoke concerns for his sudden loss of skill.
Still, we also have to point to Hamilton’s absurd start to the season and realize it won’t happen again without the accompanying regressions. Taking Hamilton’s overall numbers seems like the best bet for the immediate future. I imagine his offensive totals will match Pujols going forward, with 35 home runs and a 140 OPS+ very strong possibilities with enough at bats. Moving Hamilton to a corner outfield spot also helps his value since he was +3 in left but -14 in CF last season. He’ll be good. He might even reach 5-6 WAR status if his legs hold up and the fluctuations aren’t extreme. He’ll be 35 when the contract ends, carrying a body more ravaged than most ballplayers. With the Angels in total win-now mode following 3 straight seasons of coming up short, 2016 is being treated as a long way away.
Even if Hamilton stays around the 3-4 win mark, remember: The Angels fell 4 games short of Texas and the wild card last season. Small improvements mixed in with stagnancy on the part of the Rangers will get the Angels into October. He doesn’t need to carry the Angels to make them playoff bound and we can take comfort in knowing that Hamilton’s presence lessens the immediate pressure on Pujols and his own mammoth contract. Plus, there’s always the added bonus of sticking it to the Rangers.
A final note on Hamilton: The substance abuse issues he’s faced will continue to dominate the conversation in Anaheim, which is completely valid as Andrew mentions. Some fans will mention the L.A. atmosphere as a potential trouble spot for Hamilton. As a lifelong resident, I can say that Los Angeles, like any other city, is an easy place for falling asleep quietly and for getting into trouble. Provided he maintains a solid mindset and support system, the new geography will not adversely affect Hamilton.