Friday, December 14, 2012

Angels and Dodgers Play 'Can You Top This?'

       By Ross Newhan

       It was foolish to think that Angel owner Arte Moreno was through after Joe Blanton, particularly when Zach Greinke made his departure official by signing with that other Los Angeles team for $149 million.

      The Angels and Dodgers are playing an expensive and dangerous game of "Can You Top This?"

     Moreno's response to Greinke was a shocker, the five year, $125 million signing of Josh Hamilton, the premier hitter on the free agent market, coming out of the blue, although it had been quietly in the works for several days, even as General Manager Jerry DiPoto insisted nothing major was imminent after his comparatively quick signing of four pitchers--Blanton, Tommy Hanson, Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson--to bolster the rotation (devoid of Dan Haren and Ervin Santana) and bullpen.

    Now Moreno can plaster all those billboards throughout the Dodger market with a new El Hombre, Hamilton replacing Albert Pujols and featuring a plug for the Hamilton movie that is already in production.

    The story of Hamilton's career--his struggle with drug and alcohol addiction and the years he missed because of it--has been chronicled. He has had two known relapses, is required to take three drug tests a week and, in six years with the Texas Rangers, accrued more than 500 at bats only three times. Yet, he never failed to hit fewer than 30 home runs or drive in 100 runs, and last year, despite a second half falloff and some erratic play in the playoffs, he hit 43 homers and drove in 128 runs.

    C.J. Wilson, his former Texas teammate, spoke highly of Hamilton and the bonus of a mellow Anaheim environment to Moreno when the Angel owner was contemplating that pursuit, according to a club source who was not authorized to speak on the record, and, at 31, the left handed slugger will now provide balance to a predominantly right handed lineup--and more. He provides DiPoto with the opportunity to trade Mark Trumbo (which is doubtful) or Peter Bourjos (more likely) for a front line pitcher (initial speculation has centered on R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets and Rickey Nolasco of the Miami Marlins), and he gives the Angels an explosive lineup that features Mike Trout leading off, Pujols and Hamilton batting third and fourth, and Trumbo hitting fifth, if he stays as expected. With a rebuilt rotation behind Jered Weaver and Wilson, there may be more games in which the Angels will simply have to outscore the opposition, and the only lineup question involves the No. 2 spot with Torii Hunter having gone to Detroit as a free agent.

    There is some belief, according to industry sources, that this trade was made by Moreno and club president John Carpino despite opposition of the top executives in the baseball department, and the deal came as a shock to the Rangers and to the popular Hunter, who wanted to stay in Anaheim and whose first reaction was that he had been lied to by the Angels when they told him they didn't have the financial resources. The Rangers, who have won three straight American League West titles at the frustrated expense of the Angels, were angered that--despite admittedly offering fewer years and dollars than Hamtilon received--they were not given a chance at a final negotiation and only called after a long period of silence to be told by Hamilton he was going to Anaheim.

     In my last blog I wrote that the free spending of the new Dodger owners should be welcomed after the tumultuous and sometimes penurious ownerships of News Corp. and Frank McCourt. However, the Dodger payroll is now over $200 million with more roster spots still to be signed, and the Angels, with Hamilton at $25 million per year, headed for a club record payroll, although there will be relief in 2014 when Vernon Wells is gone.      

     Wells, of course, is an example of an expensive deal gone bad, and for all of Moreno's and Mark Walter's bank accounts, for all of the TV money that will soon be rolling in, there comes a time when enough is enough, although the fight over the L.A. market may have no end.

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