What, you thought they would just go away? That’s not how the Angels work.
How the Angels work: they clear $25 million off the books in combined owed money to pitchers Ervin Santana (now a Royal) and Dan Haren, replace them with more modest commitments to Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson, and use what’s left over to help fund a $125 million, five-year contract for former AL MVP Josh Hamilton, previously of the rival Texas Rangers.
By the time negotiations were starting to be reported by the national media on Wednesday afternoon, Hamilton was only an hour or so away from signing, lending credence to the early theory that Angels owner Arte Moreno, in a fit of pique over losing Zack Greinke or (more likely) just the entire concept of the Los Angeles Dodgers, decided it was time for his “Los Angeles” team to make a big splash. Hamilton getting a call from a pushy owner demanding an answer now about $25 million a year for five years might also explain why Hamilton didn’t give the Texas Rangers a call to see if they wanted to match -- something Hamilton’s camp had publicly committed to doing.
Whatever went down on those conference calls late this afternoon, Hamilton’s headed to Orange County to round out the most frightening top of the order in the American League. Three of the top four hitters in the majority of Angels lineups next year should be 2012 Rookie of the Year and arguable AL MVP Mike Trout, future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols and Hamilton; of the top 20 offensive seasons since 2008 by Baseball Reference’s WAR Runs Batting (Rbat)*, these three gentlemen account for five. Only the Tigers even have more than one current representative on this list: Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder make the list a combined total of four times. Unsurprisingly, the Tigers are one of the few teams to even come close to having as powerful a triple threat at the top of the order as the Angels do now:
Pujols, Trout, Hamilton (LAA): 415 Rbat since 2008, 106 Rbat in 2012
Cabrera, Fielder, Martinez (DET): 492 Rbat since 2008, 94 Rbat in 2012
Braun, Hart, A. Ramirez (MIL): 350 Rbat since 2008, 89 Rbat in 2012
Votto, Choo, Bruce (CIN): 360 Rbat since 2008, 77 Rbat in 2012
Holliday, Beltran, Craig (STL): 308 Rbat since 2008, 73 Rbat in 2012
Bautista, Reyes, Encarnacion (TOR): 241 Rbat since 2008, 71 Rbat in 2012
Teixeiria, Cano, Rodriguez (NYY): 325 Rbat since 2008, 60 Rbat in 2012
Kemp, Gonzalez, H. Ramirez (LAD): 389 Rbat since 2008, 36 Rbat 2012
Beltre, Kinsler, Cruz (TEX): 187 Rbat since 2008, 30 Rbat in 2012
*Rbat is a counting stat that uses linear weights to quantify how many more runs a player adds to his team’s offense than a generic replacement bat from the minor leagues. If you checked out around “linear weights” in the previous sentence, think of it this way: in practice, the vast majority of the guys who put up 0 Rbat over any extended period of time are NL pitchers.
Couple things about this list for panicking Rangers fans: first, it obviously only measures top-end contributions, not depth. That said, with the departures of both Hamilton and Mike Napoli the Rangers don’t have an exceeding wealth of offensive depth on their major league roster. Second, it just looks at straight hitting, as positional adjustment is an entirely separate WAR component. Third, it punts on the question of where Nick Swisher will eventually sign, but the Rangers are in the running.
Also of note: there are only three players on that list who did not play in all four MLB seasons since 2008. They are Detroit’s Victor Martinez, who missed all of 2012 due to an ACL tear last offseason (played 3 seasons, 60 total Rbat); St. Louis’s Allan Craig, who made it to the majors in 2010 (played 2 seasons, 34 total Rbat); and Mike Trout of the Angels, who was Rookie of the Year and 2nd place in AL MVP voting in 2012 (played 5 months, 54 total Rbat).
It goes without saying that the rankings above are also far from a clear predictive look at what 2013 has in store. The Dodgers’ offensive core, for instance, should be significantly more valuable than they were this past season, and Alex Rodriguez will be almost wholly supplanted in the Yankees’ lineup by Kevin Youkilis, of all people. The Toronto Blue Jays turned over a bunch of their roster but also signed Edwin Encarnacion to a sizeable deal based off a single career year; then again, they did basically the same thing with the other guy in that trio who started the year in Toronto, and that’s worked out pretty well so far.
The newcomer Hamilton is universally assumed to have the highest risk factors of the Angels’ top three. In fact, Hamilton’s universally assumed to be the riskiest investment in baseball this offseason: a streaky, fragile outfielder with a history of severe substance abuse issues who is about to enter his age 32 season is not the sort of player one generally gives Ryan Howard money (that is, until one considers that Ryan Howard was given Ryan Howard money). But Josh Hamilton can actually hit left-handed pitching and play a premium defensive position if asked, and he is demonstrably not just a product of the hitting environment in Arlington (.937 OPS at home, .924 OPS away last year; .967/.858 over his career). In baseball’s current financial climate, it’s a smart signing. Moreno is just biding his time until 2016, when his agreement with the City of Anaheim expires and he can march on Los Angeles proper; there’s been talk of him trying to secure a stadium in the city itself, possibly at LA Live, and if he wants his brand to hang in there with the Dodgers he probably feels the need to do things from time to time to get the national media to talk about his guys, instead of the latest Rube Goldberg machine the Guggenheim ownership group’s built out of cash, raw diamonds and relievers with tats.
But whereas Hamilton is probably not as risky a signing as many national writers are going to assert over the next few days, it is true that Hamilton does not address a very pressing need for the Angels: quality starting pitching. Joe Blanton and post-surgery Tommy Hanson are cheaper than Ervin Santana and Dan Haren, but they’re also no great shakes themselves. Losing Greinke was a huge blow to the rotation, and while Jered Weaver should keep on doing his ugly-haired Jered Weaver thing, C.J. Wilson’s been a disappointment at his price point so far. The Angels don’t really have the pieces at this point to do anything but hope that someone out there massively overvalues Peter Bourjos; James Shields would have been a great pickup for Los Angeles, were the Royals not so convinced that they were a single no. 2 starter away from the playoffs. (Some writers have floated various Mark Trumbo or Peter Bourjos packages for returns involving R.A. Dickey; that will not happen).
The bottom line with Hamilton, though, is that given the spending proclivities of baseball’s wealthier set these days, $125 million over 5 years is hardly a crippling deal, barring a major catastrophe that stops Hamilton from ever taking the field as an Angel. The upside of the deal is three of the best hitters in baseball, full stop, all performing at that level for at least the next two or three years. If the money’s there -- and in SoCal right now, the money is definitely there -- there’s every reason to do it. Adding Hamilton to a team completely changes the divisional landscape. And as for the concerns that playing in the Los Angeles area raises the likelihood of a drug relapse, I’ll conclude with a complete list of the major metropolitan areas in America where Josh Hamilton, a rich, successful, famous man with dozens of rich, successful, famous friends, would not be constantly exposed to the temptations of substance abuse: