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Shocker: Josh Hamilton signs a five-year, $125 million deal with the Angels

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The hot stove season always takes unexpected turns, and this afternoon it took the most unexpected turn we’ve seen in some time.  Seemingly out of nowhere the Los Angeles Angels swooped in and signed Josh Hamilton.  Legendary L.A. radio man Joe McDonnell had the first news that a deal with close. Within an hour it was reported by multiple sources, starting with ESPN Dallas, that the Angels and Hamilton had reached deal.  Fox’s Jon Paul Morosi was the first to report that it was a five-year deal. The money: $125 million.

This makes it two years running that the Angels have signed the best available free agent hitter, with Albert Pujols coming into the fold.  It also marks the second straight year that the Angels have signed away the Rangers top departing free agent, with C.J. Wilson heading to the Angels last year as well.  The year before that Mike Napoli made a circuitous journey from Anaheim to the Rangers, helping Texas win the pennant.

This is the best rivalry in baseball now and it’s not even close.  Heck, maybe the second best rivalry — or rivalry to be — involves the Angels and the Dodgers.  Each L.A. team is lapping the field in terms of big money signings, with each fighting to become or remain the darlings of the nation’s second largest media market. It had appeared that the newly-free-spending Dodgers were regaining that title for keeps, but with Hamilton in the fold down in Orange County, the war for the hearts and minds of L.A. baseball fans is ON.

With the caveat that, yes, we said this last year too, it’s probably safe to say that the Angels are the favorites in the AL West. Their potential lineup is fantastic:

Trout CF
Callaspo 3B
Pujols 1B
Hamilton RF
Morales DH
Trumbo LF
Kendrick 2B
Iannetta C
Aybar SS

Or Trumbo could play third base with Hamilton in right, Trout in left and Peter Bourjos in center. And Vernon Wells is still knocking around. The point is, no matter what Mike Scioscia does, he has plenty of options to choose from. More importantly, so does GM Jerry Dipoto, who could now deal Trumbo or Bourjos for pitching help. R.A. Dickey, anyone?

Not that we can crown anyone just yet.  Again, we thought the Angels won it all with the Pujols and Wilson signings last year, and that didn’t work out.  And let’s remember, with respect to players they have in common — Mike Napoli and C.J. Wilson — the Rangers have done a pretty good job of out-evaluating the Angels over the past couple of years. Of course, that was before the Angels turned over their front office.

But no matter what happens, the AL West just got a lot more fun, and it already was the most fun division in baseball.

Evan Gattis undergoes surgery for hernia; recovery is 4-6 weeks

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Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle shares the bad news

One of the Astros’ big bats won’t be taking hacks when the Astros hold their first full workout on Feb. 23.

Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis recently underwent surgery to repair a hernia, the Chronicle has learned, taking away most of his spring training at a minimum. The recovery is four to six weeks but fortunately for Gattis and the Astros, the injury is not considered severe.

Gattis was working hard on his overall conditioning this winter, even telling MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart in late January that he had already dropped 18 pounds. It sounds like the big slugger might have gone a bit overboard with those workouts, and now he is in real danger of missing the first couple weeks of the 2016 regular season.

Gattis batted .246/.285/.463 with 27 home runs and 88 RBI in 153 games last season for the Astros. The 29-year-old is arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career and has a hearing with the Astros scheduled for February 16 to determine his salary for 2016. He requested $3.8 million and was offered $3 million when figures were exchanged a little over three weeks ago.

Suddenly the Astros’ front office might have a new talking point for those arbitrators.

Seung-Hwan Oh finally receives his work visa, will be on time for Cardinals camp

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At last check, new Cardinals reliever Seung-Hwan Oh was still awaiting a work visa from the United States Embassy in South Korea and there was some worry that he might not be able to arrive on time to spring training in Jupiter, Florida.

But that is now officially a non-story.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Oh has recieved his work visa and is expected to report to Cardinals camp next week along with the rest of the club’s pitchers and catchers. Oh might even show up a bit earlier than the Cardinals originally asked him to, per Goold.

Oh saved 357 games in 11 seasons between Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization before inking a one-year contract with St. Louis this winter. He also registered a stellar 1.81 ERA and 772 strikeouts across 646 total innings in Asia, earning the nickname “The Final Boss.”

Oh is expected to work in a setup role this year for Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal.

John Lamb had back surgery in December, will likely get off to late start in 2016

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John Lamb was part of the Reds’ return package in last July’s Johnny Cueto trade and he had a strong showing at the Triple-A level in 2015. But the young left-hander posted a 5.80 ERA in a 10-start cup of coffee with Cincinnati late last season — his first 10 appearances as a major leaguer — and now comes word from MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that Lamb will probably have to get off to a late start in 2016.

Lamb underwent surgery in December to repair a herniated disc in his back — a surgery that went unreported by the Reds until Tuesday afternoon. Reds manager Bryan Price acknowledged on MLB Network that Lamb is behind the team’s other starting pitchers and will likely open the coming season on the disabled list. The hope is that he might be ready by mid-April.

It’s a small but frustrating blow for a rebuilding Reds team that will be looking to establish some foundational pieces in 2016. Once he is recovered, Lamb will be expected to fill the Reds’ fifth rotation spot behind Raisel Iglesias, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, and Michael Lorenzen.

This is going to be an ugly year for Cincinnati baseball fans.

Yu Darvish will report to spring training on time, hopes to begin mound work in March

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Rangers ace Yu Darvish missed the entire 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery last March 17. Most starting pitchers take 13-15 months to fully recover from that procedure, and the Rangers aren’t counting on Darvish until sometime this May.

His rehab so far has gone on without issue.

Darvish offered some very positive updates Tuesday to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram …

Darvish, 29, boasts a 3.27 ERA and 1.196 WHIP in 83 career major league starts. He can also claim a whopping 680 strikeouts in 545 1/3 career major league innings.

Texas has him under contract for $10 million in 2016 and $11 million in 2017.