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.

Mike Leake loses perfect game bid on leadoff single in the ninth

Mike Leake
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Just one week after Taylor Cole and Felix Peña tossed a combined no-hitter against Seattle, Mariners right-hander Mike Leake worked on his own perfect game through eight innings against the Angels.

It was an ambitious form of revenge, and one that Leake served up perfectly as he held the Angels scoreless in frame after frame. He sprinkled a handful of strikeouts throughout the first eight innings, catching Matt Thaiss on a called strike three in the third and getting two whiffs — called strikeouts against both Brian Goodwin and Shohei Ohtani — in the fourth.

The Mariners, meanwhile, put up a good fight against the Angels, backing Leake’s attempt with 10 runs — their first double-digit total since a 13-3 rout of the Orioles on June 23. Daniel Vogelbach led things off in the fourth with a three-run homer off of reliever Jaime Barria, then repeated the feat with another three-run shot off Barria in the fifth. Tom Murphy and J.P. Crawford helped pad the lead as well with a two-RBI single and two-RBI double, respectively.

In the ninth, with just three outs remaining, the Angels finally managed to break through. Luis Rengifo worked a 1-1 count against Leake, then returned an 85.3-m.p.h. changeup to right field for a base hit, dismantling the perfecto and the no-hitter in one fell swoop. Leake lost control of the ball following the hit, issuing four straight balls to Kevan Smith in the next at-bat and giving the Angels their first runner in scoring position. Still at a pitch count of just 90, however, he induced the next two outs in quick fashion and polished off the win with a triumphant eight-pitch strikeout against Mike Trout for the first one-hitter (and Maddux) of his career.

Had Leake successfully closed out the perfecto, it would’ve been the first of his decade-long career in the majors and the first the Mariners had seen since Félix Hernández’s perfect game against the Rays in August 2012. For their part, the Angels have yet to be on the losing end of a perfecto. The last time they were shut out in a no-hitter was 1999, at the hands of then-Twins pitcher Eric Milton.