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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Angels Shock Baseball

The identity of the dastardly "anonymous team" that had reportedly been throwing major monkey wrenches into baseball's free agency period has finally been unveiled. Today the Los Angeles Angels shocked baseball by not only signing first baseman Albert Pujols (10 year, 252 million dollars), but also picking up starting pitcher C.J. Wilson (5 years, 77.5 million dollars). I am still chewing on this juicy news, but my initial impression is that I both love and hate the signings.

In the short term, the Angels didn't fire a warning shot across the bow of baseball; they sent a nuclear weapon straight through it. Pujols is the best hitter of this generation, and the addition of Wilson solidifies what may now be the best starting rotation in the American League. Already a fringe playoff contender with the roster they had, the Angels are now a serious World Series contender in 2012.

If you take money out of the equation, the Angels did what very few teams are able to do. They didn't pick at the heap of free agents like a hungry sea gull, and come away happy with whatever they could grab. They went in and took what they wanted. It takes a certain amount of, shall we say, fortitude, to invest 330 million dollars in two players, but the Angels went all in today.

Today's moves are reminiscent of 2004, when the Angels signed Vladimir Guerrero away from Montreal, and Bartolo Colon away from the White Sox. In 2004, the Angels were two years removed from the only World Series title in the history of the franchise, and were looking to stay competitive in the American League, spending to keep up with the likes of the Red Sox and the Yankees. The Guerrero-led Angels were annual playoff contenders, but never got another title shot. The Angels hope that history does not repeat itself now that they have reloaded their roster yet again.

I love today's signings because the Angels have given their offense a focal point that they can build around with a blend of youngsters like Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos, and veterans like Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter. Wilson wasn't a need-based signing, but he adds incredible depth and versatility to an already deep pitching staff, joining Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana. The Angels loaded up in a big way, and announced they expect to contend for the World Series every year for the near future.

I hate today's signings because I have a hard time rationalizing spending so much money on two players who are already past 30 years old ( Pujols will be 32 and Wilson will be 31 on Opening Day, 2012). Baseball players' primes are typically in the 27-32 age range, so the Angels are making a big gamble that they will get good value from their new players. While they may reap major benefits in the first few years of the deals, the likelihood is that the contracts will become quite ponderous before they have run their course.

Wilson's new average salary is pretty much the going rate for pitchers of his caliber, but the Angels gave him a fifth year to convince him to take their offer. Pujols was given a quarter of a billion dollars.... Let that roll around your mind for a moment... A quarter of a billion dollars!?!?! His deal is only been rivaled by the 275 million dollar contract Alex Rodriguez signed with the Yankees following the 2007 season. The way Rodriguez has continued declining in health and production over the past few years has to make the Angels at least a little nervous about Pujols.

Love it or hate it, the landscape of baseball changed today. The Angels announced their intentions to challenge the big boys; not with a wave, but with a gut punch. They came out of nowhere to own this year's free agency and dash the hopes of a number of other teams hoping to make their own impact. They now have enormous expectations to live up to, which will now have to be accomplished on the playing field instead of the negotiating table.


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