Hamilton's signing a statement move by Angels
The signing of Josh Hamilton was more than a baseball move by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.The American League West rival Texas Rangers have been to the postseason in each of the last three years -- advancing to the World Series twice. That doesn't sit well in Anaheim, where the Angels have been left out of the October experience in those same three years. And their Southern California rival Los Angeles Dodgers have been revitalized with their new ownership group. The Angels aren't about to slip back into the background of Southern California sports. Signing Hamilton let the baseball world in general, and the Rangers and Dodgers in particular, know that the Angels aren't about to make concession speeches. They welcome the battle. When Arte Moreno bought the Angels franchise, he made it clear that he was laying claim not just to Orange County, where the Angels have made their home since 1966. He wanted to expand the brand throughout Southern California. He even changed the name of the franchise from the Anaheim Angels, which recognized the city in which the team is based, to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and won a legal battle to be able to do that. Moreno's commitment was more than lip service. With the Dodgers facing financial limitations during the ownership of Frank and Jamie McCourt, Moreno was aggressive on the open market to the point that in 2011 ESPN ranked the Angels No. 4 on its list of Ultimate Team Rankings. The Angels rated higher than any baseball team, including the storied Dodgers. The Angels made a statement on the field, initially. They claimed four AL West titles in Moreno's first five seasons. While they failed to advance to the postseason the last two years, they had plenty of attention with their bold free-agent moves, including last year's signing of the two biggest names, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. And then the Dodgers shook things up. The new ownership group includes Magic Johnson, an icon in SoCal sports whose presence reeks of championship. And it included club president Stan Kasten, who oversaw an Atlanta franchise that set a professional sports record with 14 consecutive first-place finishes, and then molded the foundation for the Washington Nationals. More than that, the new ownership group was well-heeled, and committed to making its presence felt in a hurry. They stole the in-season headlines from the Angels with a series of deals that included the addition of shortstop Hanley Ramirez from Miami, and then the Boston blockbuster that saw the team take on pitcher Josh Beckett, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and outfielder Carl Crawford. They shook off the fact the team couldn't overtake San Francisco in the National League West, explaining that their focus was long-term, which is why they didn't blink at the long-term commitments they assumed to Beckett, Gonzalez, Crawford and Ramirez. If that wasn't enough, the Dodgers won the bidding this offseason for right-hander Zack Greinke, beating out, among other teams, the Angels. The Angels had acquired Greinke from Milwaukee for the stretch drive last season, and were hoping that would give them an edge in getting a long-term commitment. It didn't. That got Moreno's attention. And now he has regained baseball's attention. When the Angels lost Torii Hunter to free agency, it left the impression that the decision was purely financial. In signing Hamilton, however, the Angels came up with a five-year, $125 million deal. The addition of Hamilton obviously creates an intimidating middle of the order for the Angels. As if the addition of Pujols and emergence of rookie Mike Trout last season wasn't enough, the Angels now have Hamilton, who over the last three seasons has hit .313, with 100 home runs and 322 RBIs, and appeared in the postseason each time.
But this was a signing that was more than a player evaluation.
It was a statement to the Rangers for the second year in a row. A year ago they signed Wilson, who had been the ace of the Rangers staff. Now they sign Hamilton.And it was a statement for Southern California sports fans. Moreno and his staff have worked hard to expand the Angels brand. They want to keep it that way.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.