The Angels have fired the latest shot in a high-priced turf war for Southern California, agreeing to the terms of a five-year, $125-million deal Thursday to capture the jewel of this winter's free-agent market, Josh Hamilton. The stunning deal has been completed, according to several published reports, pending the completion of a physical.
The signing is expected to accelerate a free-agent market that only recently has roared to life. But it likely won't make an impact on the Mets, who still are holding out for a trade partner willing to meet their demands for reigning Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.
Speculation raged Thursday linking Dickey to the Angels, who find themselves with an extra outfielder. Speedster Peter Bourjos and slugger Mark Trumbo could be the odd men out for the Angels, who have sought a top-flight starter since losing Zack Greinke to the free-spending Dodgers.
On the surface, the Angels appear to be a natural partner for the Mets. A person with knowledge of the team's thinking, however, said the Mets aren't inclined to ship off Dickey in a trade with either Bourjos and Trumbo as the central pieces despite the Mets' clear need for outfielders.
"Just speculation. No truth to it,'' the source said shortly after another outfield candidate came off the board earlier in the day. After a disappointing season with the Mets, outfielder Andres Torres is heading back to the Giants, who have agreed to a one-year, $2-million deal pending the completion of a physical.
Sources said the Mets hadn't ruled out re-signing the switch-hitting Torres, who was non-tendered earlier in the month. After the 2011 season, the Mets obtained Torres and reliever Ramon Ramirez from the Giants in exchange for Angel Pagan. But while Pagan flourished for the eventual world champions, Torres hit only .230 as the Mets' centerfielder. Ramirez posted a 4.24 ERA in 58 relief appearances.
The Giants now control both major pieces in the trade, adding Torres to the mix along with Pagan, who signed a four-year, $40-million pact earlier this month.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter and Lucas Duda, who is coming off wrist surgery, comprise the current Mets outfield. Trading Dickey still might be the Mets' best chance to vastly improve on that underwhelming mix.
The Rangers had been considered the favorite to sign Hamilton, and the Mariners also had been linked to the 2010 American League MVP. But shortly after the Angels swooped in to sign the five-time All-Star, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told reporters that the 31-year-old star had not given his former organization a chance to match the Angels' offer.
For the second straight offseason, the Angels emerged with the biggest bat on the open market, little more than a year after signing Albert Pujols away from the Cardinals. They have yet to acknowledge the deal publicly, though.
In 148 games for the Rangers last season, Hamilton set a career mark with 43 home runs and drove in 128 runs. He is a .304 hitter with 161 homers in six seasons despite well-documented battles with drug and alcohol abuse.
Hamilton's off-field issues dampened some of his value on the free-agent market. Still, he will earn $25 million per year, the second-highest annual total in all of baseball.