ANAHEIM, CA — “I started out with the Devil Rays and now I’m an Angel,” said a smiling Josh Hamilton during his first news conference as a member of the Angels. And while the trip from Tampa Bay may have taken 13 years and stops in two other cities to complete, the move from Arlington, Texas to Orange County was finished as fast as you can say “free agent coup.”
That’s exactly what it was — a major coup — the second in a row for Halos’ owner Arte Moreno, who signed slugger Albert Pujols just about one year ago at baseball’s winter meetings.
Just like the signing of Pujols — and a few hours later left-hander C.J. Wilson — it was done quickly and quietly until the very end.
“(Arte) likes to get after it,” Hamilton emphasized, adding that he was upset that the Texas Rangers didn’t do the same. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little upset that they didn’t put the press on. I gave them everything I had for five years.”
And the Rangers’ reluctance to make him a serious offer over the past year set in motion the move to Anaheim.
Angels’ General Manager Jerry Dipoto said that discussions began two weeks ago. There was a lunch meeting between the parties in Nashville at this year’s winter meetings that was kept completely off the public radar. Following that, there were a lot of conversations between the Angels, Hamilton and his wife Katie, along with his agents, Mike Moye and former major league pitcher Scott Sanderson.
“We had a lot of discussions just like we would when we’re recruiting or discussing adding a player,” said Dipoto, in his second year as the general manager and already involved in two of the biggest signings in baseball history. “We talk about what your city, your organization and your fan base can offer. And I think we have a lot to offer.
“After the lunch with Josh and Katie, we kept it quiet because we feel that’s the best way to . . . acquire the player. It all culminated with an agreement on Wednesday night.”
While the Angels certainly do have a lot to offer in amenities — great weather, great ballpark, great roster — he knew he and Moreno would have to do a great sales job to entice the 31-year-old former MVP. A lot of other teams also had the ears of Team Hamilton.
“Clearly, we were just one of the teams they were talking to,” Dipoto said. “Like Katie (Hamilton) alluded to, when you’re a free agent you have the ability to go out on ‘dates’ with other teams. We made it clear to them, though, that we were sincere and that this was something that we wanted to do. And we didn’t put an immense amount of pressure on them to give us answers quickly as to their level of interest. We just went through a normal discussion and negotiation.”
Well, normal might not be the perfect description, because unlike most players, Hamilton has a well known history of drug and alcohol abuse which almost killed him, and drinking relapses in 2009 and last January. It had to be taken into consideration by an organization about to commit $125 million to someone in recovery. It’s also likely one of the reasons the Rangers dragged out the few negotiations they had with him, and why more teams didn’t come after one of the game’s great players.
Hamilton says it’s part of his life and he doesn’t resent any team doing its due diligence.
“It doesn’t offend me, no,” Hamilton said. “When it comes down to it, it’s business. Think about when you’re going to buy a new car. You want to test drive it. My story has been out there, and they have to do their homework, their research. They have to kick the tires . . . and see where you’ve been and what you’ve been through. And then you can see if they accept what you bring to the table. And help you succeed.”
Hamilton said in the two weeks he talked with the Halos, he checked them out, too.
“I did my homework, yeah,” he said with a grin.
And he also liked what he heard from the firm of Moreno and Dipoto, who didn’t shy away from a talented player working out his problems.
“Clearly Josh has a story we’re all aware of,” Dipoto said. “He matured and he’s put himself in a position in the last seven years to accomplish what he’s accomplished on the baseball field. He’s set himself up with a happy, stable home life and he’s built a support group around him that continues to deliver. And we’re going to join that parade. We’re bringing Josh into the Angels family and giving him the support he needs, and we believe he’ll provide the same to us.
“His character, his backstory, his ability on a baseball field are all amazing. I think more than anything else, he knows who he is: A gifted baseball player who’s got a wonderful family. I think he’s in a good place in his life. This is the next chapter in the history of the Hamiltons as well as the Angels.”