Moves put pressure on Angels, Dodgers

With Hamilton, Pujols in Angels unis and Dodgers spending spree, pressure is on for a Freeway Series.

Whether it was the need to one-up the Dodgers or a decision to add a bat to an already potent lineup, the Angels went deep Thursday when they snapped up free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton with a five-year, $125-million contract.  

It’s your move, Dodgers. 

In a span of three mind-numbing days, the two Southern California teams — separated by 35 miles of freeways and congestion — signed two high-profile players to deals that will pay them $272 million. But with all that money come big expectations.

The need to win has never been stronger than it is now for the Dodgers and Angels. When teams fall short of the playoffs, then spend big money as they have this week, the results need to reflect the financial commitments. It doesn’t always work that way, but that’s what owners expect.

In this case, Guggenheim Baseball Management, which purchased the Dodgers last spring, has taken on more than $600 million in salaries since it assumed control of the franchise, including the $147 million that will go to pitcher Zack Greinke over the next six years. The team’s payroll for 2013 will be the highest in baseball history at more than $220 million. 

Angels owner Arte Moreno spent $240 million last offseason on a 10-year deal with Albert Pujols, then added pitcher C.J. Wilson for $77.5 million over five years. The Angels dropped out of the bidding for Greinke fairly early, preferring to create more affordable depth in their pitching staff, so the Hamilton signing had the impact of a blindside hit. 

Did the Angels sign Hamilton as a reaction to the Dodgers’ signing of Greinke? It’s not an illogical guess. Remember, this is Los Angeles; you don’t make headlines by signing players like Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson, two new starters in the Angels’ rotation — you go big. 

LA is Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. The Dodgers have Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp. The Angels counter with Pujols, Mike Trout, Jered Weaver and now Hamilton. Could a Freeway World Series be next? 

It better be. The Dodgers and Angels haven’t been to the postseason since 2009. The Dodgers’ last World Series title was 1988 — that’s last century, for goodness sake. The Angels are more than 10 years removed from their only title. Moreno signed Pujols because he believed it would put his team over the top to win another title. The Angels not only didn’t win their division, they didn’t even finish second. 

The answer? Spend more lavishly. Last season, in an effort to chase down the San Francisco Giants in the National League West, the Dodgers traded for Hanley Ramirez in July, then acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett from the Boston Red Sox in the largest trade in franchise history. 

The Angels got Greinke from the Milwaukee Brewers before the trade deadline last July, but they still were unable to win the American League West, finishing behind the Oakland A’s and Rangers after being preseason favorites to win the World Series. 

Now they’ve taken two players who once played for Texas — Wilson and the left-handed-hitting Hamilton, who hit 43 home runs last season but now must adjust to a pitcher-friendly ballpark in Angel Stadium. 

He’ll provide protection hitting behind Pujols, who got off to a horrid start last season before finishing with 30 homers (the lowest total in his career) and 105 RBI. But offense wasn’t the Angels’ problem last season. Pitching was. 

Money certainly isn’t an issue for either team. Although the Angels finally balked at bidding for Greinke, they proved they can write checks as big as the Dodgers'. Until Thursday, they were frustratingly frugal, opting to let popular outfielder Torii Hunter sign with the Detroit Tigers even though he was willing to take less than the $26 million for two years the Detroit Tigers gave him. 

After the Hamilton deal went down, Hunter tweeted, “I was told money was tight but I guess the Arte had money hidden under a Mattress. Business is business but don’t lie.”

Later, Hunter added this: “Great signing for the Angels. One of the best players in baseball.” 

No argument there, but Hamilton is coming west because the Angels need to win now, and they need to make sure they create the same kind of anticipation the Dodgers have created with Greinke. 

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and Angels manager Mike Scioscia will both face significant pressure starting on Opening Day. They both have the talent, but unless they deliver, it’s going to be a long, hot summer in sunny LA.

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