Yesterday free agent center fielder Josh Hamilton agreed to terms on a five year, $125 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This marks the second time in as many years the Angels have come out of nowhere and signed the biggest free agent position player available (Albert Pujols last year). After signing free agent starting pitcher C.J. Wilson last year, Hamilton is the second player in as many seasons the Angels have signed away from their divisional rival Texas Rangers.
A phrase I’ve heard and read absolutely everywhere today has been something equivalent to: “The balance of power has now shifted in the AL West,” but has it? Let’s take a quick look at the impact this deal has on the American League West and if it has indeed shifted the balance of power.
The same exact things were said about the Angels being the new “Ruler of the West” last season after signing Pujols and Wilson; yet even after adding pitcher Zack Greinke at the trade deadline, the Angels finished third in the division and missed the playoffs.
The Angels now have a very expensive and crowded outfield, and are more than likely going to field offers for Vernon Wells. They’ve also lost starting pitchers Greinke (to the cross down Dodgers) and Dan Haren (to the Washington Nationals) plus they traded away Ervin Santana to the Royals. They’re now desperately thin in the pitching department. Hamilton is on the wrong-side of 30, and god only knows what years of drug abuse have done to his body. He has a terrible time hitting during the day, and now he’ll be playing 82 games a year in sunny Los Angeles. Despite his ability to go deep, and often; $25 million per year is a lot to pay for someone with so many question marks at his age.
The Rangers are much worse off than they were at this point last year. Just last week they were the favorites to land Greinke and re-sign Hamilton. Now they’re without both, and also have lost Mike Napoli to the Boston Red Sox. Look for the Rangers to try very hard to acquire Justin Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks, as they’ve been mentioned as the favorite to trade for him recently.
The Oakland A’s have lost a couple key free agents this offseason (most notably outfielder Jonny Gomes and starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy) but they also traded for former Diamondbacks talented centerfielder Chris Young. They have the combination of young/skilled pitching, speed, power and fielding to compete with any team in Major League Baseball, despite having the second smallest payroll last season.
Overall, it’s very likely at this point that little has actually changed in the balance of power. The Angels will more than likely finish second now ahead of the Rangers, but there is no reason why the Oakland Athletics and their young, highly talented roster cannot win this division for the second straight season. Look for the Seattle Mariners and the newcomer Houston Astros to bring up the rear out west this year.