Angels' Hamilton-Pujols duo most powerful this side of Fielder-Cabrera

Josh Hamilton moves from the Rangers to the Angels, shifting the balance in the AL West. (US Presswire)

 ANAHEIM, Calif. – He pulled on the red jersey and smiled.

“Feels good,” Josh Hamilton said. “How does it look?”

Can we get back to you on that? How about, say, next August and September?

Same jersey looked pretty spiffy on Albert Pujols last December, too. And it was mothballed by October.

More on Josh Hamilton
Related links
Eye on Baseball news | Follow on Twitter

The Angels pulled out all the stops in introducing Hamilton on Saturday at a Disneyland restaurant. Hamilton was his usual playful, joyous self, his beautiful family with him, their new future wide open in front of them.

And as the Angels ratcheted up their increasingly noisy and riveting rivalry with both the Dodgers in the LA market and the Rangers in the AL West, it was hard not to think about the words spoken a few days ago by Jon Daniels, general manager of the spurned Rangers.

Yeah, he said, the Angels look really good on paper. Did last year, too.

Already, the pressure is immense on both the Angels and Hamilton.

The lineup already brings to mind visions of last summer’s Detroit Tigers, the powerful lefty-righty combo of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera that helped produce a Triple Crown for Cabrera and an AL pennant for the team.

“Those two guys arguably are two of the best hitters in baseball,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of those Motown Mashers. “When you put them back to back, you would expect some big things.

“Bottom line is, we won 89 games and Detroit won 88. Josh and Albert don’t cement anything. We’ve got work ahead of us. I think it’s comparable.

“We’re in the same boat of being able to put together a middle of the lineup that’s balanced. Josh hits lefties.”

Though he’s leaving his options open for now, it sounds like Scioscia is leaning toward hitting Pujols third and Hamilton fourth. He speaks of “taking advantage of Albert’s on-base percentage” and notes that “you want to set the table for Josh.”

Hamilton chuckled later, saying, “I’ve hit fourth a few times and I’ve really sucked when I’ve hit fourth. But it’s one of those things where in spring training, you get that stuff ironed out.”

He’s being quite humble: Lifetime in the cleanup spot, he’s hitting .314/.397/.552 with nine homers and 30 RBI in 199 career plate appearances (47 games).

That doesn’t exactly suck.

His 2012 numbers in Angel Stadium, however, did: .143/.226/.414 with no homers and no RBI in seven games.

Career in Anaheim, he’s hitting .260/.325/.440 in 38 games, compared to .315/.373/.592 in 332 career games at The Ballpark in Arlington.

We watched Angels Stadium swallow Pujols whole the first two months of last season.

Might it do the same to Hamilton?

“Albert ain’t got my pop,” he quipped.

Then he added: “Make sure you put hahaha in there.”

This winter hasn’t been much of a laughing matter for Hamilton.

“Everybody can look at it in different ways,” he said. “I look at it as there were people who viewed me the way they needed to view me so I didn’t go there, because of injuries in my past, the risk. …”

While Pujols got a 10-year, $246 million contract from the Angels last winter and and Fielder got nine years and $214 million, Hamilton, with his history of drug and alcohol addiction and assorted injuries, never came close. You never got the sense that anybody was comfortable making that long of a commitment to him.

For his part, Hamilton, 31, said he didn’t want an eight- or nine-year deal. Five years was plenty.

“I’m excited to see how my body is going to respond,” in the more forgiving Southern California weather, he said.

He got a full no-trade clause from the Angels. General manager Jerry Dipoto declined to say whether the contract includes language that protects the club in the event that Hamilton has a relapse. One person close to Hamilton noted that his “traveling support system” is in place and will provide a buffer for his change in landscape.

Shayne Kelley, who is very close with Hamilton and was his “accountability coach” with the Rangers last year after Johnny Narron left the club to become Milwaukee’s hitting coach, will be with him full-time in Anaheim and travel with the club.

Hamilton and his wife, Katie, have been home-schooling their kids since last year, so the family will be able to travel with him as well.

Hamilton downplayed the temptations of Southern California.

“If you want to get into trouble, it doesn’t matter where you’re at,” he said. “Alaska, Hawaii, if you make a choice to do something wrong, you can do it. Period.

“I try not to make choices to do bad stuff.”

He talked about one point of emphasis in his life, taking everything one day at a time.

“That’s not just a meeting or a 12-step thing,” Hamilton said. “That’s a life thing.”

The Angels first met with Hamilton at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., two weeks ago when general manager Jerry Dipoto and his assistant, Scott Servais, lunched with the slugger and his wife.

Then, this past Monday, owner Arte Moreno, his wife, and club president John Carpino flew to Texas and met with Hamilton.

“They wanted to get [a deal] done right then,” Hamilton said. “I was like, look, Katie and I want to pray about this.”

Wednesday, he said, is when things really became serious. And he wound up signing less than 24 hours after the Angels made their offer.

As for the Rangers, Hamilton said he always said he would give them first crack at him. But, not last crack.

Yes, he was somewhat taken aback that the Rangers didn’t pursue him more aggressively earlier this winter.

“I gave them everything I had for five years,” Hamilton said. “I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t bother me a little bit.”

Perspective on that, he said, came through the words of wisdom of his wife.

“My take was, we were with them for five years,” Katie Hamilton said. “If you’re going to date somebody and they’re going to be your man or your woman, you make it official pretty quick that you want to be with them.

“The fact that they let us date other teams … Josh said he’d let them have first choice. But they let us date others and give our hearts away.”

Said Josh: “She said they should have put a ring on it.”

But the Rangers didn’t, and in the most shocking free-agent strike since, well, they moved in on Pujols last December, the Angels now are looking to Hamilton to help them in their search for, shall we say, a different ring.

“We want to win,” Dipoto said. “We put that pressure on ourselves. We welcome it.”

They didn’t last year, and their pitching still might not be strong enough to guarantee anything this year. Dipoto would not discuss roster strategy on Saturday, but he indicated that they move toward Hamilton over Zack Greinke was made with clear vision to help them get to where they need to get, anyway.

With Hamilton, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells all in a top-heavy outfield, the betting here remains that the Angels will look to add rotation depth by subtracting from their outfield depth.

They do that, and it might be the start of one of the most significant hardball seasons ever in Anaheim.

Our Latest Stories