Nationals

Hamilton agrees to $125M, 5-year deal with Angels

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Hamilton agrees to $125M, 5-year deal with Angels

LOS ANGELES (AP) Josh Hamilton is heading to the Los Angeles Angels, lured with a $125 million, five-year contract that steps up the migration of high-profile stars to Southern California.

The Angels persuaded the free-agent outfielder to leave the Texas Rangers with their third big-money offseason signing in as many years. Hamilton heads to Anaheim after first baseman Albert Pujols came West for $240 million last December along with pitcher C.J. Wilson - Hamilton's Texas teammate - for $77.5 million.

Still, the Angels failed to make the playoffs for the third straight year.

They had bulked up their pitching staff earlier in the offseason with the additions of pitchers Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson, along with relievers Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson.

General manager Jerry Dipoto had said Wednesday that he didn't think a major move was ``imminent or required.''

But owner Arte Moreno pulled off another coup by getting Hamilton. The 2010 AL MVP, Pujols and AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout combined for 103 home runs and 316 RBIs last season.

``It's a great day to be an Angel/Angel fan!'' Wilson said on his Twitter account.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said Hamilton had reached a deal with the AL West rival Angels. Two people familiar with the talks disclosed the amount and length of the contract, speaking on condition of anonymity because the agreement was not yet final.

Hamilton's $25 million average salary matches Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard for the second-highest in baseball, trailing only Alex Rodriguez's $27.5 million average with the New York Yankees.

Since the contract wasn't final, the Angels didn't comment publicly. The team said in a statement, ``We continue to look for ways to improve our team. As soon as we have something formal to announce, we will do so.''

Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia didn't immediately respond to phone messages.

The Angels allowed free agent outfielder Torii Hunter to sign with Detroit, and he reacted to his former team's latest move on his Twitter account.

``I was told money was tight but I guess the Arte had money hidden under a Mattress. Business is business but don't lie,'' Hunter wrote.

He followed up with the comment, ``Great signing for the Angels. One of the best players in baseball.''

Texas had hoped to re-sign Hamilton, who led the Rangers to consecutive World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011. They made a $13.3 million qualifying offer at the Nov. 2 deadline, ensuring the team draft-pick compensation if Hamilton signed elsewhere. The Rangers will receive an extra selection immediately following the first round of June's amateur draft. The deal cost the Angels a first-round selection in the draft.

Speaking Thursday after a Rangers' holiday luncheon, Daniels said he had just been informed of the decision by Hamilton's agent, Michael Moye.

Daniels said he was disappointed ``to some degree,'' especially since the Rangers never got a chance to match any offer during the process, as they had expected. Or at least get contacted before Hamilton agreed with another team.

``I never expected that he was going to tell us to the dollar what they had, and a chance to offer it. Our full expectation, the phone call was going to be before he signed, and certainly not after,'' Daniels said. ``Everybody's got to make their own calls.

``He's a tremendous talent and I think that they've shown they're going to be in on a lot of the best players out there. No sugarcoating it, we wanted the player back. And he signed with the Angels. They're better,'' Daniels said.

The agreement came days after the Los Angeles Dodgers added pitchers Zack Greinke and Ryu Hyun-jin, boosting their payroll over $200 million. Greinke, another offseason target, said he chose the Dodgers over the Rangers.

Hamilton's addition to the Angels outfield means Mark Trumbo could be moved to third base or traded. Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells also are among the outfielders competing for time unless a trade is made.

Scioscia will have an interesting decision to make on where in the batting order to slot in Pujols, Trout and Hamilton, a five-time All-Star. He has a .260 career average at Angel Stadium with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 150 at-bats.

Daniels met with Moye last week at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., and had talked about the parameters of a new contract along with numbers. While Daniels wouldn't get into any specifics, he said his understanding is the deal with the Angels ``is certainly more guaranteed money.''

The move keeps Hamilton in the same division with plenty of opportunities to play against his team - the first one coming fast next season. After the Rangers open with three games at new division foe Houston, they play their first home series April 5-7 against the Angels.

The 31-year-old slugger was considered a risk by some teams because of his history of alcohol and substance abuse, which derailed his career before his surge with the Rangers over the past five seasons.

``Josh has done a lot for the organization, the organization has done a lot for Josh, a lot of things that aren't public and things of that nature,'' Daniels said. ``I'm a little disappointed how it was handled, but he had a decision to make and he made it.''

Hamilton had a career-high 43 home runs with 128 RBIs in 148 games last season, when the Rangers struggled down the stretch and lost the division to Oakland on the final day of the regular season.

Texas then lost in the winner-take-all wild-card game against Baltimore, and Hamilton was lustily booed by Rangers fans while going 0-for-4 - twice striking out on three pitches, including an inning-ending out in the eighth with a runner in scoring position when it was still a 3-1 game.

That came two days after Hamilton dropped a routine popup in the regular-season finale, a two-out tiebreaking miscue that allowed the A's to score two runs and go ahead to stay. He missed five games on a September trip because of a cornea problem he said was caused by too much caffeine and energy drinks - and had one homer with 18 strikeouts in the final 10 regular-season games after returning.

Hamilton hit .304 with 161 homers in his six major league seasons, the first with Cincinnati. In May against Baltimore, he became only the 16th major league with a four-homer game as part of a 5-for-5 night that included a double.

``Josh had indicated recently ... told us that he felt it might be time to move on, but that we were still talking,'' said Daniels, who wouldn't elaborate on the reasons. ``We had additional conversations this week that I thought had moved it along in a positive direction, but apparently not.''

---

AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawkins in Fort Worth, Texas, and Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.

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Wild-card tracker: Nationals hanging on with one week to go

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Wild-card tracker: Nationals hanging on with one week to go

The calendar is taking numbers with it, stripping the season down day by day, turning what was a tight wild-card race more into a fight for geography.

Washington enters the final week of the regular season with a hefty schedule ahead and its lead for the right to host the Wild-Card Game gone. The Nationals lost, 5-3, in Miami on Sunday because the bullpen blew yet another lead. As much as things have changed since April and May, one has remained constant: the Nationals’ bullpen is the worst in the league and biggest threat to team success. Their wild-card magic number is four in spite of it. 

Meanwhile, Milwaukee hung on for a 4-3 win against Pittsburgh to sweep the Pirates. The Brewers carried a perfect game through six innings. They used three pitchers -- including eventual winner Gio Gonzalez -- to do it. Milwaukee’s blistering pace the last two weeks has pulled it into a virtual tie with Washington. The Nationals are .001 ahead of Milwaukee with a game in hand. The Brewers hold the tiebreaker should it come to that once 162 games are finally complete.

The Cubs are spiraling. St. Louis scored two runs in the top of the ninth then sent Andrew Miller to the mound to finish a four-game sweep of Chicago. The Cardinals won each game by one run, reaffirming how slight the gap between the postseason and disappointment may be. Chicago manager Joe Maddon is in the final year of his contract. Even with the currency from managing the Cubs’ first World Series win since 1918, Maddon’s chances of returning on a fresh deal appear slim. If Chicago misses the playoffs, they become more unlikely, and looking back at four one-run losses to a despised rival becomes an easy spot to start the grousing.

Chicago’s six consecutive losses have turned the wild-card race into a two-team adventure. Increasingly, the main question is where the game will be played as opposed to its participants. The next seven days will determine that.

Here are the postseason chances for each team, according to fivethirtyeight.com:

Nationals, 98 percent

Brewers, 98 percent

Mets, 2 percent

Cubs, 1 percent

Phillies, less than one percent

Monday, Washington opens a final eight-game homestand with Patrick Corbin on the mound and Bryce Harper in the batter’s box. Philadelphia lost Sunday to drop to 79-75. Its wild-card elimination number is a mere two, which provides the Nationals an opportunity for double satisfaction against the offseason’s “stupid money” spenders. Washington could both eliminate and clinch against Philadelphia by the middle of the week. 

The weekend delivers a tussle with Cleveland which could be meaningless or decide everything. An ideal setup would include Washington clinching its spot before the Indians arrive in town. To follow would be the question of how hard it wants to push for homefield. Can Davey Martinez rest his most-relied upon pitchers the final day of the season? Or will it be a desperate day just create another?

Watching Milwaukee will be more important. The Brewers’ magic number is down to three. Their soft schedule continues this week with visits to Cincinnati and Colorado. Sonny Gray opens the series for the Reds. Luis Castillo closes it. So, Washington can take some solace in knowing Cincinnati’s two top pitchers will be deployed against Milwaukee. However, Colorado, 67-89, is Colorado, and the final weekend against subpar competition gives Milwaukee ample chance to play at home Oct. 1. 

One week to go.

Coming up Monday:

Milwaukee off

Chicago off

Philadelphia at Washington, 7:05 p.m. Eflin (9-12, 4.00 ERA) vs. Corbin (13-7, 3.10)

Miami at New York, 7:10 p.m., Smith (9-10, 4.24) vs. Matz (10-9, 4.16)

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Emma Meesseman struggles and 4 other observations from Mystics-Aces Game 3

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Emma Meesseman struggles and 4 other observations from Mystics-Aces Game 3

The Washington Mystics lost to the Las Vegas Aces 92-75 on Sunday evening in Game 3 of the WNBA Semifinals. Here are five observations from the game.

1. There is an argument to be made that the two most talented teams remaining in the WNBA playoffs are facing each other in the Semifinals, that the toughest team the Mystics will see in the postseason are these Las Vegas Aces, even if they end up advancing. Sunday served a reminder of the Aces' top-end talent, as they punched back to avoid a sweep with a Game 3 win, ensuring these teams will play at least one more time.

The Mystics had three opportunities to clinch the series, now they have two. Their next chance will be Tuesday, again in Las Vegas. If Sunday's game was any indication, they will meet a raucous Aces crowd once again at Mandalay Bay.

2. To find where things went wrong for the Mystics, look no further than the second quarter where midway through they got their doors blown off leading into halftime. Washington was up 33-31 with 5:13 left in the second quarter when the Aces closed the frame on a 16-4 run. They outscored the Mystics 24-13 in the quarter overall.

It was ugly. The Mystics couldn't hit a shot and lost control on offense. They had eight turnovers in the quarter and many of them proved costly. They scored only four points in the final seven minutes of the half. Their 37 points at halftime tied a season-low.

The trouble continued in the third, as the Mystics were outdone 32-25. But the momentum shifted in that second quarter and Washington never got it back. After scoring 102 points in Game 2, they topped out at 75 in this one.

3. The Mystics had no answer for the Aces' dynamic duo of Liz Cambage and A'ja Wilson. Cambage put up 28 points with six rebounds, two steals and a block. She shot an impeccable 12-for-15 from the field.

It was the type of performance where if you only saw this game, you would think she was the most dominant player in the WNBA. At 6-foot-9, all the Aces had to do on some plays was throw the ball up the air where only she could get it.

Wilson was a force on both ends of the floor. She had 21 points, eight boards, two blocks and two steals. She made five of her first six shots and finished 8-for-14 overall.

The first quarter saw Cambage, Wilson and Kayla McBride score all of the Aces' points. They went to work thanks to point guard Kelsey Plum's ability to penetrate and set up open shots. Plum had nine points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

Speaking of Plum, people were mad online this week about an NBA writer saying she is the 'James Harden of the WNBA.' Many thought the comparison was unnecessary and also simplistic because they are left-handed guards.

Set aside the outrage and it is simply just a bad take. Harden is known for playing patiently, if slowly, while Plum is the fastest player on the court.

4. The star of this series before Sunday was undoubtedly Emma Meesseman, who was able to score even more points in Game 1 than she did in Game 2, even though she had been moved up the scouting report. In Game 3, she finally went cold, managing only six points on 3-for-8 shooting from the field and 0-for-2 from three.

Though Meesseman had eight points, three assists and two steals, she missed a series of open shots and also didn't have a great game defensively. There were several breakdowns that allowed Cambage open paths to the rim and on a few occasions Meesseman was to blame. 

Meesseman is an X-factor for the Mystics and so far the game results have matched her individual production. When she plays well, it changes everything.

LaToya Sanders, who had 17 points in Game 2, also struggled. She had only four points in 24 minutes. That wouldn't have been a problem if she wasn't taking shots, but she went 2-for-9 from the field as the Aces left her open on several occasions. 

They bet on the fact Sanders isn't usually an offensive threat, especially from the outside, and this time it worked out for them. It would be understandable if Sanders had some extra confidence after what she did in Game 2, but Game 3 was a reminder that her best role is as a defensive specialist.

Meesseman and Sanders' shooting woes contributing to an overall bad night for the Mystics. They shot 38.6 percent collectively. That's not what you expect from the most efficient scoring team in WNBA history.

5. The eight turnovers in the second quarter were an extreme, but giveaways proved a major difference. They had 13 total in this game, far more than the six they had in each of the first two games this series.

The Mystics are the best team in the WNBA at protecting the ball. And so far this series, the Aces have proven quite dangerous in transition when they can push the pace off of missed baskets or miscues. 

Washington will have to clean that up moving forward, especially Ariel Atkins, who had five all by herself. Also, Natasha Cloud had zero turnovers with 14 assists through the first two games, but had three giveaways in this one alone.

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