DALLAS — Like the Rays, the Angels went into the offseason targeting a series of areas for improvement. After smaller moves to strengthen themselves at catcher and in the bullpen, the Angels on Thursday jolted the baseball world, signing megastar slugger Albert Pujols and then adding lefty starter C.J. Wilson.
While the Rays have to seek bargains and trades that maximize value while operating on a budget — and left the winter meetings Thursday with nothing done — the Angels made themselves better the old-fashioned way: throwing millions at free agents.
To lure Pujols away from St. Louis, the Angels committed a reported $254 million over 10 years, then gave Wilson, who had been with the Rangers, $77.5 million over five.
General manager Jerry DiPoto, who got the job after the Angels talked to the Rays' Andrew Friedman, said the deals were a reflection of owner Arte Moreno's commitment to winning.
"Unbelievable," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. "Arte is the best. He tries. He throws it out there. He wants to win. We sit and talk, and we want the same thing. We want a ring! … This is one owner I know who is crazy about winning."
The moves will not only increase the Angels' chances to win more games but also their share of the Los Angeles market from the distressed Dodgers, in terms of attendance and television ratings and revenues.
They will also make life tougher for other teams in the American League, certainly in the West, but also for the Rays, who have the random scheduling misfortune of facing the Angels 10 times — more than any other nondivision team — this coming season. (Overall, the Rays could end up with 52 of their 162 games, 32 percent, against the four highest payroll clubs: the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Marlins.)
"The Angels are a large-revenue team that are going to do things like this," Friedman said. "We know it, we expect it. You can plug in different names. It's similar to teams that we complete against. … I wish they would have taken a year to start getting aggressive."
There was surprise throughout the game that the Angels got Pujols — "quite possibly the best hitter of our generation," Friedman said — to leave St. Louis, where he hit .328 with 445 homers, 1,329 RBIs and a 1.037 on-base-plus-slugging percentage over 11 seasons.
"We are disappointed," Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said. "I would like our fans to know that we tried our best to make Albert a lifetime Cardinal, but unfortunately we were unable to make it happen."
The deal is the second-largest in MLB history behind Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $275 million contract with the Yankees, and obviously comes with significant risk over the long term, as Pujols turns 32 in January, and his stats have been in decline.
"I hope he got a box of chocolates with that, by the way," Mets GM Sandy Alderson said.
Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine said the experience of facing Pujols in the World Series gave them a sense of what they're in for. "We just saw him for seven games, and I can't say we've exactly figured him out just yet," Levine said. "So our advance scouts still have a lot of work to do."
There is a residual effect that could benefit the Rays if the Angels decide to trade incumbent first baseman Mark Trumbo (who hit 29 homers in finishing second to Jeremy Hellickson for AL rookie of the year honors), nontender first baseman/DH Kendry Morales or trade DH Bobby Abreu at a discount (though DiPoto talked of keeping them all). The Rays need help at both positions and could be interested, or get a better deal elsewhere if the market gets saturated. Conversely, the Cardinals could be looking for a first baseman.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]m.