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Adding Hamilton big but history shows that it may not be enough for Angels to dominate

Updated on December 14, 2012
Josh Hamilton at bat against Tampa Bay in 2011
Josh Hamilton at bat against Tampa Bay in 2011

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

- George Santayana

The surprise announcement of the Angels signing Josh Hamilton has caused much joy in Southern California and much weeping and gnashing of teeth in Texas. It also caused sports writers and commentators to make wild speculations about how great the Angels’ lineup will be.

It certainly does look impressive, with Mike Trout leading off, Hamilton and Albert Pujols batting third and fourth and Mark Trumbo in there somewhere with his awesome power. While some concern remains about the pitching staff, this looks like a lineup that could bludgeon you to death and win even if the pitching staff gives up five runs a game.

Or not.

Angels have signed big free agents in past

Everyone pretty much said the same thing about the Angels last year, when they signed Pujols and C.J. Wilson to big contracts. The Angels finished third, despite a historic year by Trout.

The Angels have had a spotty record in signing free agents in the past. In 2007 they signed 32-year-old Gary Matthews Jr. to a five-year contract valued around $50 million. Although the Angels won the division that year and lost in the ALDS, Matthews was not a significant contributor and thereafter became a very expensive bench player.

In 2008 they signed Torii Hunter for five years at $90 million. They won the division again but lost in the ALDS again. Hunter did play a vital role and actually did a nice job for the Halos during the length of his contract, although probably never at the level the Angels had anticipated.

No post season for Angels since 2009

In 2009 they added 35-year-old Bobby Abreu for three years at $23 million along with 33-year-old reliever Brian Fuentes. This time they won the division and made it to the ALCS. Abreu had a .390 OBP and stole 30 bases while Fuentes had 48 saves, although he walked 24 and hit five batters in 55 innings.

In 2010 the big additions were Hideki Matsui for a year and Joel Piniero for two years, both relatively minor signings. Although Matsui played well, Piniero did not and the Angels dropped below .500 and finished third. Hunter had another nice season, Abreu was all right, but Fuentes struggled and Matthews was shipped to the Mets.

Then in 2011 it was a big trade rather than a free agent signing that made news for the Angels when they agreed to take on the rest of the contract Vernon Wells had signed with Toronto. That amounted to $84 million over four years. The Angels moved up to second but no thanks to Wells, who played more like Dawn Wells. Hunter and Abreu had acceptable years for their age, Piniero struggled and Matsui and Fuentes were gone.

A year ago, Pujols struggled early in the season, although he acquitted himself quite well by season’s end, but Wilson provided less than expected. Hunter once again had a nice season and Wells, although better than the previous year, played at about the level of a Triple A player. Still, the Angels managed to win 89 games, but finished third.

Hamilton will need to stay focused

Granted, Hamilton is a different player than the others, with the exception of Pujols, but even during his great season last year he had periods where he played little better than Wells. Some people have said he lost focus during those couple of down months. According to some reports, sinus infections, his decision to quit using smokeless tobacco, possible marital strife and his ubiquitous battle with drugs and alcohol addiction all led to his loss of focus.

Los Angeles has many more distractions than Dallas, although Anaheim is not the same as Hollywood. It’s a conservative area and close to an hour drive from the heart of the L.A. action. Hamilton will have straight-arrow teammates like Pujols and Wilson to help keep him on course.

How will stars mix?

A big issue the Angels could experience is a clash of personalities as several players accustomed to being king of the sandbox will be thrown together. The emergence of Trout and even Trumbo means that neither Hamilton nor Pujols might be the star of the team.

While the subtraction of Hamilton weakens Texas, people tend to forget that it was Oakland that won the division a year ago. It’s easy to dismiss the A’s as a fluke, and perhaps they were, but they do have a good nucleus of young players who may actually get better this season.

Certainly the Angels have the guns to put up some big numbers this season and could win the World Series. But as the past indicates, signing a big name free agent has hardly been a guarantee of success for the Halos.

I am now on Twitter, although whether I'll figure out how to use it or have anything worthwhile to say remains to be seen. You can follow me @GaryKauffman77.


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