DALLAS - The Los Angeles Angels made perhaps the biggest one-day free-agent splash in baseball history and transformed themselves into legitimate World Series contenders, spending about $331 million Thursday to acquire the game's most feared slugger and one of its top pitchers.
Within a span of two frenzied, early-morning hours at the winter meetings, the Angels reached agreements in principle with first baseman Albert Pujols on a 10-year, $254 million deal and lefthander C.J. Wilson on a five-year, $77.5 million deal.
Bridesmaids in recent free-agent pursuits - the Angels failed in bids to sign Mark Teixeira, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Beltre the last two winters - the Angels nabbed the two stars with a massive investment that was $144 million more than the $183 million Arte Moreno paid to buy the team in 2003.
"I can't say in my wildest dreams I thought I'd be sitting here today," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, less than two months into the job, said at a news conference. "It's a tribute to the aggressive nature and quality of our ownership. Arte Moreno is as competitive an owner as there is in the game."
Wilson, the former Texas Rangers ace who grew up in Orange County, Calif., has been a top target of the Angels since mid-November, and the Angels emerged as a front-runner for the 31-year-old entering the week.
"Albert has been a special player in this organization since the moment he was drafted over 12 years ago," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said in a team-released statement. "His accomplishments on and off the field have been spectacular. I wish him well in the next phase of his career."
The Cardinals also offered the slugger a 10-year deal, but he chose to leave the Gateway City for the freeway life.
"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."
Pujols agreed in 2004 to a $100 million, seven-year contract, a deal that - with a 2011 option and bonuses - wound up paying him $112.55 million over eight years.
Dipoto said he didn't "ramp up" his pursuit of Pujols until arriving in Dallas for the winter meetings Sunday night.
Pujols had lucrative offers from St. Louis and Miami, but Dipoto and his staff worked virtually around the clock over the last few days negotiating with Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano.
Pujols' deal, which includes a full no-trade clause, is the second largest in major-league history, behind the 10-year, $275 million contract Alex Rodriguez signed with the New York Yankees before 2008.
In Pujols, the Angels got a 31-year-old power hitter who built a Hall of Fame resumé in 11 years with St. Louis, hitting .328 with a .420 on-base percentage, 445 home runs, and 1,329 RBIs and leading the Cardinals to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011.