DALLAS - The Los Angeles Angels made perhaps the biggest 1-day free-agent splash in baseball history and transformed themselves into legitimate World Series contenders yesterday, spending about $331 million to acquire the game's most feared slugger and one of its top pitchers.
Within a span of 2 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 5-year, $77.5 million deal.
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 2 months into the job, said at a news conference to announce the moves. "Arte Moreno is as competitive an owner as there is in the game. He's made it very clear he wants to win championships, he wants to win rings, and we think this is a way to move toward that goal."
Pujols will be introduced at a news conference at Angel Stadium tomorrow, and Wilson on Tuesday.
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 lefty entering the week. Wilson, who helped Texas reach the World Series in each of the last two seasons, turned down a reported 6-year, $99 million offer from the Miami Marlins to sign with his hometown team.
But 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.
According to the Los Angeles Times, early yesterday morning the Angels received word from both Lozano and Bob Garber, Wilson's agent, that the two were coming to Anaheim.
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 Yankees before 2008.
"We looked at each other, and we were like, 'Is this real?' " said Scott Servais, the Angels' new assistant GM. "We were in a euphoric state."
There was no euphoric state in St. Louis. According to stl.com, Pujols apparel flew off the shelves yesterday at four St. Louis area Pro Image Sports stores, but only because it was free.
Paul Russo, who owns the franchises, said his stores had just about given away their entire stock of about 150 shirts and jerseys that would usually sell for $14.99 to $129.99. Russo said he made a spur-of-the-moment decision to give away the merchandise. "It's not about the money, just like Albert said," Russo said. "Except he lied, and we didn't."
In Pujols, the Angels got a 31-year-old power hitter who built a Hall of Fame resume in 11 years with St. Louis, hitting .328 with a .420 on-base percentage, 445 homers and 1,329 RBI and leading the Cardinals to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011.
The three-time NL MVP, nine-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner's bat will provide a significant boost to an Angels lineup that ranked 10th in the AL with 667 runs last season.
In Wilson, the Angels have a durable hard thrower who went 16-7 with 2.94 ERA in 2011, 15-8 with a 3.38 ERA in 2010 and will combine with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana to give the Angels one of the best rotations in baseball.
The moves, made in an effort to end the Angels' 2-year playoff drought, will push the team's 2012 payroll to about $170 million, which is considerably higher than the $140 million limit Moreno said he was targeting in late October.
But Moreno has always said he would surpass the budget "for the right player," and Pujols was clearly the right player.
The Dominican Republic native is the only player in major league history to hit 30 homers or more in each of his first 11 seasons and the second to have 10 straight 100-RBI seasons. He is also the only player to post 10 straight seasons with a .300 average, 30 doubles, 30 homers and 100 RBI.
There's been speculation that Pujols is older than he states, but that hasn't deterred the Angels.
"He's an honorable man, a respectful man," Dipoto said. "I'm not a scientist. I can't tell you where he is. But I can tell you he hits like he's 27."
And what about the decline in Pujols' production over the last 3 years? Pujols hit .327 with 47 homers and 136 RBI in 2009, .312 with 42 homers and 118 RBI in 2010 and .299 with 37 homers and 99 RBI in 2011.