ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett and his ESPN Los Angeles coutnerpart, Mark Saxon, take turns answering each others' questions on Josh Hamilton and the AL West race:
Durrett: What is it with the Los Angeles Angels and their ability to jump into a sweepstakes at the final hours and sweep everyone off their feet? Isn't this similar to what they did with Albert Pujols last year? Was this in reaction to Greinke signing with the Dodgers?
Saxon: They are fairly obsessed with secrecy when it comes to negotiations. I've heard they have made agents swear to keep details confidential before they enter into discussions. It is similar to what happened with Albert last year. The difference is the Dodgers were bankrupt last year and not spending $600 million on players, as they have in the past six months. This gets the focus off all the Dodgers' changes and onto the Angels and, for a team that has played from behind throughout its history, that's usually a good thing.
Durrett: Where do you see Hamilton fitting into the Angels' lineup?
Saxon: If it were a pure meritocracy, Mike Trout would hit third. I doubt Mike Scioscia will go that way, at least not right away. I'm pretty sure Pujols will bat third and Hamilton fourth, mostly because Pujols gets on base more. Beyond that, you can make some educated guesses. Trout will probably stay at leadoff, then perhaps Howie Kendrick, Pujols, Hamilton, Kendrys Morales, Mark Trumbo, etc. Wow, that's a lot of power. Kind of reminds me of Texas not too long ago. Sorry, couldn't resist.
Durrett: Is there a special money tree growing in LA? If so, where I can get one?
Saxon: I don't think so, but I think you and I might be in the wrong business. Baseball is doing great, particularly in those markets that have really big TV markets. The Angels signed a $3 billion TV deal. The Dodgers are reportedly working on one for $6 billion. That pays for a lot of Zack Greinkes and Josh Hamiltons. The question, in my opinion, becomes what this hyperinflation does a few years down the road, when revenues aren't growing as fast but players still expect these kinds of deals. For example, should Clayton Kershaw now ask for more than $200 million to sign an extension? You would think so.
Durrett: Many considered the Angels the favorites last year in the AL West and they finished third and out of the postseason. Do you think this move makes them favorites this year?
Saxon: Don't forget about the Oakland A's, who have a lot more pitching depth than either the Angels or Texas and a ton of outfielders they could either keep or use as trade chips. The Angels' rotation strikes me as very top-heavy, with a big drop-off from Jered Weaver to C.J. Wilson and a bigger drop-off after that. Texas has been hurt, obviously, by losing so many players to teams it is competing against. It's still got the potential to be a good three-way race and, with Houston and Seattle in the division and not very good, I would expect at least two playoff teams to come out of the West.
Now, let's change hats, Richard, and I'll ask you a few questions relating to how Hamilton will fare in Anaheim.
Saxon: Richard, What's the easiest way to explain the decline of Hamilton's production as last season went on? If you were the Angels, would you be concerned about his health? Also, how do you think he'll respond to being in a clubhouse with one superstar, Pujols, and a burgeoning megastar, Trout? Tell us about his personality.
Durrett: I wouldn't say he declined as the season progressed. It was more up and down. He had a ridiculous April and May (AL player of the month both times) and then a very down June and July before bouncing back with a decent August and then down again in September. He didn't produce like the club was hoping late in the year, with the team making a push toward the AL West.
Yes, I'd be concerned about his health. He's played an average of 123 games per season in his time in Texas. He played 148 games last year, his highest total since 2008. So he's coming off a year where he stayed relatively healthy. But he also missed key stretches -- like five games in a big road trip in September with vision issues that he said were cured with limiting his caffeine intake.
I think he'll be solid in the clubhouse and is in a good spot in that he doesn't have to be the star in L.A. Mike Trout is out there. So is Albert Pujols. Hamilton can just go about his business and not worry about trying to carry the load.
Saxon: It seems as if GM Jon Daniels was not happy with the way negotiations went down at the end. Do you think this has anything to do with lingering bad blood given some of the comments back and forth between Hamilton and Texas front office people, such as Nolan Ryan?
Durrett: No, I don't think it had anything to do with that. I think it was more that the Rangers felt that Hamilton and his folks would at least come back to them to have a talk before any deal was finalized. That didn't happen. Daniels understands that's part of the business, but he was disappointed. My bet is that Hamilton was presented with an offer and told he had to take it or leave it so that he wouldn't be able to take it to Texas. So he made a decision. The Rangers wanted Hamilton back. The season didn't finish the way he wanted it to -- or the way the team wanted -- but they wanted him back.
Saxon: His history of substance abuse seemed to dampen enthusiasm for him in free agency. How big an issue do you think this was for teams? How big was it for the Rangers?
Durrett: Honestly, I think the bigger issue for teams was his injury history. Yes, there's always a risk with the off-field stuff because he's battling addiction every day. But at 31 years old, handing out a long-term deal in the Pujols or Fielder range to someone that doesn't have a history of staying healthy didn't materialize. For Texas, it was more about Hamilton's health than the off-field stuff. But you have to take the entire package that is Josh Hamilton.
Saxon: How do you see the division shaping up?
Durrett: You've got to love this rivalry between Texas and L.A, right? Throw in the Oakland A's, with solid young pitching and a team that fought all the way to the finish to catch the Rangers, and you have three teams that should really battle it out. It's also fun to know that the Angels and Hamilton will be in Arlington on April 5-7, the club's opening home weekend. That should be interesting. And count me among those who hope Rangers fans don't boo Hamilton. He did a lot for this team in his five years here and it's tough to blame a player for taking the best offer he can.