That message was delivered loud and clear on Thursday morning, when they concluded their Winter Meetings by signing the top hitter of the last decade and the top pitcher of this year's free-agent class -- Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.
In other words, the Angels and first-year general manager Jerry Dipoto have snatched a no-doubt Hall of Famer still very much in his prime and an ace from the division-rival Rangers, adding them to a team that has missed the playoffs in back-to-back years but still won 86 games in 2011.
"I'm a fan right now," said Vernon Wells, even though he's really the team's left fielder. "This is exciting for the game and the Angels. I can imagine how our fans are feeling."
Cream of the crop
|On-base plus slugging||1.037||2nd|
Jubilant. Stunned. Euphoric. All are words that could've been used to describe that feeling, though many were no doubt at a loss for them.
Wells and fellow outfielder Torii Hunter simply said they feel "like a kid in the candy store."
The deal with Pujols is for 10 years, includes a full no-trade clause and is worth between $250 million and $260 million, a source told MLB.com. Ken Rosenthal reported on MLB Network that the exact value is $254 million, which would place it second behind the record-setting 10-year, $275 million contract Alex Rodriguez signed with the Yankees in December 2007. Wilson gets five years and $77.5 million, with a full no-trade clause for the first two years and a partial no-trade clause (featuring eight teams) for the last three.
Once the two pass their physicals, an Angels club that ranked fifth in payroll last year will have committed $331.5 million to two players. More perspective: Pujols' contract is worth $70 million more than what Angels owner Arte Moreno bought the team for in 2003.
The Angels have scheduled a press conference at Angel Stadium for Pujols and Wilson at 11:30 a.m. PT on Saturday, one that is open to the public and will be streamed live on MLB.com.
"It's a big swing in the balance of power in the [American League] West," Wilson said. "I thought I was going to make a little bit of a difference, but [Pujols is] obviously going to make a huge one. Nobody saw that coming."
The Angels had long been a target for Wilson, the left-hander whom they saw as a big rotation upgrade and will now likely slide in as the No. 3 starter -- behind Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, and in front of Ervin Santana.
Landing Pujols was the big surprise.
That the Angels were able to land them both -- after stating they had only between $15 million and $20 million to spend this offseason -- is flat-out mesmerizing.
"Arte has made it very clear he wants to win championships, he wants to win rings," Dipoto said while announcing the moves in a news conference on Thursday. "And we think this is a way to move toward that goal. We still have to play 162 of them, but we feel like we're better today than we were yesterday."
The Halos' pursuit of Pujols was surprising given their budget and their situation at first base -- where solid up-and-comer Mark Trumbo and healing veteran Kendrys Morales figured to form a dependable tandem. But the Angels surfaced late Wednesday night in reports linking them to Pujols for the second time in 24 hours, with a source confirming that their intentions were indeed serious.
Angels sign Pujols, Wilson
In the wee hours of the morning, Dipoto received word from agent Dan Lozano that they had secured the premier slugger.
"This is a monumental day for Angel fans, and I could not be more excited," Moreno said in a press release, adding: "Albert's career performance clearly speaks for itself. He has proven to be the best player of his generation."
Pujols, a nine-time All-Star and three-time National League Most Valuable Player, weighed a 10-year offer from the Marlins earlier this week and had a counter offer to consider from the Cardinals, with whom he had spent all of his 11 Major League seasons. St. Louis' offer was for nine years and a little less than $200 million, according to a report by ESPN.com. Other reports said it was for 10 years and $220 million. He joins A-Rod as the only player to ever score a contract north of $200 million.
Regarding the negotiations for Pujols, Dipoto said: "There was no swooping strategy. We bided our time. I believe we exercised patience."
The first baseman, who will be 32 next month, has a career .328 average with 445 home runs. His career on-base-plus-slugging percentage is 1.037, which leads all active players, and he has led the Major Leagues in slugging and OPS three times and in runs scored five times.
Despite missing two weeks with a small fracture in his left wrist -- an injury expected to sideline the slugger four to six weeks at the time -- Pujols hit .299 with 37 homers and 99 RBIs this past season, and that was considered a down year. Previously, he had 10 straight seasons in which he hit .300 or higher with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs.
But Pujols batted .327 with 13 homers in the final two months, then carried that into a postseason that featured an historic night -- a five-hit, three-homer, six-RBI performance against the Rangers in Game 3 of the World Series -- and a second title with St. Louis.
Dipoto said he wasn't all too concerned about handing out a long-term deal to an iconic player like Pujols.
"Albert's proven over the course of the last 11 years to be the best player in baseball," said Dipoto, who also added veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins on a one-year, $3 million deal on Wednesday. "And whether it's offensively, overall impact, we feel like Albert brings so much more than just a bat in the lineup. You're talking about a Gold Glove defender, the leadership, the makeup, the character of the human being, the impact in the community, all of the things that he has consistently brought to the table through the years make this so much more than just a great baseball player."
The lure of joining a club in the AL, where he can eventually slide into the designated-hitter spot in the final stages of the contract, was probably a critical factor for Pujols. Now, the Angels have to figure out what to do with Trumbo -- who has experience playing right field in the Minors and may even be capable of handling third base -- as well as Morales.
A multitude of options is still in play with regard to potential trades within the starting lineup and pitching rotation.
But only one thing matters right now.
"You're adding two of the biggest pieces in the market, two guys still young and in their prime who can dominate," Wells said. "This gives us a legitimate chance to get to the playoffs and farther."
Wilson, who went 31-15 with a 3.14 ERA as a starter for the Rangers the past two seasons, was negotiating with the Rangers, Marlins and Angels throughout Wednesday. But Wilson expressed disappointment with the Rangers' offer, saying: "I just want the fans [in Texas] to know that if things were a lot closer, then it would've been a more difficult decision to go to Anaheim, and I possibly might not have gone. But there was no comparison between the packages offered between the three teams."
Wilson's deal is less than the five-year, $85 million extension Weaver signed in August.
In fact, it wound up being the Marlins that offered the highest contract, at six years and $80 million despite committing four years and $58 million to Mark Buehrle, according to a baseball source. But for Wilson, the pull from his Orange County roots was too tough to pass up.
Being on a team that just signed Pujols, and now has arguably the best rotation in the AL, wasn't a bad caveat, either.
"At the end of the day, my family was a big player in this, and my friends and stuff back home," Wilson said. "Going back to where you're from is a difficult thing to turn down when you have an opportunity, and it works out really in every way."
Wilson is 31, but just completed only his second season as a starter. In 2011, he went 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP in 223 1/3 innings (34 starts). But Wilson struggled in the playoffs, going 1-5 with a 4.82 ERA in 10 games (nine starts) despite somewhat bouncing back in his two World Series outings.
While the Angels have watched the playoffs from home the last two years, the Rangers have made it to back-to-back World Series. Now that the Halos have added Wilson to a rotation that ranked second in the AL in ERA, and Pujols to an offense that ranked 10th in runs, the dynamic has changed.
"The division just got significantly better," Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine said. "A team we have tremendous respect for and has been our main competition just got better. The challenge in the American League West just got bigger. But we feel our team is up for the challenge."
They'd better be. After missing out on both Adrian Beltre and Carl Crawford last offseason, and missing a chance to sign Mark Teixeira to an extension after the 2008 season, the Angels proved on Thursday that they're ready to win now by landing two of the most coveted players in this free-agent class.
"Winning breeds interest," Dipoto said. "We're setting ourselves up to start next season with an opportunity to be good."
Yeah, no kidding.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. Joe Frisaro, Matthew Leach, T.R. Sullivan and Lyle Spencer contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less