Busy Angels Acquire Hunter Fom Twins

Thursday, November 22nd 2007, 2:16 pm
By: News On 6

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) _ New Los Angeles Angels general manager Tony Reagins has been busy this week, and there may be more wheeling and dealing on the way.

The Angels agreed to a five-year, $90 million contract with free agent center fielder Torii Hunter on Wednesday, two days after they traded Gold Glove shortstop Orlando Cabrera to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Jon Garland.

The two acquisitions might seem a bit puzzling because the team already had a center fielder in Gary Matthews Jr. _ who signed a five-year, $50 million contract last November _ and they already had five starting pitchers.

That indicates the Angels may not have completed their big-picture plans.

Reagins, who took over for Bill Stoneman after the season, said signing Hunter has no bearing on other moves, adding that he remains open to anything he believes will strengthen the team.

``But I like our club today,'' he said. ``We have a productive offense and defense and think we're going to pitch well. If it started today, I'd be ready to go.''

The Angels appear to be in a strong bargaining position, with possibly a starting pitcher, Matthews, and several younger players available to be dealt. Among the players they might pursue is Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada.

Adding Hunter, whose deal is subject to passing a physical, gives them something they've lacked the past few years: protection for Vladimir Guerrero in the batting order. The 32-year-old Hunter hit .297 with 28 homers and drove in 107 runs for Minnesota this year. His hitting behind Guerrero will make it tougher to pitch around the Angels slugger.

Hunter said he doesn't really consider himself the ``big bat.''

``I'm that guy who can really change the game, with my bat, defense, running the bases,'' he said. ``I'm not telling you I'm the big bat. Vladimir is the big bat.''

Hunter scored 94 runs, had 45 doubles, one triple and 18 steals this year. His on-base average was .334, and he hit safely in a career-best 23 straight games. He tied for the AL lead with three grand slams, giving him nine for his career.

On Thursday Twins General Manager Bill Smith called Hunter ``a consummate professional and a great person.''

``We congratulate the entire Hunter family and wish them continued success in the Angels organization,'' he said.

A seven-time Gold Glove winner, Hunter will be the team's everyday center fielder. He said that, with Guerrero in right, Garret Anderson in left and Matthews filling in, it will be the best hitting group of outfielders he's played with.

``Vladimir is one of my favorite players. Now I get to play next to him and hit in the lineup with him,'' Hunter said. ``And I get to watch Garret.''

Although Hunter's arrival would appear to make Matthews the odd man out, manager Mike Scioscia said Matthews would have an active role and that having Hunter would give him more options. He intends to use Guerrero and Anderson at DH some, and have Matthews spell them in the outfield.

``Torii is going to be in center field virtually every day. Gary will be in the outfield almost every day, so the other two guys will split up the DH,'' Scioscia said. ``We want all four of those bats in the lineup.

``We want Gary Matthews as part of this. I expect a positive response. His contributions will be very valuable to this club.''

Matthews was in New York this month to meet with baseball officials and discuss allegations that he received human grown hormone. He was sent HGH in 2004 from a pharmacy being investigated for illegal distribution of performance-enhancing drugs, The Times Union of Albany, N.Y., reported. Matthews has denied using HGH, which was not banned by baseball for players with major league contracts until 2005.

Reagins said he has had no indications that Matthews might be suspended.

Hunter had talked with the Texas Rangers, and the White Sox and Kansas City Royals had expressed interest. He was surprised the Angels came after him, since they had Matthews.

``They shocked me. I didn't think they needed a center fielder,'' Hunter said. ``They shocked the world.''

Reagins first contacted Hunter's agent, Larry Reynolds, this week.

``They came in trying to get something done in a hurry and it worked out,'' Reynolds said.

Said Reagins: ``In the past, we said we're going to pursue every opportunity to make our club better. This was an opportunity. I had the support of some people around me, then I got aggressive.''

Hunter said he did not have any talks with the Twins.

``That's the team I grew up with. It's kind of frustrating that I couldn't finish my career with that club, but now that doesn't matter. I'm an Angel,'' he said.

``Maybe I can do some damage and get about three rings out of this.''

The Angels won their third AL West title in four years this season, but were swept by Boston in the first round of the playoffs. They won their only World Series title when they were a wild card in 2002.