Angels welcome Hunter despite lack of contract
Hunter was introduced Wednesday along with starting pitcher Jon Garland, acquired this month in a trade with the Chicago White Sox. A seven-time Gold Glove center fielder, Hunter reached a preliminary agreement Nov. 21 on a $90 million, five-year contract with the Angels but has yet to finalize the deal.
"We're just working out the final details of Torii's contract and that should be done relatively quickly," new Angels general manager Tony Reagins said. "He hasn't officially written his name, but we've agreed to all the terms."
Hunter, who hit .297 with 28 homers and 107 RBIs for Minnesota this year, was obtained two days after the Angels dealt Gold Glove shortstop Orlando Cabrera to Chicago for Garland. But owner Arte Moreno denied the team acquired Hunter as insurance in case incumbent center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. gets caught up in baseball's investigation into performance-enhancing drugs.
"That never really entered our minds, to be honest," Moreno said. "I think it's a Pandora's box. I don't know what's going to happen here. Obviously we've spent time with Gary, and we're pretty sure Gary's been clean for three years. We've had communication with the commissioner's office, but to be able to get an athlete and a person like Torii Hunter was something we wanted to make an investment in."
Hunter acknowledged he always admired the Angels from afar -- especially since they beat his Twins in the 2002 AL Championship Series en route to the club's only World Series title. He hammed it up Wednesday with a rally monkey given to him by an Angels staffer, keeping the stuffed animal on his shoulder as he answered questions.
"I told myself years ago that if I ever become a free agent, I'm going over here with the Angels," Hunter said. "But at the time of my free agency, they had a center fielder already, so I kind of threw them on the back burner and looked at other teams -- and then they came out of nowhere.
"Then I thought about 2002, and the rally monkey. This rally monkey has been a thorn in my side and in my nightmares, so I'm just happy to be a part of this organization and be a part of the monkey. I thought about kidnapping him plenty of times, but now the monkey's going to be my friend. I'm really going to like this monkey. We're going to be in the malls together, walking the beach, everything. So that's my buddy and my new best friend -- and [broadcaster] Rex Hudler."
Hunter and Garland posed for photographs together in Angels jerseys and caps.
"You can't have too much pitching," Lackey said. "Something always happens with a pitching staff, so to have extra guys is always nice. He's going to be right in the middle of our rotation -- maybe at the front. We've got several guys who could lead this rotation, and he definitely has the credentials to do it.
"The biggest thing I've seen with him is that he trusts his stuff," Lackey added. "His pitch counts usually stay down because he throws a lot of strikes, he trusts that sinker and he's not afraid of contact. He's going to let the defense work behind him."
Garland threw the second of Chicago's four consecutive complete-game victories over the Angels in the 2005 ALCS, beating them in Game 3 after the series was tied 1-all. The right-hander will earn $12 million next year, then can become a free agent.
Cabrera's salary will be $9 million in 2008, then he also will be eligible for free agency.
"I'm not one to go out and strike out too many guys, so the ball's going to be put in play," Garland said. "And to have someone like Torii roaming center field, it's a huge comfort for myself."
Hunter's arrival will move Matthews to left field or right, depending on whether Anderson or Vladimir Guerrero is the designated hitter on a particular night.
"That was one thing I thought about before I came here," said Hunter, who had an old phone number for Matthews and couldn't reach him. "We've been friends for a long time, so it'll be a lot of fun playing with him.
"We saw each other at the doctor's office Monday, and we were cracking up laughing," Hunter added. "I told him, `You know what? We're going to win a ring together.' He said whatever it takes to win, he's ready. I mean, he wasn't jumping up and down like he was happy about it, because he's a center fielder. And I understand that. But if I win, he's going to win."
The Angels' payroll last season was around $114 million, according to Moreno, and is currently at about $125 million. And the winter meetings haven't even started yet.
"There are limits, because you don't want to do something in the short term that's going to really affect what's going to happen in the long term," Moreno said. "We've made Tony jump through a lot of rings, looking at the next three years and who we have signed position by position and what it's going to cost to re-sign someone and who do we have coming through our system."
"I know those rumors are out there. All I can say is those two players are under contract with other clubs, so I can't speak to it," Reagins said. "If an opportunity presents itself, we'll take a look at it. We're going to continue to pound the pavement. We're going to the winter meetings next week and see what that brings."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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