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Angels take it from the top with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson

Reporting from Dallas —

The Angels made perhaps the biggest one-day free-agent splash in baseball history and transformed themselves into legitimate World Series contenders Thursday, spending about $331 million to acquire the game’s most feared slugger and one of its top pitchers.

Within a span of two 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 left-hander C.J. Wilson on a five-year, $77.5-million deal.

Bridesmaids in recent free-agent pursuits — the Angels failed in bids to sign Mark Teixeira, Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre the last two winters — 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.

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“I can’t say in my wildest dreams I thought I’d be sitting here today,” Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto, less than two months into the job, said at a news conference to announce the moves. “It’s a tribute to the aggressive nature and quality of our ownership.

“Arte Moreno is as competitive an owner as there is in the game. We all know this … is kicked into gear by him. 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 on Saturday, and Wilson on Tuesday.

Wilson, the former Texas Rangers ace who grew up in Orange County, has been a top target of the Angels since mid-November, and the Angels emerged as a front-runner for the 31-year-old left-hander entering the week.

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Wilson, who helped Texas reach the World Series in each of the last two seasons, turned down a reported six-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.

From 6 to 8 a.m. CST on Thursday, the Angels received word from both Lozano and Bob Garber, Wilson’s agent, that the two were coming to Anaheim.

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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 New York 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. Jerry hasn’t slept for more than four or five hours — total — in the last four days. He’s worked his tail off.”

There was a similar shock about 45 miles north of Dallas, where Angels right fielder Torii Hunter and new Angels reliever LaTroy Hawkins were working out together.

“I was between sets and LaTroy started screaming, ‘Oh my, we just signed Albert Pujols for $250 million!’ ” Hunter said. “I fell over and started rolling. While we were screaming and yelling, we found out we signed C.J. ‘What?’ I was like a kid in a candy store.

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“It’s unbelievable. Arte is the best. He tries. He throws it out there. I’ve been in the playoffs several times, and we haven’t won. He’s putting it out there. This is one owner I know who is crazy about winning.”

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 home runs and 1,329 runs batted in and leading the Cardinals to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011.

The three-time National League most valuable player, 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 American League with 667 runs last season.

In Wilson, the Angels have a durable hard-thrower who went 16-7 with 2.94 earned-run average 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.

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“We’re talking about an iconic offensive player in this generation, to be sure,” Dipoto said. “And we’re talking about an ace-type starting pitcher who’s pitched on back-to-back AL championship clubs.

“We feel like the two of them, in addition to what we have in place, gives us a very unique opportunity.”

The moves, made in an effort to end the Angels’ two-year playoff drought, will push the Angels’ 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, to an Angels club that for years has starved for a big bat, was clearly the right player.

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The native of the Dominican Republic 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 in major league history to post 10 consecutive seasons with a .300 average, 30 doubles, 30 homers and 100 RBIs.

On Oct. 22, in Game 3 of the World Series against Texas, Pujols joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players to hit three homers in a World Series game. Pujols was five for six with two singles, four runs and six RBIs in the game.

“I think the American League West just got a lot better,” Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine said. “We just saw Albert for seven games, and I’m not sure we figured him out. Every time he comes up, he causes concern and fear in opponents.”

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There is great risk in contracts of such length, but the Angels believe they can mitigate that risk by using Pujols as a designated hitter in the latter half of the deal.

“Hitters age … but Albert has had an extraordinary career in regard to controlling the strike zone,” Dipoto said. “We’ve had many discussions on how we feel he’ll evolve as a player. Albert is still as big an impact bat after 11 years as there is in the game.”.

There has been speculation that Pujols is older than he actually is, but that was not a deterrent to 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.”

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And what about the decline in Pujols’ production over the last three years? Pujols hit .327 with 47 homers and 136 RBIs in 2009, .312 with 42 homers and 118 RBIs in 2010 and .299 with 37 homers and 99 RBIs in 2011.

“I don’t necessarily see it as a clear decline,” Dipoto said. “I see Albert Pujols as the most consistent offensive player of his generation.

“And if a decline still places you in the top five in the MVP vote … if we want to call a decline going from super human to just great … I don’t think we’ve seen the last great days of Albert Pujols, obviously, or we wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com


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