Angels introduce Josh Hamilton, make it official

Outfielder Josh Hamilton stands next to his wife Katie Hamilton after donning a bright red Angels jersey with his familiar No. 32 for the first time Saturday at ESPN Zone in Anaheim.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The irony was not lost on Josh Hamilton, the slugger whose career seems to have come full circle from the day Tampa Bay made him the first overall pick of the 1999 draft.

“I started off with the Devil Rays,” Hamilton said Saturday in a packed news conference at the ESPN Zone in Anaheim, “and now I’m an Angel.”

So much has happened in between, from Hamilton’s well-chronicled addiction to drugs and alcohol, to his three-year ban from baseball, to his 2007 ascent to the major leagues with Cincinnati and his rise to stardom with the Texas Rangers.

Saturday marked another new beginning as Hamilton, surrounded by his wife, Katie, his four blonde daughters, his new team’s owner, general manager and manager, donned a bright red Angels jersey with his familiar No. 32 for the first time, his five-year, $125-million deal with the team official.

“It’s pretty cool when a new chapter in your life begins,” Hamilton, 31, said. “It’s exciting to be here, to think about this lineup and what it’s capable of. It’s going to be a good ride. I’m going to give everything I have to this organization on and off the field.”

Hamilton, a five-time All-Star and 2010 American League most valuable player, will play left field and probably bat cleanup behind Albert Pujols in a lineup that includes 21-year-old phenom Mike Trout, the 2012 AL rookie of the year and MVP runnerup, and young slugger Mark Trumbo, who hit 32 home runs last season.

The Angels have not reached the playoffs for three consecutive years, but after Hamilton, who hit .285 with 43 home runs and 128 runs batted in last season, was secured, one notable gambling website installed them as favorites to win the World Series.

“Josh really makes our lineup look imposing,” General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. “If these guys stay healthy and produce the way they’re capable of producing, that is a heck of an offense, one through nine. It also gives us the flexibility to answer other issues as the season moves along.”

The Angels — as they did all last season — have a surplus of outfielders and could trade speedy center fielder Peter Bourjos or even Trumbo, who is slated for right field, for a starting pitcher.

But there is a growing sense they would prefer to trade designated hitter Kendrys Morales and keep Bourjos, a superb defender. That would allow Trumbo and Hamilton, who has been limited by injuries to an average of 123 games per year, to split time between the outfield and DH.

“The depth of our lineup has increased exponentially,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Josh gives us a terrific presence behind Albert. You just don’t find left-handed power hitters who can do the things he does defensively available.”

The Angels’ pursuit of Hamilton began in early December at the winter meetings in Nashville, where Dipoto, while telling reporters he was “100% focused on pitching,” had a lengthy lunch meeting with Josh and Katie.

Owner Arte Moreno, his wife, Carole, and John Carpino, the team’s president, flew to Texas to meet Hamilton at his home Monday.

But Hamilton said things didn’t get “serious” until Wednesday, when the Angels made their formal offer on the same day Dipoto, at a news conference to introduce four pitchers, told reporters a significant move was not “imminent, pressing or required.” Within 24 hours, Hamilton was an Angel.

“Of course, I was surprised,” said Hamilton, who, like many, thought the Angels were in heavy pursuit of pitcher Zack Greinke, who signed a six-year, $147-million deal with the Dodgers.

“They like to get after it. They like to get things done. We talked for about three days. I was excited to see they were excited, to see a team and people who really pursue you and want you.”

Hamilton didn’t get that same feeling from the Rangers, a team he led to the World Series in 2010 and 2011.

“I think it was a blessing in disguise,” Hamilton said. “I gave them everything I had for five years. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me a little bit that they didn’t put the press on.”

Hamilton then deferred to his wife, who compared Josh’s relationship with the Rangers to a courtship.

“My take on it is we were with them for five years, and if you’re going to date someone and he’s going to be your man, you make it official and known pretty quick that you want to be with him,” Katie said. “They let us date other teams. Josh said he’d give them first chance, and they didn’t take him up on that.”

Interjected Hamilton: “She said, you should have put a ring on it.”

Hamilton’s heavily back-loaded contract includes a $10-million signing bonus, payable up front, and salaries of $15 million in 2013 and 2014, $23 million in 2015 and $30 million in 2016 and 2017.

As part of the deal, which includes a full no-trade clause and use of a luxury suite, the Angels will make a $2-million donation to Hamilton’s charitable foundation.

There is no language in the contract protecting the Angels from a relapse involving drugs or alcohol. But Hamilton must undergo three drug tests per week, and he is subject to penalties under baseball’s joint drug program should he test positive.

The Angels also hired Shayne Kelley, Hamilton’s “accountability partner” for the last year in Texas. Kelley, a close friend of Michael Moye, Hamilton’s agent, will travel with the Angels and serve as Hamilton’s chaperone, confidant and advisor.

“They’re going to help me with my support system, put things in place that I had with the Rangers,” said Hamilton, who relapsed twice in 2009 and once last spring. “Obviously, I’ve had a past history of making mistakes. It’s one of those things where I think the Angels see the risk and the reward.”