Hamilton the push Halos need to reach next level
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim don't give up easily.
A year ago, the Angels, unable to advance to the postseason in back-to-back campaigns, and watching the Texas Rangers not only win the American League West both years but also claim the AL pennant, decided to see if they could shake up the division.
They landed the game's premiere free agent, Albert Pujols, and then wooed the Rangers' No. 1 starter, C.J. Wilson, as a free agent to strengthen their rotation.
So much for that idea.
The Angels did increase their win total from 86 games in 2011 to 89 in '12, and the Rangers were knocked off the top of the AL West. But when all was said and done, the Angels also slipped into third place in the division, the Rangers to second and it was Oakland that wound up on top looking down at everyone else.
Give the Angels an A for effort, though.
They went back at it again the past offseason.
This time, they raided the Rangers once again, and this time they reinforced an already formidable lineup by again signing the biggest name on the free-agent market: Josh Hamilton, who had been a mainstay in the middle of the Texas lineup the last five years, including winning the AL MVP in 2010.
Not only did the Angels make the deal to lure Hamilton, but Texas had interest in keeping him, and Seattle felt "very comfortable" with its effort to sign him.
But here's the kicker. The only one of the four holdover teams in the division -- Houston joined the AL West this offseason -- that didn't take a run at Hamilton was Oakland, and guess who Hamilton has installed in the role of divisional favorites for 2013?
Yep, the A's.
"You have to say Oakland," said Hamilton. "They won last year. ... It's a tough division. You look up and down, pitching-wise, and it is a tough division to be in as a hitter."
Hamilton, however, has done just fine battling that AL West pitching the last five years. Try a .305 batting average, 142 home runs and 506 RBIs. The No. 1 pick in the 1999 Draft by Tampa Bay, his career was sidetracked by drug and alcohol problems, which led to a three-year suspension (2003-05), Hamilton has lived up to the on-field expectations.
Now he's been given a new burden, combining with Pujols for a lights-out, right-left, Nos. 3-4 lineup combo that can get the Angels back on track. He is comfortable with the idea.
An 0-for-3 -- a ground out to short and two fly balls to center -- in his spring debut during the Angels 7-7 Cactus League tie with Arizona on Tuesday afternoon didn't even cause the slightest tweak in his focus.
"It was a little awkward at first," Hamilton said of the comfort factor in the Angels' clubhouse. "I played against these guys for five years, but guys are guys. It's hard to find a clubhouse I don't fit in."
Texas president Nolan Ryan can attest to Hamilton fitting in to the Rangers' clubhouse scene.
"You don't replace a talent like that," the Hall of Fame pitcher turned club exec said earlier in the week, "the dimension he brought to a club, as far as playing baseball. He made a big impact on our organization. We don't go to two World Series without him."
Ryan just smiled when mention was made of Hamilton questioning the commitment of baseball fans in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
"Josh is making adjustments, emotionally and mentally," said Ryan. "He is sorting through a lot of things."
And that comes after him sorting through the offseason contract offers, including the one from Seattle, which has mainly been under the radar in addressing the need to add a veteran influence. But the club did try to make a splash and lure Hamilton to the Pacific Northwest.
"We felt we were close," said Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik. "We thought we were a player."
The Angels were the ones who came out the winner in the bidding game. The game, however, is played on the field, not in negotiations.
"Josh really makes our lineup special," Angels GM Jerry Dipoto said. "If everyone can stay on the field, it looks like a heck of lineup to me."
Right now, the focus isn't on winning games. It's about Hamilton getting comfortable in his new environment.
"The more time I am with the guys, the more comfortable I get," he said. "The newness wears off eventually."
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.