Priceless Outfielder Joins Angels for $90 Million

Outfielder Torii Hunter and the Los Angeles Angels reached a preliminary agreement Wednesday night on a five-year contract thought to be worth $90 million.

"They play the game the right way," Hunter said. "They play hard-nosed baseball."

The agreement is subject to a physical.

The 32-year-old becomes the much-needed hitter the Angels sought to protect Vladimir Guerrero in the batting order. Hunter hit .297 with 28 homers and 107 RBIs for the Minnesota Twins this year and is a seven-time Gold Glove winner.

He finished 15th in AL MVP balloting and was on the AL's All-Star team for the second time in his career.

"We are very excited to have Torii joining our organization," Angels general manager Tony Reagins said in a statement. "Not only is he an outstanding ballplayer but he's also an outstanding human being. He'll impact our ballclub and community in a very positive way."

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals and Washington Nationals were among those interested in Hunter. The newspaper reports that Reagins, the Angels' rookie general manager, called Hunter's agent Larry Reynolds on Tuesday and a deal for Hunter came together quickly.

"You're a little surprised, huh?" Reynolds told the newspaper Wednesday night. "It all happened within the last 24 hours."

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 will join a talented outfield that includes Gary Matthews Jr., Garret Anderson, Guerrero, Juan Rivera and Reggie Willits.

With Guerrero in right and Anderson in left, the move leaves no space in the starting outfield for Matthews Jr. The Angels said the center fielder, who signed a $50 million, five-year deal as a free agent last offseason, could see time at designated hitter and spell the corner outfielders.

Matthews was sent human growth hormone in 2004 from a pharmacy being investigated for illegal distribution of performance-enhancing drugs, The Times Union of Albany, N.Y., reported last winter. Matthews denied using HGH, which was not banned by baseball for players with major league contracts until 2005.

With Hunter gone, the low-budget Twins' attention turns to two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. His contract expires after the 2008 season, and other teams think Minnesota will make him available if he doesn't agree to an extension.

Hunter said he also had negotiated seriously with the Rangers, but he thought they were a year or two from contending. The White Sox and Royals also were interested.

Staying with the Twins wasn't a real option.

"Sometimes it's time to move on," Hunter said. "Sometimes your welcome is gone."

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.

Hunter recalled when the Angels eliminated his Twins in the 2002 AL playoffs en route to the World Series title.

"I watched the Angels go to work on us. They play the game the right way," he said. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Hunter added: "Maybe I can do some damage and get about three rings out of this."

According to the Times, the Angels were also in trade talks with the Florida Marlins for Miguel Cabrera, but it wasn't known Wednesday night whether the Angels would still pursue Cabrera.

Reagins has made a splash on the job even before the agreement with Hunter. On Monday, the Angels traded Orlando Cabrera to the White Sox for pitcher Jon Garland.

For his career, Hunter is a .271 hitter with 192 homers and 711 RBIs in 1,234 games.


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