At first glance, Angels look like winners
WIth Garland and Hunter on board, Halos are team to beat
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The new guys very much like what they see with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. That is a very good sign because both Torii Hunter and Jon Garland have more than an idea of what it takes to win.
The Angels, coming off a 94-victory season and their third AL West title in four years, didn't need anything resembling wholesale changes. But they still made two notable upgrades.
They signed Hunter, a seven-time Gold Glove center fielder, a run-producer and an effervescent personality, who played on four division-winning teams in Minnesota. And they traded for Garland, who twice won 18 games and who pitched superbly in the 2005 postseason, helping the Chicago White Sox win the World Series.
The Angels paid dearly for both: A five-year, $90-million contract in the case of Hunter, and trading a front-line shortstop, Orlando Cabrera, in the case of Garland. Obviously, the Angels expect extreme value in return, but the record of both players says that is a completely justifiable expectation.
On the flip side, how do the new acquisitions view their new surroundings and their new chances? It's still Spring Training, but at this point, they're somewhere between fired up and blissful about the whole Angels situation.
"Right now, I see talent," Hunter said on Wednesday. "I see Vladimir [Guerrero], I see Gary Matthews, I see Garret Anderson, I see [John] Lackey, I see [Jared] Weaver, I see Garland, I see good pitchers -- I see it all. Howie Kendrick is a young guy; if he steps up and does his thing, anything can happen. I see nothing but talent to get the job done.
"I'm an athlete first, so I know other athletes. I'm the one that knows what it takes to win. Right now, we've got what it takes.
"Just playing with Vladimir, he's one of my favorite hitters in the game. But just watching him work every day, the way he hits the ball, man, that's impressive. I've never been a part of anybody in my lineup hitting like that, besides David Ortiz one year."
Garland pitched against the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday, getting his work in while giving up three runs in four innings, but not getting hit particularly hard. It was almost the definition of a routine Spring Training outing in mid-March. But when the topic shifted to the Angels' prospects for the 2008 season, there was nothing mundane about Garland's expectations. He likes this club's intangible qualities.
"I'm excited for the season, because [the talent] is there," Garland said. "But beyond ability and what you see on the field, the chemistry that I've seen so far, even with so many guys in camp, the chemistry has been great. Everybody's been getting along real well, joking around, having a good time.
"I think that's where it starts, having a good time, enjoying each other's company; it all goes up from there. You see each other pretty much every day for six months. It's a grind, but if you know you're coming to the field and you're going to have a good time and enjoy being around the guys, it shows in the play. From what I've seen so far, like I said, I'm excited to get into the season."
Coming to a new team -- even a solid, winning team -- can be a difficult transition for a veteran player, particularly one such as Hunter who has spent his entire career with one organization. But there hasn't been much difficulty for Hunter in this transition.
"I thought it would be tough, making the change after being with one organization for 15 years," he said. "But this organization is kind of like the Twins. These guys, they play hard, they take the extra base, they play the game the right way. So it's pretty much the same -- different uniform, different color, different name, but I think the transition was easy for me.
"The only thing that's different for me is the managers. Gardy [Ron Gardenhire], I've known him since I was 17 years old in 1993, so we were more friends than a coach and a player. But Mike Scioiscia, he's kind of like Gardy; he's down-to-earth, he's easy to talk to and he wants you to come into his office so he can talk trash. He talks a lot of trash, but it's funny trash. But also, Mike Scioscia is very smart, very intelligent and he knows the game and I respect that. I think I can learn a lot from him."
It helps that the Angels have become a truly legitimate destination for a free agent with many options before him. Torii Hunter didn't want to leave the Twins, but if he had to leave, the Angels were very high on the list of alternative employers.
"This is one team I always wanted to play for," Hunter said. "You can talk to anybody. I always said if I become a free agent, this is one place I'm going to look to play, because of their stadium. You talk to the players in the Major Leagues, 80 percent of them say that they love it. I love hitting in there, love fielding in there, the grass is great, it's better than turf, the climate is 70 degrees.
"And you can work on your tan there, too," Hunter said with a smile. "In the dome, I'm light-skinned."
Yes, it appears that the reasons for liking the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are even more numerous than previously thought. For the two most prominent newcomers on this team, first impressions all point in exactly the right direction.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.