ANAHEIM -- Six years ago, over the span of 48 frenzied hours at a hotel in Dallas, the Angels pulled off a $331.5 million free-agent splurge that left the baseball world stunned.On the morning of Dec. 8, 2011, the final day of the annual 2011 Winter Meetings, news broke that
ANAHEIM -- Six years ago, over the span of 48 frenzied hours at a hotel in Dallas, the Angels pulled off a $331.5 million free-agent splurge that left the baseball world stunned.
On the morning of Dec. 8, 2011, the final day of the annual 2011 Winter Meetings, news broke that the Angels had agreed to a 10-year, $254 million deal with slugger Jose Pujols. An hour later, reports surfaced that they had also landed left-hander Christopher Wilson -- the top pitcher of that year's free-agent class -- with a five-year, $77.5 million contract.
It represented a massive coup for the Angels and then-general manager Jerry Dipoto, who was just six weeks into his tenure in Anaheim.
"I can't say in my wildest dreams I thought we'd be sitting here today," Dipoto said during a news conference discussing the transactions.
After coming up short in their attempts to sign free agents Mark Teixeira, Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre in the previous two years, the Angels had developed an unfortunate reputation as offseason bridesmaids of sorts. But a desire to snap the club's two-year playoff drought -- plus incoming local TV revenue from a new deal with FOX Sports -- drove the Angels to make a huge financial commitment to two players who they hoped would transform them into World Series contenders.
At the time, Pujols' contract was the second-most lucrative deal in baseball history, behind only Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $275 million contract with the Yankees. (Both have since been surpassed by Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million pact with the Marlins.) For perspective, the total value of Pujols' contract was $70 million more than the $183 million Arte Moreno paid to buy the team in 2003.
"It's a big swing in the balance of power in the [American League] West," Wilson said at the time. "I thought I was going to make a little bit of a difference, but [Pujols is] obviously going to make a huge one. Nobody saw that coming."
The Angels' interest in Wilson, an Orange County native who turned down a higher offer from the Marlins to sign with his hometown team, had been clear from the outset. But their pursuit of Pujols proved far more discreet.
Entering the Winter Meetings, the Cardinals and the Marlins were viewed as the frontrunners for Pujols, a nine-time All-Star, three-time National League MVP Award winner and two-time World Series champion who had forged a reputation as one of the most feared sluggers of his generation over his 11 seasons in St. Louis. The Angels weren't even mentioned in the conversation until the night of Dec. 6, and that initial report drew skepticism around the industry.
"Angels are definitely not in on Pujols," tweeted Yahoo! Sports baseball columnist Tim Brown.
"No way," said an AL general manager when asked about the Angels' rumored interest by the Los Angeles Times' Mike DiGiovanna.
But the Angels had, in fact, jumped into the mix.
On Dec. 7, Dipoto and Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano, spent all day negotiating. Dipoto later revealed that he used the service elevators and the channels beneath the hotel to reach Lozano's suite without being seen. The general manager and his staff worked until 6 a.m. on Dec. 8 and slept for just two hours before learning that they had secured both of their targets.
"There was no swooping strategy," said Dipoto, who left his post with the Angels in 2015 and is now the general manager of the Mariners. "We bided our time. I believe we exercised patience."
While the moves for Pujols and Wilson set heightened expectations for the Angels, the club was unable to fulfill its championship goals. Even with their revamped roster, the Angels missed the playoffs in 2012, and they did not return to the postseason until '14, when they won a Major League-best 98 games but were ousted by the Royals in the AL Division Series.
Wilson went 51-35 with a 3.87 ERA over his first four years with the Angels, though he did not throw a pitch in the Majors in the final season of his deal due to arm injuries. Earlier this year, he retired from baseball to pursue a career in car sales and auto racing.
The Angels still owe $114 million over four seasons to the 37-year-old Pujols, who hit 23 home runs and drove in 101 runs this past season but also batted .241 with a .286 on-base percentage and a .386 slugging percentage, all of which were career lows.
"I see Albert Pujols as the most consistent offensive player of his generation," Dipoto said when asked about the risk associated with such lengthy contracts. "I don't think we've seen the last great days of Albert Pujols."
Six years later, the Angels are still hoping those words ring true.
Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.