ANAHEIM -- Make no mistake, owner Arte Moreno knows all about what this Josh Hamilton signing means to the Angels' bubbling rivalry with the free-spending Dodgers.
"I personally can't wait to play them," Moreno said at Hamilton's Saturday press conference. "I mean, think about how much fun it's going to be."
But that doesn't mean his Hamilton signing was a response to the Dodgers.
Quite the contrary, in fact.
In many ways, sources familiar with the team's thinking said, the Angels actually preferred Hamilton over Zack Greinke, the ace pitcher who was linked to the Angels all offseason but ultimately signed a six-year, $147 million contract with the cross-town rivals.
Greinke may have easily been the best available pitcher. But Hamilton was basically a two-for-one signing, because he gives the Angels one of baseball's deepest lineups and because he allows general manager Jerry Dipoto to trade an expendable player -- most likely Peter Bourjos and/or Kendrys Morales -- for a necessary starting pitcher.
Asked about the Dodgers' new ownership group, which has pushed the payroll to a Major League record of over $215 million, Moreno said: "You know what, I think it's great. I think it's just great. I'll tell you why I think it's great: Because those fans have been invested in that team since they moved here in '58, and they've had great success."
But Moreno tried to quell any talk of his full-court press on Hamilton being a direct response to the Dodgers' acquisition of Greinke.
The timeline seems to justify that, too.
Moreno intended to go into the offseason with a payroll between $140 and $145 million, with Greinke as the prime target. And they showed no interest in Hamilton at the General Managers' Meetings of early November, a source said.
But their direction changed drastically on Dec. 3, Day 1 of the Winter Meetings.
That day, Dipoto sat down with Greinke's agent, Casey Close, and heard what he had been dreading all along -- the ace pitcher was looking for something in the neighborhood of six years and $150 million.
At that point, he went with an alternate plan: Go cheaper with the rotation and heavy on the bullpen. And once he acquired two starters (Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton) and two relievers (Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson) to put the payroll at roughly $140 million, the perception was that the Angels were done making big-ticket signings.
But unbeknownst to anyone outside the organization, a wrinkle had been put in place.
"We just made a decision in saying we have to get a couple relievers and a couple pitchers and try to take care of business then," Moreno explained. "Then if I want to bust the budget like I did last year, I just say, 'If there's a crack in the door, and we have a shot at getting one of the best players ...'"
That player -- the only player this year he'd do it for, according to sources -- was Hamilton.
Knowing this, Dipoto and assistant GM Scott Servais had a two-hour lunch with Hamilton and his wife, Katie, in Nashville Tenn., on Dec. 4. And six days later, this past Monday, Moreno, his wife, Carole, and president John Carpino met with Hamilton in Westlake, Texas, for more than four hours.
The Angels wanted to leave there with a deal, but Hamilton needed time. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, Moreno guaranteed five years and demanded a quick response. And at 6 p.m. PT that day, the 31-year-old slugger agreed -- without circling back to the Rangers.
"I was excited to see that they were excited," said Hamilton, who didn't get any formal offers from any other clubs. "To see a team, see people who really pursue you, really want you to be part of the organization, that's what a player wants to see. I was just excited to see Arte getting after it."
Hamilton's five-year, $125 million contract comes with a full no-trade clause, is back-loaded and offers no special language that protects the Angels in case of a relapse (though Major League Baseball's Drug Policy already does by nature).
Hamilton gets a $10 million signing bonus up front, then is paid $15 million from 2013 and '14, $23 million in '15 and $30 million in each of the final two years. The extra $2 million will be donated to Hamilton's charity.
The contract puts the Angels' 2013 payroll at roughly $165 million, which would be a franchise record and $5 million more than they finished at last year.
But they also operate with no debt, have drawn more than three million fans each of the last 10 years, will soon enjoy a $3 billion media deal and, as Carpino said: "Arte really wants to win."
"He wants to win for the fans, he wants to win for the organization, and making investments like this increase your chances," Carpino added. "Nothing's guaranteed, but it just increases your chances."