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Vlad tops list of Angels' free-agent signings

MLB.com @DougMillerMLB

Before bidding adieu to the Hot Stove season, we asked our 30 beat reporters to look back at their club's past and answer the following question: Who is the best free-agent signing in the team's history?

We narrowed the choices with the following parameters: The signings had to be multiyear contracts, to exclude fluky one-year deals and to focus on players who got real commitments. And contract extensions don't count. Only instances when every team in the league had a chance to bid on the player were allowed, including international free agents who received Major League contracts.

Before bidding adieu to the Hot Stove season, we asked our 30 beat reporters to look back at their club's past and answer the following question: Who is the best free-agent signing in the team's history?

We narrowed the choices with the following parameters: The signings had to be multiyear contracts, to exclude fluky one-year deals and to focus on players who got real commitments. And contract extensions don't count. Only instances when every team in the league had a chance to bid on the player were allowed, including international free agents who received Major League contracts.

The date was Jan. 14, 2004. The Angels were coming off a down, injury-riddled 2003 season that followed the first World Series championship in franchise history.

There were holes to fill on the roster, and new owner Arte Moreno wasn't shy about spending money to improve the starting rotation and lineup. So with that mind, the Angels signed right-handers Kelvim Escobar and Bartolo Colon to lucrative free-agent deals and added free-agent slugger Jose Guillen, all by Christmas.

The New Year came and went with nary a peep from the presumed-to-be-done Angels. Then came the stunner. The Angels swooped into a crowded chase for the best hitter on the market, soon-to-be-29-year-old Vladimir Guerrero, and signed him to a five-year, $70 million deal.

Hot Stove Tracker

"That was amazing," said former Angels center fielder Darin Erstad, Guerrero's teammate at the time. "That was one of those deals where I know exactly where I was when I heard the news. And I just smiled and said, 'Here we go. Game on.'"

Guerrero was already well into a career that many believe has him destined for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This was Guerrero's first year on the ballot, and he fell just 15 votes shy of election, making him almost a certainty for enshrinement in the next couple of years.

His body of work from what ended up being six glorious years with the Angels will have a large say in his Cooperstown fate.

Guerrero showed up in 2004 and anchored his team in an unforgettable rally to the American League West title. He hit .337 with 39 home runs and 126 RBIs, put up an OPS of .989 and slashed .363/.424/.726 with 11 homers and 25 RBIs in the final month of the season.

That earned him the AL MVP Award and everlasting legend status in Southern California. He only added to it. He hit over 30 homers in 2005 and '06, reached triple digits in RBIs in each of the first four years of his deal, and before he signed with Texas for the 2010 season, he had hit 173 homers and put up a .973 OPS with the Angels. The Angels won the AL West in five of his six years with the club.

"Vlad came over to us in his prime, and the impact was huge," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "His legacy as to how he propelled our organization forward, it's there.

"When you get a player of Vlad's caliber, often they make everyone around them better, and he did. He was never flustered and played aggressively. He set the tone for the way we wanted to play baseball. He was a building block."

Honorable mentions

Mike Trout, 2014: This isn't a free-agent signing, but Trout's six-year, $144.5 million contract extension could go down as one of the best deals in team history because Trout is shaping up to make a run as one of the great players in baseball history. Trout's already won two AL MVP Awards (2014 and '16) by age 25, and he finished second in voting the three times he didn't win it.

Don Baylor, 1977: Baylor immediately bolstered the Angels' offense and had six memorable seasons in Anaheim, hitting at least 24 homers four times while helping the club to division titles in 1979 and '82. He won the AL MVP Award in the "Yes We Can" year of '79. Baylor slashed .296/.371/.530, hit 36 homers, drove in an AL-high 139 runs and scored 120 times that season.

Colon, 2004: Big Bart didn't strike gold for the Angels right away, but he was a key performer for the team over the first two years of his four-year, $51 million contract, winning 39 games and going 21-8 with a 3.48 ERA to win the AL Cy Young Award in the division-winning 2005 season.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.

Los Angeles Angels