Vladimir Guerrero finally will have some protection in the batting order. The Los Angeles Angels, who have been trying to land another strong hitter for several years, agreed to a five-year, $90 million deal Wednesday with free agent Torii Hunter, who hit .297 with 28 homers and drove in 107 runs for Minnesota this year.
The deal is subject to Hunter's passing a physical.
A seven-time Gold Glove winner, the 32-year-old Hunter will be the everyday center fielder and hit in the middle of the lineup, making it tougher for opposing pitchers to pitch around Guerrero.
Although Hunter's arrival seems to make last season's center fielder, Gary Matthews Jr. odd man out in an outfield with Guerrero in right and Anderson in left, Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said it would give him more options.
He plans to rotate players at DH and use Matthews to spell Guerrero and Anderson.
"Torii is going to be in center field virtually every day. Gary will be in the outfield almost every day, so the other two guys will split up the DH," Scioscia said in a conference call.
"We want all four of those bats in the lineup."
Matthews was in New York this month to meet with baseball officials and discuss allegations that he received human grown hormone. He was sent HGH 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 has denied using HGH, which was not banned by baseball for players with major league contracts until 2005.
New general manager Tony Reagins said he has no indications that Matthews might be suspended.
Acquiring Hunter could lead to trading Matthews — perhaps to the Baltimore Orioles for shortstop Miguel Tejada.
Two days earlier, the Angels traded Gold Glove shortstop Orlando Cabrera to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Jon Garland.
Reagins, busy so far this winter, likely will stay that way this winter since the Angels currently have six starting pitchers, plus Matthews, among others who might go in a trade.
Reagins, who took over for Bill Stoneman after the season, said signing Hunter has no bearing on other moves, adding that he remains open to anything he believes will strengthen the team.
He added, "But I like our club today. We have a productive offense and defense and think we're going to pitch well. If it started today, I'd be ready to go."
The Angels had agreed to a $50 million, five-year deal with Matthews last November, so Hunter was surprised they were even interested in him.
"They shocked me. I didn't think they needed a center fielder," Hunter said. "They shocked the world."
Reagins first contacted Hunter's agent, Larry Reynolds, this week.
"They came in trying to get something done in a hurry and it worked out," Reynolds said.
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 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 said he also had negotiated seriously with the Texas Rangers, but he thought they were a year or two from contending. The Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals also were interested.
He said he had no talks with the Twins.
"That's the team I grew up with. I just thought they were going in another direction. Sometimes it's time to move on. Sometimes your welcome is gone," Hunter said. "But now that doesn't matter. I'm an Angel.
"Maybe I can do some damage and get about three rings out of this."
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.