02/26/12 3:45 PM EST
Hunter arrives, eager to learn from Pujols
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
"I'm next to two rich guys," Hunter quipped. "I won't ever pay for dinner."
This is an interesting year for Hunter, who turns 37 in July, now has 15 Major League seasons under his belt and is in the final year of his contract. The Angels' right fielder talked Sunday about dropping 16 pounds at one point this offseason, about definitely wanting to play beyond 2012 -- and about how this is probably his best shot ever at that elusive World Series ring.
The biggest reason? Hunter's new neighbor.
"I won't do nothing but pick his brain," Hunter said of Pujols. "He thinks he's going to be over here picking mine? No chance. I'm taking everything he's got."
Hunter was the Angels' primary cleanup hitter last year, batting .262 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs in 156 games.
A four-time All-Star and winner of nine straight Gold Gloves, Hunter has played in 34 career postseason games -- 13 with the Angels from 2008-09 -- but has never played in the World Series.
While he'll give the division-rival Rangers that obligatory designation as the "team to beat," Hunter believes this Angels squad -- after adding Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Kendrys Morales [when he returns from an ankle injury] to a club that won 86 games in 2011 -- has the pieces to get him where he's never gone.
"This is probably the best team I've been a part of my whole career, as far as numbers-wise," said Hunter, who will make $18 million in the last season of a $90 million deal. "We haven't done anything yet, but just looking at the team, you can tell this is a great ballclub. We just have to stay healthy, get Kendrys Morales back, our pitchers, our four aces, they need to stay healthy.
"I'm all in. All or nothing."
Hunter was all-in as soon as the offseason began. He lifted weights for two months at the esteemed Athletes' Performance Institute nearby, then took part in a running program in January that consisted of running up Arizona State University's "A" Mountain.
"Not fun," said Hunter, who also put himself on a special diet and got down from 229 pounds to 213, before putting four pounds back on so he wouldn't lose too much power.
Hunter's contract may be up at the end of the year, and the Angels may already have Mike Trout waiting in the wings, but the Arkansas product feels he's got plenty of good years left in him.
"I'm just going to keep playing and get it out of my system, because I don't want to go home and be like, 'Oh, I've got two or three years left,'" Hunter said. "So I know I have two or three good years left in me, before that fourth year and I'll just [be a fourth outfielder]. Other than that, I know I can play. My body's good, my athletic ability is good. I can go out there and play."
And Hunter, at least, knows he'll get that chance as the everyday right fielder and potential cleanup hitter -- depending on how Morales' recovery goes.
The same can't be said for several of his teammates.
The Pujols signing has created some clutter in the Angels' lineup, with guys like Mark Trumbo, Alberto Callaspo, Maicer Izturis and Bobby Abreu still unsure where they fit in. Abreu specifically voiced his frustrations recently, telling ESPNdeportes.com the Angels should trade him if there isn't an everyday role for him on the team.
Abreu wasn't seen at the Angels' clubhouse on Sunday, a day when position players got their physicals but didn't really have to show up until the first full workout on Monday.
But Hunter did get a chance to speak with Abreu -- and has no problem with his concerns.
"There's nothing wrong with that," Hunter said. "If he sits there and just takes it and nothing goes on, he's just sitting there taking it, then you would question that, like, 'Does he really want to play? Is he happy making $9 million?' No, he wants to play. It's not about the money. Some people say, 'Sit back, shut up and make your money.' No, Bobby is a player. I hate that he has to go through that or whatever, but this guy wants to play. I have nothing against that."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.