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The Angels landed a centerpiece for their holiday table with the signing of free agent Gary Matthews Jr. on Wednesday.Matthews agreed to a five-year, $50 million deal that includes a partial no-trade clause. In the process, the Angels sidestepped a strong run at Matthews by the Giants and secured a key piece of their offseason agenda. The Dodgers were also in serious talks with Matthews until they signed Juan Pierre, also on Wednesday.The deal still hinges on a physical exam that Matthews will take next week, probably Monday."His ability to be a switch-hitter, his versatility and the ability to lead off and to hit in the middle of the order" is how manager Mike Scioscia explained what Matthews brings to the Angels. "I think he is a great fit."Scioscia added that a lunch at Houston's in Santa Monica, Calif., on Tuesday, where Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen stopped by to say hello, didn't hurt.The 32-year-old will take over in center field and provide Gold Glove-caliber defense while adding speed and some power to the top of the order. Matthews will likely lead off, where he hit .313 with 19 homers and 79 RBIs for Texas last season. He also posted a .371 on-base percentage while leading the Rangers with 102 runs scored.Matthews represents an offseason victory for the Angels, a team that has seen its wish list rearranged in the past year. It was first baseman Paul Konerko that spurned a free-agent deal to remain with the White Sox last winter, and this past summer, the club couldn't land Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada or then-Brewers outfielder Carlos Lee at the trading deadline.
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers still don't have the power bat Ned Colletti said was a winter priority, but they've got plenty of leadoff hitters.Who bats where remains as much a mystery as who will drive them in after the Dodgers officially announced the signing of Juan Pierre to a five-year, $44 million contract Wednesday.Colletti gave the classic general manager lateral, saying the batting order will be up to manager Grady Little. Pierre said he'd prefer to remain a leadoff hitter, but was willing to do whatever was asked. Shortstop Rafael Furcal is other candidate to top the batting order."It doesn't matter," he said. "I've been leadoff most of my career. When I was traded to Florida, Luis Castillo batted leadoff and I was second and had no problem with it. Later, Jack McKeon put me back in leadoff. I'm probably most comfortable leading off, but it's no problem."Colletti reiterated his new offseason game plan: With the lack of power hitters available on the free-agent market, he's shifted back into a Little Ball mode."We chose to go in the same direction as last year," he said. "We'll turn our attention to pitching now. There's a hitter or two I have some interest in. We'll look for pitching for a while. It's something I'd like to get done without too much time going by. If we get enough pitching, we may add a bat down the road."That's the new strategy after losing right fielder J.D. Drew and keeping first baseman Nomar Garciaparra: gather up a surplus of pitching that could be turned into a trade for a hitter, perhaps one with a contract another club would like to get out from under. While Boston outfielder Manny Ramirez is on the market again, a better fit would be a player who could also provide defense. Seattle third baseman Adrian Beltre, the ex-Dodger, comes to mind.
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