Sports Outside the Beltway

Angels Sign Shea Hillenbrand to 1 Year, $6.5M Contract

The Los Angeles Angels didn’t waste much time finding another hitter after Juan Rivera broke his left leg playing winter ball in Venezuela.

The Angels agreed with free-agent first baseman Shea Hillenbrand on a $6.5 million, one-year contract on Tuesday.

“We’ve always liked Hillenbrand’s bat, and when we got the news that Rivera was injured and that it might cost him some time into the season, that provided impetus to get another bat,” Angels general manager Bill Stoneman said on a conference call.

Rivera, injured Friday when he was running to first base and collided with a pitcher covering the bag, is scheduled to undergo surgery on his left tibia Wednesday in Florida. It’s uncertain how long he will be sidelined.

Hillenbrand, who split last season between Toronto and San Francisco, gets $6 million next year, and the Angels hold a $6.5 million option for 2008 with a $500,000 buyout. The option could become guaranteed based on his plate appearances next season.

Before the deal is finalized, Hillenbrand must pass a physical.

The 31-year-old Hillenbrand hit a combined .277, with a career-high 21 home runs and 68 RBI in 141 games last season. He finished with 73 runs and 27 doubles.

He batted .301 and hit 12 homers for the Blue Jays before being designated for assignment July 19. Hillenbrand had written “play for yourself” on a board the Blue Jays use to post batting practice times and later that the “ship was sinking” before manager John Gibbons challenged him to a fight during a team meeting.

Asked how much he knew about the run-in, Stoneman said, “It wasn’t pleasant, but this is a new start for Shea, who fits nicely into our system. Back when it happened, we had some conversations [with the Blue Jays], but recently, no. That was the past and it’s gone.”

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Hillenbrand should provide some versatility because he could be used at first base, third base or DH.

“His bat is what we need now,” Scioscia said.

Hillenbrand was traded to the Giants on July 21 for pitchers Vinnie Chulk and Jeremy Accardo, and hit .248 with nine homers in 60 games with San Francisco. An All-Star in 2002 and 2005, Hillenbrand has a .287 career average with 104 homers and 459 RBI.

The 28-year-old Rivera had career highs in batting average (.310), runs (65), hits (139), home runs (23) and RBI (85) last season.

This is a great move by the Angels. Not only does he give them a run producing bat but he can fill in at 1B, DH, and 3B (but only in emergency). This move could also lead to the team trading incumbent 1B Casey Kotchman, who still has value, for some bullpen help or as a part of a bigger deal. Kotchman could be to another team what Adrian Gonzalez was to the San Diego Padres. He is a slick fielder with a smooth, compact stroke and an incredible eye and patience.

Great move by the Angels!

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