ANAHEIM, Calif. — Howie Kendrick didn't give up his first three years of free-agent eligibility just to play next to Albert Pujols in the Los Angeles Angels' infield.
The All-Star second baseman was determined to stick with the only team that has ever employed him no matter who might be over at first base.
"We've gotten better, and I wanted to be a part of it," Kendrick said Tuesday after the formal announcement of his new four-year, $33.5 million deal with the Angels. "But even more than that, I've been in this organization so long, it feels like a home. It's definitely special to stay home. ... The fan base, the city, the weather, it's all great. There's other teams that win, too, but we win in 70 degree weather."
While the big-money signings of Pujols and left-hander C.J. Wilson commanded all the attention in general manager Jerry Dipoto's first two months on the job, the Angels also have essentially kept intact the core of last season's team, which missed the playoffs despite finishing with Los Angeles' eighth winning record in the past decade.
The Angels have stayed among baseball's most consistent winners during manager Mike Scioscia's reign, and Kendrick realizes that's a rarity.
"We won a lot last year, too," Kendrick said of the Angels, who went 86-76 last season, but finished 10 games behind two-time AL champion Texas in the division standings. "We didn't get enough wins, but with the additions we made, we're going to be a team to be reckoned with. There's a lot to be said for free agency, but I've been a part of this organization since 2002, and it means a lot to me."
Dipoto still must make deals with Gold Glove shortstop Erick Aybar, third baseman Alberto Callaspo and long-injured first baseman Kendrys Morales, who are all eligible for arbitration. But the Angels are largely prepared for spring training next month in Tempe, Ariz., where they hope to begin building toward a World Series run.
Dipoto didn't hesitate to make a long-term commitment to Kendrick, emphasizing the importance of sticking with a homegrown player who bounced back from a midseason demotion to the minors in 2009 with two strong seasons.
"We've got a player here who has been nothing but successful in the organization," Dipoto said. "We're building a bridge toward what we hope will be a successful career. We believe he's a strong piece of our foundation moving forward."
While Dipoto says it's "unlikely you're going to see any more significant additions" to the Angels, he's still snooping around for bullpen help.
Although Pujols' signing will force the Angels to find new positions for two fairly accomplished first basemen, injuries have prevented Mark Trumbo and Morales from doing much in the offseason.
Dipoto isn't particularly concerned about the injury rehabilitation of Trumbo, who led the Angels in homers and RBIs as a rookie last season. A stress fracture in Trumbo's right foot has prevented him from participating in any baseball activities since he missed the final three games of the regular season, hindering his chances of possibly moving to third base this season.
"Mark is going to come to spring training with the rest of the group, and we'll deal with it from there," Dipoto said.
Dipoto also confirmed the Angels still have no timetable for the return of Morales, who hasn't played since breaking his left ankle while jumping on home plate to celebrate a game-ending grand slam in late May 2010. The Cuban slugger, who appeared headed for stardom before his injury, is expected to resume baseball activities soon.
With Pujols entrenched at first base, Trumbo, Morales, Bobby Abreu and others all might end up splitting time as the Angels' designated hitter. Although the Angels could relieve that glut with a trade, Dipoto thinks it's not a bad problem to have — particularly since Trumbo and Morales are both fairly inexpensive for their abilities.
"Depending on how quickly things happen ... we could find ourselves with an upside that is very significant at those positions," Dipoto said.
Although Kendrick wanted to stay in Anaheim even before Pujols arrived, he was just as excited as his teammates to see the Angels' aggressive deal to land the three-time NL MVP. Kendrick believes the Angels' long-standing chemistry will only be improved by the respected Dominican slugger.
"I think he'll feel welcome when he comes into that locker room," Kendrick said. "I don't think there will be a problem with him fitting in. What I've heard and what I've seen, I like him. I'm interested in learning from a guy with that much talent. I'm interested in getting in and seeing how he works in the batting cage."