The Angels believe Gary Matthews Jr. can be the anchor of their outfield needs after signing the speedy center fielder to a five-year contract.

"I think he's figured it out," Manager Mike Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times. "Last year, he was consistent from both sides of the plate, his power played at home and on the road -- it wasn't just a Texas thing, playing in that park -- and being a premium defender, that's a priority for us. ... The bottom line is he'll be productive offensively and a difference-maker in center field."

The Angels made 122 errors last season, the highest total in the American League.

"When you have someone who plays at a high level defensively, it makes the guys around him better," Scioscia said, referring to Garret Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero.

"Gary's range will help G.A. and Vlad. He'll bring the whole outfield play to a higher level. And it makes us a lot better with Figgy being able to concentrate on one position."

Last year's center fielder, Chone Figgins, will become a full-time third baseman next season.

A homecoming for Williams: Pitcher Woody Williams grew up in Houston and always had a wish to play for his hometown team. A former "Astros Buddy," Williams' wish came true Friday when the veteran right-hander signed a two-year contract with the Astros.

With free agents Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens still undecided if they are playing next year, much less with the Astros, the Astros had a void in the starting rotation. Last season with the San Diego Padres, Williams was 12-5 with a 3.65 ERA. In 14 seasons, he is 124-101.

Williams played in high school at Cy-Fair and after attending Alvin Community College, Williams starred at the University of Houston and was an all-region shortstop. Williams has also had success in his career at Minute Maid Park, where he is 9-3 with a 4.42 ERA in 13 starts.

"I still can't believe it's happened," Williams told the Houston Chronicle at a news conference. "I've been a fan my whole life. I grew up in Houston. It's just something that I've always looked forward to but never dreamed it would happen. Now, here I am toward the end of my career, but the timing couldn't have been better."

Ramirez eyes a quick start: Through May of last year, Chicago Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez had just nine home runs. But he managed to finish the year with a whopping 38, 24 of which came after June 30.

With that as a backdrop to the 2007 season, Ramirez is looking forward to getting off to a much quicker start.

"Last year, if I had a good April and May, I would have hit 100 home runs," Ramirez told the Chicago Tribune.

It's the fast start, he says, that keys the entire season.

"You get a big monkey off your back if you do that," he said. "I'm looking forward to doing that."

Lee will bolster Astros' lineup: Needing a slugger to hit behind All-Star Lance Berkman, the Houston Astros fulfilled one of their offseason wishes by signing left fielder Carlos Lee to a six-year contract. The deal is the largest in Houston history.

Lee is a two-time All-Star and a career .286 hitter. Last season for Milwaukee and Texas he hit .300 with 37 home runs and 116 RBIs.

"All I can say is, I won't disappoint you," Lee told the Houston Chronicle. "Let's go for the championship."

Lee has averaged more than 30 home runs and 100 RBIs over the last four seasons. His bat in the lineup should only benefit Berkman, who was often pitched around last season yet still finished third in voting for the Most Valuable Player.

"Well, most importantly, it gives you a bona fide run producer that can lend support to Lance," Astros catcher Brad Ausmus said.

Said general manager Tim Purpura: "As the last two seasons have gone, the offensive production hasn't been there for us. We actually scored more runs last (season) than we did the prior year. But obviously from a situational point of view, we didn't get done the things we needed to do. So to have somebody like Carlos in the middle of that lineup protecting Berkman was an absolute, No. 1 priority for us."

Estrada, Davis fill needs: The Milwaukee Brewers were looking for a good-hitting catcher, and the Arizona Diamondbacks needed help in their starting rotation. Both teams met their needs over the weekend.

The Brewers acquired Johnny Estrada from the Diamondbacks, along with pitchers Claudio Vargas and Greg Aquino for left-handed starter Doug Davis and Minor Leaguers Dana Eveland and David Krynzel.

Estrada hit .302 with 11 home runs and 71 RBIs in 115 games last year for Arizona and will be the starting backstop for the Brewers in 2007.

"Catchers who hit .300 are hard to find," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We still like Damian (Miller), but he was hurt a lot the last two months. We control Estrada's contract for two more years (before free agency), which was important to us."

Melvin also said Estrada has a good arm and handles pitchers well. With Estrada and Miller in the fold, Melvin is happy with the club's catching situation heading into next season.

Davis became a mainstay in the Brewers rotation in late 2003 and has not missed a start since then. He has also surpassed 200 innings pitched in each of his three full seasons with the Brewers.

"His walks were a little up (last season)," general manager Josh Byrnes told the Arizona Republic, "but I think a lot of his stuff and his supporting statistics were indicators that nothing was terribly wrong."

Davis, 31, who throws a fastball, cutter, curveball and a changeup, is arbitration eligible for 2007 and could become a free agent after next season. Byrnes hopes to have talks with Davis about a possible contract extension.

"We'll talk to both of them (Davis and Livan Hernandez) about the possibility of a longer stay here, but we'll see," Byrnes said. "Spending over-market prices is probably not something we're in a hurry to do."

-- Red Line Editorial