TEMPE, Ariz. -- This is uncharted territory for Jason Vargas -- not because he's on a new team after spending his last four seasons in Seattle, but because he'll be a free agent at season's end.
Vargas, acquired from the Mariners in exchange for Kendrys Morales on Dec. 19, will make $8.5 million in 2013. That figure is about $1 million more than projected for his final season of arbitration. And this offseason -- given Vargas' consistency and the starting pitching market around him -- he could once again surpass monetary expectations as a free agent.
Barring an unexpected long-term agreement with the Angels, Vargas will head into a free-agent market that doesn't seem to boast any clear-cut, Zack Greinke-like aces, with Matt Garza, Dan Haren, Tim Lincecum and Adam Wainwright seemingly among the best of the bunch. James Shields, Ryan Vogelsong, Jon Lester and Roy Halladay all have options for 2014.
Vargas was among baseball's most consistent starters over the last three years, averaging 204 innings while posting a 3.96 ERA. If he can repeat his 2012 season -- career bests in ERA (3.85), WHIP (1.18), innings (217 1/3) and strikeouts (141) -- the 30-year-old left-hander could be setting himself up for a nice payday.
Asked whether pitching with a looming contract situation could affect him on the mound, Vargas said: "I don't think so. I mean, I can't give you a for-sure because I've never experienced it, but there's always going to be distractions along the way. It's how well you deal with them. But for me, it's not something that I'm looking at like it's going to make or break me. I'm just confident in what I can go out there and do. As long as I stay healthy, I mean, that's the whole key. You just have to grind it."
Healthy Pujols reports to camp early
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Albert Pujols arrived early to Spring Training on Tuesday, as is his custom, and reported good health in his right knee, which underwent a minor arthroscopic procedure early in the offseason.
He'll pace himself, though. Pujols hit on the field with Josh Hamilton while pitchers and catchers had their first workout at Tempe Diablo Stadium, but will ease into defense at first base, starting with ground balls hit directly at him, according to manager Mike Scioscia.
Pujols won't be appearing in games when the Cactus League schedule begins on Feb. 23, but neither will most of the regulars. Scioscia said his everyday guys won't get into game action until March 1, with the early games put in place mostly for those participating in the World Baseball Classic (which, for the Angels, is only Erick Aybar).
"He looks great," Scioscia said of Pujols. "He looks like he's in great shape. Naturally, we're going to try to pace him in with the offseason knee surgery, but we don't anticipate it being any problem. We have a lot more time this year, which we'll make sure we make good use of."
Hamilton arrives at Angels camp lean and ready
TEMPE, Ariz. -- A new chapter of Josh Hamilton's life officially began on Tuesday, when he arrived at Spring Training in a new facility to begin a new tenure with a new team.
He's doing it at a new weight, too.
The Angels' high-priced outfielder showed up to Tempe Diablo Stadium two days earlier than scheduled and about 20 pounds lighter than normal. Hamilton had usually been between 245 and 255 pounds when arriving at Rangers camp. Now, he says, he's at 225 -- the weight at which he normally finishes the season.
"Body feels better, joints feel better, energy level is up," Hamilton reported.
The weight loss is simply a product of watching what he eats, eliminating bread from his diet and replacing processed foods with fruit and vegetable juices. He's also mostly eliminated caffeine, which he used to compensate for quitting chewing tobacco during a rough second half last season.
Hamilton credits the change in eating habits to his faith.
"The Lord kept waking me up in the middle of the night over a month period, and I'd either have the Church Channel on or Daystar Television," Hamilton said. "And every time I'd wake up, there'd be a doctor on talking about what you put in your body -- how it makes you feel. Then, I woke up one night and the juice lady was on. I always prayed that the Lord would help me feel better and help my body, this and that. That's all great, but am I doing my part? That's kind of where I was like: 'All right, it's time to do my part.'"
Pitchers and catchers had their first workout on Tuesday, taking part in pitchers fielding practice and batting practice and throwing bullpen sessions.
While that was going on, Hamilton shagged some fly balls in right field and joined Pujols for batting practice in the back fields. Hamilton knew Pujols only "in passing," but has always shared a bond with him because of their stature in the Majors and their faith.
"Today's the first time I got to spend a little time with him," Hamilton said. "I've always heard things as far as him taking his job serious, working hard, staying focused and doing the best he can to win ballgames. You can definitely see that working out with him.
"He looked good. It was one of those things where it's just good to get out there with a new teammate, somebody who's thought as highly as Albert in the game, and somebody who's probably the best player, best hitter in the game. It's going to be good. It's going to be exciting for me to possibly hit behind him and pick his brain. It'll be fun."
Madson to undergo MRI on sore elbow
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Ryan Madson, who hasn't thrown since experiencing soreness in his last bullpen session on Feb. 1, is expected to undergo an MRI on Tuesday.
The Angels want to make sure there isn't anything structurally wrong with Madson, who's recovering from Tommy John surgery that was performed last April. If the exam comes back clean, the 32-year-old right-hander will be cleared to resume throwing.
General manager Jerry Dipoto reported that the MRI is standard operating procedure for a player recovering from surgery and dealing with a temporary setback. Dipoto has said that the target for Madson's return to the field -- at some point around mid-April, with Opening Day technically possible, but a bit too ambitious -- hasn't really changed.
A bad result on the MRI, of course, could change that entirely.
Even with a clean MRI, the Angels won't get a true gauge on where Madson is until he starts appearing in games around the middle of March. But they won't rush him.
• Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout will take part in a news conference from the Angels' Spring Training site in Tempe, Ariz., at noon PT on Thursday. FOX Sports West and MLB Network will carry it live.
• MLB on FOX released its 2013 national broadcast schedule for the Saturday Game of the Week on Tuesday, and seven Angels games are in the 24-week slate. They are: April 6 at Rangers; April 20 vs. Tigers; May 4 vs. Orioles; May 18 vs. White Sox; June 8 at Red Sox; June 15 vs. Yankees; and July 27 at A's. The last two weekends of the regular season have yet to be determined.
• Lefty reliever Sean Burnett, who had two bone spurs removed from his pitching elbow over the offseason, threw four or five bullpen sessions back home in Florida before reporting to Spring Training. "It feels great," he said. "I haven't had any setbacks. It feels like it does every February. Nothing different."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read 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.