Impact of Jered Weaver's $85M contract
What it could mean for Matt Cain, Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke, among others
Jered Weaver may or may not be able to lead the Los Angeles Angels to an American League West title this season, but he's won admirers in every time zone with his "just say no" stance to Scott Boras. Weaver's decision to stay close to home and sign a five-year, $85 million contract was perceived as a step back in time to the good old days, when ballplayers aspired to wear one uniform from their rookie year through their retirement speech, and they pumped gas during the offseason rather than hang out in gated communities.
Some of the praise is a bit overblown, obviously. It's not as if Weaver will have to shop at Sam's Club and make his daily commute to the ballpark in a '78 Ford Pinto because of the money he sacrificed by signing 14 months in advance of free agency. Is the contract a tad light compared to what he could have received on the open market? It might be $50 million light. But given the hazards of the profession, it's hard to second-guess any pitcher who takes a sure thing now over a more lucrative, 60-40 proposition later.
How much of a price can you put on peace of mind and long-term financial security in an occupation where shoulders and elbows hang by a thread? Mark Prior would probably give you a different response to that question than, say, CC Sabathia would.
Highest average annual salaries among starting pitchers:
|Cliff Lee||$24M (2011-15)|
|CC Sabathia||$23M (2009-15)|
|Johan Santana||$22.9M (2008-13)|
|Roy Halladay||$20M (2011-13)|
|Carlos Zambrano||$18.3M (2008-12)|
|Barry Zito||$18M (2007-13)|
|Jake Peavy||$17.3M (2010-12)|
|Jered Weaver||$17M (2012-16)|
|A.J. Burnett||$16.5M (2009-13)|
|John Lackey||$16.5M (2010-14)|
|Justin Verlander||$16M (2010-14)|
|Source: Cots Baseball Contracts|
Through the years, prominent agent Ron Shapiro won a lot of friends and admirers by negotiating deals to keep such civic icons as Kirby Puckett, Cal Ripken Jr. and Joe Mauer close to home. Boras, in contrast, is better at setting records than crafting feel-good stories. He does not subscribe to Shapiro's mantra of "the power of nice."
But when the player has enough conviction to stand his ground, Boras will fulfill his client's wishes. Similar to Carlos Gonzalez's long-term deal with Colorado last year, Weaver's agreement helped debunk the notion that Boras plants an electrode behind his clients' ears and automatically drags them kicking and screaming to places they don't necessarily want to go.
Boras could easily cite the Gonzalez and Weaver deals as examples to make himself look more conciliatory and less hard-driving. But he's never been one to reveal a human side at the expense of his mission; that's what makes him Scott Boras.
"I don't think Scott wants to counteract [that perception]," said an American League executive. "He believes he's working for the greater good by always shooting for the market-setting contract, because Mark Teixeira's [eight-year, $180 million] deal impacts the next contract and the one after that. His stable is so big, the difference in a commission isn't as important as the macro effect of a bigger contract."
What Boras does is set the bar, in many cases, for other agents and players who follow. That brings us to the potential fallout of Jered Weaver's $85 million deal with the Angels.
Big contracts never exist in a vacuum. Owners and clubs use the most advantageous arguments to help their cause, and the same applies to players. So naturally, there's been a rush to speculation about what Weaver's contract could mean to the pitchers still left on the 2012 free-agent market. Could it "set the bar" for the other accomplished young pitchers who'll come after him?
The answer? Not likely. For the next group of pitchers, the impact of Weaver's deal lies somewhere between "very little" and "absolutely nothing."
Even with Weaver committed to the Angels, an impressive group of starters could be out there for the taking in November 2012; the most prominent names on the list are Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Francisco Liriano, John Danks, Shaun Marcum, Jonathan Sanchez and Anibal Sanchez. All those pitchers are in their late 20s (with the exception of Marcum, who will turn 30 in December) and have some very desirable attributes. But in one major respect, they're nothing like Jered Weaver.
If they go on the open market late next year, they'll be free to shop their services to all 30 clubs. Weaver, in contrast, had four-plus years of service time in Anaheim, and was negotiating with one team and one team only.
"You can't pinpoint Weaver's number and say, 'The market has been set,'" said an agent who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It's been set for Jered Weaver. The deal only becomes a benchmark if you allow it to be a benchmark."
As a Southern Californian, born and raised, Weaver is a 6-foot-7, 215-pound monument to provincialism. He experienced a dream moment when the Angels picked him 12th overall out of Long Beach State in the 2004 draft, then agonized for almost a year before signing with the club for a $4 million bonus. His heart simply wasn't in another game of chicken, and the Angels enjoyed contract leverage to a degree because everybody knew it.
The other pitchers previously mentioned here are unconstrained by geographical ties. Hamels is a San Diego kid pitching in Philadelphia. Cain is a Tennessee kid pitching in San Francisco. Danks, a Texas native who broke in with the Rangers, is pitching on the south side of Chicago. Liriano is a native Dominican playing in Minnesota. And Greinke is a native Floridian who's pitched in Kansas City and Milwaukee, and is encumbered only by the perception that he's ill-suited for the media scrutiny and other rigors of a large market.
At the moment, none of the other potential free agents has engaged in more than passing discussions about a long-term deal. They all have a lot of twists and turns yet to encounter.
"So many factors come into play when a player tries to figure out what's appropriate for him," said Landon Williams, Cain's Memphis-based agent. "We don't even know what some of those factors are yet."
Hamels is sure to attract a lot of attention because of the rampant baseball-mania in Philadelphia, and there's one particularly interesting facet to his situation. On the Baseball-reference.com web site, there's a feature that compares major leaguers statistically with their peers. Hamels' No. 1 statistical comparable: none other than Jered Weaver.
Hamels, 27, is 73-52 with a 3.39 career ERA. Weaver, 28, is 79-45 with a 3.27 ERA. Hamels has a career strikeout-to-walk-ration of 2.3 to 1, two All-Star appearances and a World Series MVP award on his résumé. Weaver has a K-to-BB ratio of 2.4 to 1, two All-Star appearances and a start in this year's Midsummer Classic in Phoenix.
But there are differences. Hamels is left-handed, while Weaver is a righty. Hamels has pitched in a phone booth at Citizens Bank Park, against DH-free lineups, while Weaver has toiled in a more pitcher-friendly environment against DH-laden lineups in Anaheim.
And here's one final factor to consider: Regardless of whether you consider Weaver's contract a bargain, the Angels made him the highest-paid starter in franchise history. Hamels pitches in a rotation with Cliff Lee, who's making $120 million over five years, and Roy Halladay, who could make $20 million annually through 2014. You can argue that Halladay and Lee are better. But they're also several years older, and once Hamels is free to negotiate with all 30 clubs, the competitive frenzy alone could help drive up his price.
"The Angels were fortunate to have a player who didn't consider money his primary concern," said an agent. "If you're Zack Greinke and you decide you love Wiener schnitzel and the fact that there aren't 45 reporters in the clubhouse in Milwaukee, maybe you give the Brewers a discount. If you're Matt Cain and you love clam chowder, fog and the freezing cold in San Francisco, maybe you do the same thing to stay in San Francisco. Otherwise, a player is going to do what he wants to do."
In the overall scheme of things, Jered Weaver is neither a trailblazer nor a benchmark. He's just a terrific pitcher who decided to stay close to home and craft his own personal feel-good story. And Angels fans couldn't be happier about it.
Follow Jerry Crasnick on Twitter: @jcrasnick