After allowing two earned runs in seven innings against the White Sox tonight, Jered Weaver's ERA ballooned all the way up to...1.30, in four starts. After a big 2010 season in which he led the majors in strikeouts, it's safe to designate Weaver as one of baseball's best young aces. As Weaver's agent Scott Boras no doubt would argue, all that remains is for Weaver to be paid like an ace.
Weaver will make $7.365MM this season after losing an arbitration case last winter and his bid for an $8.8MM salary. This result apparently caused no hard feelings between the two sides, as Weaver expressed interest in signing a long-term deal with the Angels. The subject was broached during the offseason but talks apparently went nowhere, though there's plenty of time to continue negotiations since Weaver is under team control through 2012.
Weaver will have over five years of service time after this season, and presuming he at least matches his 2010 performance, Boras will no doubt shoot for an extension matching or surpassing the biggest deals handed out to pitchers with 5+ years of service time. Jake Peavy is the current holder of this title thanks to the three-year, $52MM extension he signed with the Padres in 2007 that covered the 2010-12 seasons, and also gave Peavy a $22MM option for 2013 (with a $4MM buyout).
That deal is a bit unusual, though, since it was an extension signed when Peavy still has two more years remaining on a previous extension with San Diego. Perhaps a better comparison is the five-year, $73MM deal that Roy Oswalt signed with the Astros that locked him up from 2007 through 2011. This contract (which contains a $16MM club option for 2012 that can be bought out for $2MM) was signed during Oswalt's age-28 season, and a Weaver extension would fall at the same point in his career.
Since Weaver has yet to hit the five-season mark, let's compare the two right-handers through the first 4+ seasons of their careers. For good measure, let's throw in another pitcher who signed an extension this winter: Houston's Wandy Rodriguez.
Weaver: 64 wins, 3.55 ERA, 144 starts, 896 IP, 779 strikeouts, 3.09 K/BB rate, 1.20 WHIP, 7.8 K/9
Oswalt: 83 wins, 3.07 ERA, 145 starts (155 games overall), 980 2/3 IP, 850 strikeouts, 3.78 K/BB rate, 1.18 WHIP, 7.8 K/9
Rodriguez: 51 wins, 4.33 ERA, 135 starts (144 games overall), 790 IP, 660 strikeouts, 2.32 K/BB rate, 1.37 WHIP, 7.5 K/9
Oswalt has the edge, and he was also in the midst of a fantastic 2006 when he signed his extension in August of that year. Weaver, therefore, won't be able to catch Oswalt in overall numbers even if he keeps up his impressive early-season form. Weaver's numbers, however, are clearly superior to those of Rodriguez through 4+ years. Rodriguez delivered a very good 2010 campaign that led to a three-year, $34MM deal from the Astros that covered his final arbitration year and his first two free agent years (plus a vesting option that could pay him $10.5MM in 2014).
So, logically, a fair extension for Weaver would be a deal that pays him closer to Oswalt's $14.6MM average annual value than Rodriguez's $11.33MM average annual value, perhaps something in the neighborhood of $13.5MM per season. In terms of length, probably a three-year contract is the most reasonable given the history of Boras clients testing the free agent market. Weaver would still be able to hit free agency at age 32 and get another nice contract if he continues to pitch well past his prime years.
But, let's look at the elephant in the room -- whether or not Weaver will indeed choose to remain an Angel. Weaver will turn 30 years old in October 2012, still in his prime and able to command a huge free agent deal if he pitches well over the next two years. Durability doesn't appear to be an issue for Weaver, so there isn't any unusual risk he'd be taking by not signing an extension, especially since he looks to be in line for an eight-figure salary next season either through arbitration or just a one-year deal from the Halos.
There's also the X-factor of the relationship between Boras and the Angels organization. Owner Arte Moreno is no fan of the agent, dating back to the Mark Teixeira negotiations during the 2008-09 offseason. Though Moreno has said that he will leave dealings with Boras to GM Tony Reagins and other club personnel, no Boras client has signed with the Angels since 2008, as MLBTR's Transaction Tracker indicates.
If Los Angeles can't come to a long-term agreement with Weaver by next offseason, the club could consider selling high on its young ace and trying to deal him. Such a move wouldn't be popular with fans, but the Halos could potentially net a nice package of either short-term Major League help if they feel their current nucleus has another run in them for 2012, or perhaps for prospects to fuel the next great (Mike Trout-led) Angels team.
There would be no shortage of interest in Weaver on the trade market. To cite the most obvious candidate, there's a certain pinstriped team from the Big Apple that is in need of starting pitching and has no problems dealing with Scott Boras. Apart from the Yankees, one could imagine the Nationals, Rangers (though L.A. probably wouldn't move their ace to a division rival) or even the Cubs having both the interest and the resources to acquire Weaver and give him the extension that would probably be required in such a trade.
The numbers are there for a fair extension between Weaver and the Angels, and the right-hander has himself expressed an interest in remaining with the team. A number of obstacles, however, seem to be standing between Weaver remaining an Angel past (or even though) the 2012 season.