The money could have been greener on the other side of free agency — and the country — but not necessarily the grass.
Jered Weaver endeared himself to a legion of sports fans, if not his agent, on Tuesday when he acknowledged hours before the Angels’ game against the Chicago White Sox that he had allowed a considerable hometown discount to sign a five-year, $85-million contract extension.
The 28-year-old right-hander and two-time All-Star, who grew up in Simi Valley and played at Long Beach State, would have become a free agent after 2012.
With another standout season — Weaver is 14-6 with a major league-leading 2.10 earned run average — he might have been in line for a CC Sabathia-type contract of seven years and $161 million.
Fans were skeptical Weaver would remain an Angel beyond 2012 because Weaver’s agent, Scott Boras, prefers his clients go to free agency, where they can earn the most money.
But when the Angels approached Weaver about an extension a few weeks ago, Weaver instructed Boras to consummate a deal, even if it meant potentially leaving tens of millions on the table.
“How much more money do you need?” Weaver said, eliciting cheers from a small but raucous crowd at an Angel Stadium news conference. “I’ve never played this game for money. I play it for love and for championships.
“There comes a point in time when you do have to deal with the business side of things, but I don’t think money had anything to do with my decision. I could have gotten more, whatever, who cares? I’m here, and that’s all I care about.”
Attempts to reach Boras, who was out of town Tuesday, were unsuccessful. The agent was quoted in Tuesday’s USA Today as saying Weaver’s decision to forgo free agency “would cost him millions and millions of dollars.”
Did Weaver, who is 78-45 with a 3.30 ERA in his career, go against the advice of Boras to sign with the Angels?
“Scott is who he is,” Weaver said. “A lot of people know him to go out there and get the most [money], but I’m very secure with what I have here. It was my decision. He showed me what the options are. I told him I wanted to be an Angel, to stay in Southern California. It didn’t take too much twisting of arms to get this done.”
The fact that one of Weaver’s best friends, former teammate John Lackey, is struggling after signing a five-year, $82.5-million deal with the Boston Red Sox before 2010 wasn’t lost on Weaver.
“There’s no better fit than to stay here,” Weaver said. “You can go to the East Coast, but I don’t really like to deal with that stuff. I like the seven media guys in our locker room instead of the 50 [there].”
Weaver was asked what made him different from professional athletes who would hold out for top dollar.
“It’s the way I was brought up,” Weaver said. “If $85 million is not enough to take care of my family and other generations of my family, then you’re stupid.”
Right fielder Torii Hunter called Weaver’s decision to ignore the lure of a richer payday “refreshing,” saying the deal was smart for both sides.
“If [Boras] tells you to turn down five years, $85 million and you blow out your arm next year and miss two seasons, is your agent going to pay you back for that bad advice?” Hunter said. “Your agent is there to give you good advice, and that’s what Boras did.”
Negotiations between Boras and the Angels on Weaver’s first deal weren’t as amicable. After the Angels used the 12th pick of the 2004 draft on Weaver, the pitcher held out for a year, not signing for $4 million until hours before the deadline in May 2005. Boras was seeking $10 million.
“It was a rough time for me and my family, going through that process,” Weaver said. “I didn’t want to have that feeling again. … Loyalty is very important to me. The Angels drafted me. I want to stay here until I get a ring, or two, or three.”