TEMPE, Ariz. -- At one time, I thought David Klingler was going to be the next great NFL quarterback. I can remember, way back when, thinking that in the right situation, Isiah Rider would become an NBA superstar.
So I might have missed on those two.
But I'm telling you, right now, that Jeff Weaver still can be one heck of a major league pitcher. An ace, top-of-the-rotation type. In the running for the Cy Young award.
Weaver can, with a little luck and some run support, become the pitcher everybody in Detroit thought he'd become, or the one the Yankees and Dodgers had hoped they had. The coming of age of Weaver might even happen this year with his new team, the Angels.
Weaver could be huuuge this year in Anaheim, really. He thinks it could happen too.
"I want to find a place where I'm consistently winning 16-20-plus games," he said when I talked to him last week at the Angels' spring training home at Tempe Diablo Stadium. "I haven't gotten there yet. Maybe this is it. I gotta stay consistent, I gotta be out there, and that's what I plan to do. Make my 34 starts a year and give the team a chance to win, and constantly try to get better."
As much as people may want to dog Weaver for a failure to reach his perceived potential, you have to at least give him this: he pitches. He hasn't missed a scheduled start in his seven years in the majors. In every season in which he's been allowed to start 30 games (he had some trouble finding starts with the Yankees in 2002 and '03), he's thrown at least 200 innings. He started 34 games last year with the Dodgers, throwing 224 innings.
His 14-11 record in 2005 was nothing Cy-like, granted, nor was that 4.22 ERA. But he was out there for a team that badly needed someone out there. That means something.
"I think some people kind of sweep that under the carpet just because you might get battered around a few times here and there. You might get out there in the eighth and throw a few extra pitches sometimes that might cost you," Weaver said. "But people in baseball understand that. It's something I take pride in, getting out there."
The problem Weaver has -- OK, one of his problems -- is that a lot of people don't appreciate his workload, even in baseball. The Dodgers, in a heap of turmoil after the '05 season, let him walk after the two sides couldn't agree on what he should be paid. Nobody else wanted to step up and spend the kind of money that Weaver and his agent, Scott Boras, thought the pitcher was worth.
So in the 11th hour the Angels signed him to a one-year, incentive-sprinkled deal for $8,325,000. He can earn $600,000 more by doing what he always does: make starts (32 would get him $300,000) and chew up innings (another $300,000 for 200 innings).
That whole idea of an "innings eater" definitely can get overplayed. Pitching is, after all, a lot more than just climbing onto the mound. But the allure of Weaver is that he is capable of more. Maybe a lot more. Scouts rave about his stuff -- a low-90s cutting fastball, a big curve, a hard slider, a sinker, an improving changeup.