Posted: Friday August 26, 2011 10:49AM ; Updated: Friday August 26, 2011 10:49AM
Tom Verducci
Tom Verducci>THREE STRIKES

Understanding Weaver's decision

Story Highlights

Jered Weaver took the safe option rather than risk injury to try for more money

Mike Flanagan was one of only 13 AL pitchers to make 400 starts in DH era

Tigers' Justin Verlander is having a great season but he's far from the AL MVP

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Jered Weaver
Jered Weaver signed a five-year, $85 million extension to stay with the Angels.
Brad Mangin/SI

Let's be straight about the decision Jered Weaver made to take a five-year, $85 million extension from the Angels. The righthander didn't pass up another $50 million or so -- he passed on a chance to pull down much more coin by hitting the free agent market after the 2012 season. What he also did was rule out risking the $85 million because of an injury and rule out the possibility of signing somewhere else and not liking it as much as he does pitching for the Los Angeles Angels.

The player and the team made a smart decision, the kind of decision that has kept young aces off the free agent market -- and why the Phillies should move quickly on Cole Hamels (their version of Weaver) unless they have long-term concerns about his health.

It's great that Weaver is getting credit for "leaving money on the table." But let's look at the scenarios of two nearly identical pitchers to understand why the decision was much more nuanced.

Weaver signed his contract almost exactly four years after the Cubs locked up Carlos Zambrano to a five-year deal for $91.5 million. The righthanders had nearly identical records at the time of their deals. Chicago boldly announced it loved the deal because Zambrano's best years were ahead of him. The club assumed $91.5 million worth of risk on that premise. The Cubs were dead wrong. His ERA since then is 4.03. Zambrano was 26 years old at the time of the deal.

Weaver, if he passed on $85 million, would have been 30 years old at the time of free agency.

If Zambrano represents a worst-case scenario for risk on the club side, Brandon Webb represents the worst-case scenario on the player side. In 2008 the Diamondbacks and Webb were in negotiations to extend his contract. Webb was signed through 2010 (including a club option). The extension would have paid him about $50 million over the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons.

On June 20, 2008, Arizona and Webb, unable to get a deal after four months of negotiations, called off contract talks. Webb's numbers on that date look eerily similar to those of Zambrano and Weaver when they signed -- check out the similarities:

Pitcher Age G W-L ERA SO/9 WHIP
Zambrano 26 193 78-51 3.37 7.89 1.28
Webb 29 179 76-58 3.21 7.29 1.23
Weaver 28 170 78-45 3.30 7.78 1.16

What happened to Webb? He broke down in his first start of the following season, 2009, and hasn't pitched in the big leagues since then because of shoulder trouble.

Consider one more scenario about contract offers for pitchers, but this one is more about happiness than $50 million -- and, like Weaver, it involves a Scott Boras client who loved pitching for the Angels. In 1992 the Angels wanted to lock up Jim Abbott, who was happy pitching in Southern California. They offered him $16 million over four years, a record for a fourth-year pitcher. Boras countered with a proposal of $19 million over four years, which would have slightly topped the $18.5 million deal the Angels gave veteran Chuck Finley the previous year.

Whitey Herzog, the Angels general manager at the time, was not the kind to get into protracted negotiations with Boras. When Abbott returned home from a vacation in Hawaii, he was stunned to learn from his mother-in-law that the Angels had traded him to the Yankees.

Abbott famously threw a no-hitter in New York, but his career waned. Only a week after the no-hitter, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner blasted Abbott for not pitching well enough, and the next spring Steinbrenner blamed his poor season on too much charity work. After leaving the Angels, Abbott was 40-56 with a 5.06 ERA while bouncing from the Yankees to the White Sox to the Angels to the Brewers.

And over those four years after leaving the Angels, having turned down $16 million in a place he enjoyed, Abbott earned $10.1 million.

The legacy of Mike Flanagan

Mike Flanagan was known for his sense of humor and his tenacity. Rick Dempsey, the former pitcher's batterymate with the Orioles, liked to say the guy they called Flanny never quit. His pitching record documents such determination.

Flanagan is one of only 13 pitchers to start 400 American League games in the DH era (since 1973). And he did so with less pure stuff than any of them. Flanagan averaged just 4.84 strikeouts per nine innings, the lowest rate among those who endured so long in this hitter's league. And yet he won 167 games, a Cy Young Award and a world championship and pitched until he was 40. In his first four seasons as a regular in the Baltimore rotation under manager Earl Weaver, Flanagan completed more than 40 percent of his starts (60 complete games in 148 starts).

To carve out such a long, stellar career without strikeout stuff defined the ethos of Mike Flanagan. Such determination, as well as that sharp wit and gift of storytelling, made his death Wednesday all the more difficult to reconcile for those who knew him. Flanagan took his own life with a shotgun. That he reached such despair shocked his friends.

Flanagan provided so much joy to fans and people in baseball over his career and his life. His guile on the mound, his teachings as a pitching coach, his earnestness as an executive and especially his humor in the broadcast booth created goodwill that stands as his greatest legacy -- something much bigger than wins and losses.

Flanagan is gone far too soon. He had so much more goodwill to spread. But something happened to Flanny, something darker than anyone knew, and we may never know for certain where it began and why it took hold. The fragility of life -- of what makes us tick and think and be human -- hit us hard this week. Flanagan was 59 years old. Two days earlier, Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt revealed that she was diagnosed with early onset dementia. Summitt is 59.

Notes

Justin Verlander is the most exciting pitcher in the AL right now and the frontrunner for the AL Cy Young Award, but let's calm down on the MVP talk. The Tigers have played 130 games, only 20 of which are wins when Verlander starts. (One of the few instructions with an MVP ballot is to consider "games played.") And his team's record when Verlander gets the ball (20-8) isn't all that different than those of CC Sabathia (19-9), Josh Beckett (18-7) and Jered Weaver (18-9) . . . The Rockies must have been kidding. Wandy Rodriguez? A curveball pitcher at altitude? (Ask any pitcher; breaking balls aren't as effective at Coors Field.) Thirteen million dollars for the age 35 season for a guy with a career ERA of 4.08, including 4.79 on the road? . . . Just before Erik Bedard threw a 1-and-2 pitch to Mike Napoli on Monday, TV cameras focused on his mound meeting with catcher Jared Saltalamacchia caught him saying "fastball." Next pitch? Fastball. Result: three-run homer, like he knew it was coming. Now you know why players cover their mouths during on-field discussions . . . The Rangers need to think about getting Alexi Ogando out of the rotation, where he has hit a wall after far exceeding his previous workloads. After starting the year 7-0 with a 2.10 ERA in 12 starts, he is 5-6 with a 4.88 ERA in his past 13 starts . . . It's tough enough being a San Francisco pitcher given the poor run support. But most night these days the Giants field the least athletic defensive team in baseball, including Carlos Beltran, a shadow of himself in rightfield.

 
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