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Jered Weaver’s hometown discount was a cautionary tale

Jered Weaver gave up scores of millions to stay with the Angels. No one was especially happy with the results.

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Diego Padres Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Jered Weaver, slippery breaking ball artist and dookmaster, did just about the smartest thing possible for his career this offseason. He needed a home where the pressure would be low, where he could reinvent himself without a lot of prying eyes, where the ballpark would treat him fair, and where there would be a pitcher every nine batters. The Padres didn’t just make sense; they made the most sense.

The idea was sound.

The results were a mess. Weaver has made nine starts with the Padres, and he’s allowed 16 home runs in 42⅓ innings. He leads the National League in earned runs allowed, he’s allowed two or more homers in seven games already this season, and the Padres lost every one of those starts. The team put him on the DL with hip inflammation, and they’re likely using the respite to figure out how long they can continue the experiment.

This is our image of Weaver now, the soon-to-be journeyman who can’t find a gig because of a slipping fastball, the guy who can’t even stick in the Padres’ rotation. It’s been three years since he was even average. In another three years, he’ll either be out of the league or one of the greatest renaissance stories in a sport that’s filled with them. The odds are on the former, though.

This isn’t fair. There was a three-year stretch when Jered Weaver was one of the best pitchers in baseball, with top-five Cy Young finishes in each of those seasons. In an era of wacky strikeout rates, he was one of the purest artists of the weak-contact genre, keeping his WHIP near the 1.0 mark the whole time, even as he wasn’t blowing hitters away.

In the middle of this stretch, Weaver signed a team-friendly extension. How team friendly?

No one from (Scott) Boras' office attended Tuesday's media availability.

That team friendly. The five-year, $85 million contract was something Weaver negotiated himself, essentially, over the objections of the game’s best agent. He hired Yo-Yo Ma to play his birthday party and handed him a ukulele at the door. You can understand why Boras was frustrated.

The year before Weaver was supposed to be a free agent, he won 20 games, finished third in the AL Cy Young voting, and led the league in WHIP and hits per nine innings. He turned 30 the October before his free agency would have started. If you want to know just how much Weaver might have cleaned up on the open market, there was a nearly perfect comparison from that offseason:

Zack Greinke vs. Jered Weaver, through 2012

Through 2012 Jered Weaver Zack Greinke
Through 2012 Jered Weaver Zack Greinke
GS 207 231
IP 1320 1492
ERA 3.24 3.77
ERA+ 129 114
K/9 7.6 8
BB/9 2.4 2.3

Greinke was a year younger. Weaver was better, though, and his peak was more recent. Weaver got five years and $85 million. Greinke got six years, $147 million with an opt-out clause that allowed him to get a six-year, $206.5 million deal just a couple years later. But we’ll pretend the first deal didn’t have an opt-out for the sake of argument, which means Weaver left at least $59 million on the table (that’s the $62 million difference between the two contracts, less the $3 million he’s earning from the Padres this year.) That’s probably underselling his potential contract, really.

To be perfectly clear, you should not weep for Jered Weaver. And, importantly, Jered Weaver does not weep for Jered Weaver.

"How much more do you need?" Weaver asked about his deal. "Could have got more, whatever. Who cares?"

He still made $85 million more than I’ve ever made. This is the proper attitude for one’s mental health, I would imagine. He can leave the taqueria with a tub of guacamole for his chips every time, like it isn’t even a big deal. That is my dream in life, and he’s living it.

At the same time, it’s worth asking what that $59 million bought Weaver, just as a thought exercise.

Weaver made eight starts for the Arkansas Travelers when he was 22, and he made 11 starts with the Salt Lake Bees the next season. Those were the only times he pitched for a home team outside of Southern California in his life. From birth through high school through college through a 12-year major-league career, he got to stay in the same area of the country, a luxury that most Americans never have, much less baseball players.

If he reached free agency — at the same time as his teammate, Greinke — the Angels might have chosen to spend their money elsewhere. His Angels career would have been over. His stay in Southern California could have been over (although the Dodgers would be lurking). He bought stability and peace of mind. Don’t minimize that.

The hometown vibes didn’t last long, though. Weaver’s first season after he would have been a free agent was hampered by injuries. His next season was a little healthier, but the ERA+ suggests that he was a slightly above-average starter, not an ace. Then he was bad. Then he was awful. And now we’re here, where he’s worse than ever. The extra four years he spent with the Angels didn’t make him a franchise icon more than he already was. There was a postseason start mixed in, but you can argue that the final two years of his contract hurt his legacy with the Angels more than it helped.

Where did the money saved with Weaver’s contract go? While it’s impossible to draw a direct correlation, it sure looks like the money went straight to Josh Hamilton, who signed a five-year, $125 million deal the same offseason Weaver was scheduled to be a free agent. That’s about $42 million per WAR, or a hundred dollars for every minute of drama and grief. The Angels were good in 2014 with Weaver’s help, but that was the only time the contract benefited the team on the field, either directly or by proxy.

So we have a hometown stay that ended in frustration, with the extra money redistributed to a player who did far more harm than good. For $59 million, Weaver bought a dream of how things were supposed to be. Five years later, it’s obvious that it was a total mirage.

As for the “How much more do you need?” philosophy, it’s a noble one, but there are different ways to look at it. There’s the greedy scenario, sure. With that kind of money, Weaver could have bought a small island and paid for engineers to make him a real-life Optimus Prime to keep him company. If he wanted. Maybe I’m projecting what I would want, we’ll never know.

But there’s also the scenario where he took $50 million and set up a scholarship fund at Long Beach State that would last for decades. He could have invested in electric cars or, heck, coal-powered cars if that’s what he believes in. He could have donated it to the political candidate of his choice. He could have rebuilt zoos all over the country and had enough left over to build a zoo in his own backyard. All we know is that the money isn’t his to control anymore. He has enough, sure, but it’s not like the money is doing anyone any better in the world, especially if it was stuffed directly into the pockets of Arte Moreno.

The new contract bought Weaver fuzzy feelings for a couple years. While I don’t want to speak for him — he could be reading this right now, rolling his eyes, and making inappropriate hand gestures on his ludicrously expensive couch — giving up money to stay with one team doesn’t always end well. The fans will get tired of you as soon as the production stops. The money saved will just go to other rich people. The hometown discount is a lie.

The hometown discount is a lie.

Current Boras clients include Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, and Corey Seager. You will not see them sign a team-friendly contract extension. And if one of them gets the itch, Boras will hand them a pamphlet.

So You’ve Decided To Be Like Jered Weaver?

The pamphlet will contain most of these arguments. And there will be no team-friendly contract extensions. The Weaver contract was a cautionary tale, and we’ve all learned a little something from it.