The Los Angeles Times reports that the Angels have signed Gary Matthews, Jr. to a five-year contract worth $50 million.
Matthews came up through the San Diego Padres system and played for Rancho Cucamonga (then a Padres affiliate) for parts of the 1996 and 1997 seasons.
UPDATE 2:00 PM PST — MLB.com confirms that the Angels have signed Matthews.
For what it’s worth … Yes, the Angels overpaid for Matthews. But if the world were fair, teachers would make $10 million a year and ballplayers would scrape by on $28,000.
The world isn’t fair, and this contract reflects the real world of baseball free agency.
The Dodgers just gave Juan Pierre, a far lesser hitter, a five-year $44 million contract. According to media reports, Matthews’ deal is five years, $50 million.
Compare that to Alfonso Soriano, who just got an eight-year $136 million contract.
More importantly, compare the Matthews deal to Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter, two premiere CF’s who could be free agents after the 2007 season. Imagine what the market will be like for them a year from now. It’s not unreasonable to expect either of them to get deals in the five-year $70 million range.
Now, the Angels could trade a boatload of prospects to acquire Wells or Hunter, but that would be a one-year lease.
If they traded for either Wells or Hunter and then gave him the hypothetical five-year/$70 million contract, then they’ve given up all those prospects in addition to the megacontract.
By signing Matthews, the Angels get a lesser talent but also at lesser money and keep all the prospects for the supposed “big bat” trade still on the drawing board.
That’s what this signing is about.
It upgrades the Angels in center field from Chone Figgins, both offensively and defensively. But it also keeps the prospects for a bigger deal that could come any time before Opening Day 2007, which is more than four months away.
Also keep in mind that, in terms of the 2006 payroll, this is a revenue-neutral deal. Darin Erstad and Adam Kennedy are now free agents. Erstad made $8.75 million in 2006. Kennedy made $3.35 million. That’s $12.1 million cleared from the payroll, probably more than what Matthews gets next year. Meanwhile, Howie Kendrick starts at 2B next year, paid the major league minimum, and hopefully a healthy Casey Kotchman returns to 1B making not much more than the minimum. Both should significantly improve the offense, and do it cheaply.
The Angels could still sign free agent pitcher Barry Zito, giving them another starter and therefore another young arm to dangle in trade for the “big bat.”
Will Matthews repeat his 2006 offensive numbers in 2007? Unlikely. But compared to what the market will be in future years for premiere CF’s, Matthews’ numbers in the long run will be pretty reasonable if he contributes superior defense and just performs a little better than his career averages. His defense protects the pitching staff, which suffered from the Angels’ overall defensive ineptitude in the first half this year. His offense will be better than Figgins. And that’s all that really matters.