Aybar, Angels more than content with extension
Shortstop's four-year deal gives club solid core going forward
ANAHEIM -- Thursday was basically Erick Aybar Day in this city.
It was the day the Angels' shortstop received his Gold Glove Award from last year, the day Angel Stadium gave away T-shirts marking that occasion and, most importantly, the day Aybar signed a four-year, $35 million extension that will keep him with the only organization he's ever known while steering him away from free agency.
"For me, this is a great day, just to be here with everybody," Aybar said in Spanish from the ESPN Zone Anaheim in Downtown Disney, the site of an informal luncheon that celebrated his new contract. "This is a really special day for me."
It was a day that came a little more than six months before Aybar would've become a top free-agent shortstop on the open market. Considering the impact Albert Pujols' presence in the No. 3 spot can have on Aybar as a leadoff hitter, and the need big-market clubs like the Red Sox and Mets may have at his position this offseason, you can probably also say it was the day he took a pay cut.
With his wife and daughter by his side, the 28-year-old -- who signed for peanuts out of the Dominican Republic 10 years ago -- talked about how that doesn't matter as much as others may think.
"I knew there would be a lot of teams looking for shortstops, but I've always said it and will continue to say it: I've always wanted to stay with this team," Aybar said. "With all they've supported me, I've always just wanted to stay here. I didn't want to play anywhere else."
With this team-friendly contract, the Angels have achieved stability up the middle and in the top of the order.
Aybar, their leadoff hitter, is signed through 2016.
Howie Kendrick, the homegrown second baseman and No. 2 hitter who signed a four-year, $33.5 million contract three months ago, is locked up through 2015.
And Pujols, who was in attendance in support of Aybar's new deal, is expected to be their No. 3 hitter for the next decade.
That means the Angels, who currently rank fourth in the Majors with a $155 million payroll, will have very little payroll flexibility moving forward. But in the eyes of general manager Jerry Dipoto, it means they'll maintain a core group that can help them consistently compete for titles.
"We feel that with this core group of players -- Erick, Kendrick, Albert -- we have a young, veteran group; a lot of guys in prime of their careers," Dipoto said. "We're excited about this group moving forward."
Dipoto was hired from the D-backs in late October, so he didn't really know Aybar and Kendrick too well. But he decided pretty early in his tenure that he didn't want to let either of them hit the open market.
So he got to work in early December and was able to sign Kendrick in early January. Then, after some initial hesitation from Aybar's agency, SFX -- a "dicey" time in the negotiations, as the Angels' GM put it -- Dipoto was able to negotiate a deal for his shortstop in less than five months.
"Really, it was relative to Erick wanting to be here," Dipoto said. "His time with the Angels' organization means a lot to him. He views this as a family. Clearly you can see [manager Mike] Scioscia means a lot to him. This team means a lot to him. And I think he started to see that core group stabilize, and that they were going to be here for a while, and he just wanted to be a part of it."
Aybar's deal, which begins after the 2012 season, in which he'll make $5.075 million, offers basic incentives but doesn't include any no-trade protection. It includes a $1 million signing bonus up front, then it will pay him $8.5 million each of the following four seasons, carrying an $8.75 million average annual value that ranks 10th all time among shortstops.
Aybar entered Thursday batting just .190, but he believes the finalization of this deal can take a significant weight off his shoulders.
"It's done," he said. "I know I'm going to be here for four more years, so now I just have to play the game the way I know how and try to get on base so Albert can drive me in."
At the ESPN Zone, Aybar was joined by Dipoto, Scioscia, Angels president John Carpino -- who sported the giveaway Aybar T-shirt under his black sports coat -- assistant GM Matt Klentak and Pujols, who sat at a table in the back so the focus would be only on his teammate.
Aybar has been in the Angels' system since signing out of the Dominican in 2002, hitting .280 with a .327 on-base percentage while averaging seven homers and 22 steals over an average of 139 games in the past three seasons. During that time, he ranked 12th in the Majors in Ultimate Zone Rating (3.7).
His skipper sees more than numbers, though.
"We love the way he plays, we love the way he plays fearlessly, and that's the kind of guys that give you the best chance to win championships with," Scioscia said. "That's what we hope to do."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.