It is official, Erick Aybar is going to be a free agent at the end of this season. By agreeing to a one-year, $5.075 million contract to avoid arbitration, he pretty much guaranteed that.
Could an extension be worked out during the season? Technically, yes, but it is unlikely. Otherwise, the two sides would’ve kept negotiating in lieu of an arbitration trial rather than just settle now.
Does this mean that Aybar’s days in Anaheim are numbered? Now that’s an interesting question. One that is sure to linger over Aybar’s season all year long.
Clearly, both sides have at least some interest in Aybar remaining an Angel, otherwise they wouldn’t have engaged in extension talks this off-season, and last off-season too, if memory serves. Yet the interest isn’t so intense that an agreement was made, as was the case for Howie Kendrick who made it known that staying an Angel was really the only future he foresaw for himself. If that is a vision that Aybar shared, the future he imagined obviously included more money than the Angels were offering.
So what’s it going to take to get those visions aligned?
At the end of the day, Aybar and the Angels had different ideas about what Erick’s value is. The only way that is going to change is if Aybar does something to alter the perception of his value. That’s something that works both ways. If his 2012 season resembles that of his sub-standard 2010 season, there will be no arguing that he had over-valued himself. But if he plays like he did in 2009 or 2011, it will only bolster his belief that the Angels should meet his asking price, a price that will only go higher as a result.
As strange as it sounds, the best chances for Aybar staying in Halo Red for the next several years would be for him to regress in 2012. Aybar had a very good 2011, yet that did not convince the Angels that he was worth investing in long-term unless they were going to get him at a value. That is a strategy rightly based on the concern that Aybar is not a consistent performer. If Aybar were to turn in something in the neighborhood of a 2.0 fWAR season, as opposed to the 4.0 fWAR season he had last year, that would play directly into the Angels’ hands. Aybar would still be good enough to keep around as a known quantity, but also wouldn’t cost too much. Mike Scioscia loves his defense, so as long as Aybar’s performs in the field, he’ll gladly keep him around and get whatever offense he can out of him. The only way this doesn’t work is if Aybar has a trainwreck of a season. In that case, he’ll almost assuredly avoid a long-term deal of any kind and try and move on to a better situation where he can rebuild his value, something the Angels will probably be just fine with. But, again, that is only if he turns into Yuniesky Betancourt overnight.
If he does stay, we are probably looking at a nice bargain for the Halos. Seeing how limited players like Clint Barmes, J.J. Hardy and Rafael Furcal fetch in the neighborhood of $5-8 million per year, Aybar can expect to get similar value in a contract to stay in Anaheim, probably closer to $7 million as Furcal is a pretty good comp to Aybar.
Now, what if Aybar ends up having another quality season? Then, he better pack his bags. While the Angels are now seen is wild spenders, they have to draw a line somewhere and that “somewhere” is probably paying big money to their shortstop. What Aybar has to be hoping for is to post another 4+ fWAR season so that he can position himself as the poor man’s Jose Reyes. Ironically, that would make him a very rich man since Reyes just reeled in a fat six-year, $106 million contract from the Marlins. With Reyes making just over $17 million annually, Aybar would be a mortal lock to be earning at least $10 million annually. And don’t think for a second that Aybar won’t get it, not when he would be easily the best free agent shortstop on the market in 2013. That’s simply too much for the Angels to pay, not if they hope to lock up the likes of Dan Haren or Ervin Santana or Chris Iannetta or (hopefully) Kendrys Morales at the same time. Factor in that top prospect Jean Segura will hopefully be ready or close to ready to take over shortstop by 2013 and a major investment in Aybar just doesn’t add up.
That’s quite the paradox, isn’t it? The better he plays, the more likely he is to leave. So if you like Aybar and want him to stay, you’ll be rooting for him to be mediocre. Sounds like 2013 is going to be a very interesting and very conflicting season for Aybar and his fans.