Angels shortstop Erick Aybar, turning a game-ending double play against… (Darren Calabrese / Associated…)
The Angels locked up another core player Thursday, signing shortstop Erick Aybar to a four-year, $35-million extension, a move that provides stability and Gold Glove-caliber defense at a key position but adds another hefty contract.
The Angels have a $151-million payroll this season — the fourth-highest in baseball — and if they pick up 2013 options on pitchers Dan Haren and Ervin Santana and catcher Chris Iannetta, they'll have $121 million committed to 10 players for next season.
They also have six players — Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Vernon Wells, Howie Kendrick and Aybar — under contract for $95 million in 2014, five (Pujols, Weaver, Wilson, Kendrick, Aybar) for $79 million in 2015, and four (Pujols, Weaver, Wilson, Aybar) for $74.5 million in 2016.
Although the deals add some cost certainty and prevent top players from reaching free agency, General Manager Jerry Dipoto acknowledged that they could affect future payroll flexibility, making it more difficult for the Angels to fill holes through the expensive free-agent market.
"What it will do is put an onus on our scouting and player development systems," Dipoto said. "The easiest way you're going to create flexibility in your payroll and on your 25-man roster is to build from within.… It's how this organization got to where it was 10 years ago, and it's how we're going to maintain that position."
Aybar is a prime example. He was a raw, skinny 18-year-old when he signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2002, and he spent five years in the minor leagues before becoming the Angels' shortstop in 2007.
While making roughly $6 million in his first five big league seasons, Aybar developed into a superb defender and a dynamic if not always productive offensive player who hit .279 with 10 home runs, 33 doubles, 59 runs batted in and 30 stolen bases last season.
Aybar's deal, which includes a $1-million signing bonus but does not have a no-trade provision, will pay base salaries of $8.5 million in each of the next four years. The switch-hitter is playing under a one-year, $5.075-million contract this season.
During a luncheon to announce the deal, Aybar sat behind the Gold Glove Award he won in 2011.
Aybar said contract talks, which began in December, were not a distraction, but his .190 average through 12 games indicated otherwise.
"Definitely," Aybar said, when asked whether he felt as though a weight had been lifted. "Being very honest, I just need to put this aside. It's done. I want to play the game the way I know how to play and get on base so Albert can drive me in."
Meeting of the minds
Right fielder Torii Hunter had a lengthy closed-door meeting with Manager Mike Scioscia on Thursday, and among the subjects discussed were mixing in a few starts at designated hitter and an occasional day off to keep the 36-year-old's legs fresh.
Hunter, who said he requested the meeting, would not discuss anything else he spoke to Scioscia about. Scioscia said Mark Trumbo would probably get some starts at both corner outfield spots on days Hunter or Vernon Wells served as DH or were off.
Trumbo, who was out sick Wednesday night, said he "felt a lot better" Thursday and started at DH against the Athletics. Scioscia said Trumbo "has had some good workouts at third base and is getting closer to getting back there."
Trumbo, who committed three errors in his first two starts at third, has started there only once in 10 games. Though the Angels have lost some confidence in his ability to play third, they did list Trumbo as a third baseman on this year's All-Star ballot.