Matthews, Angels agree to 5-year, $50 million deal

Updated: November 23, 2006, 10:44 AM ET
Associated Press

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Gary Matthews Jr. had a tough decision, choosing between the Los Angeles Angels and San Francisco Giants.

Elias Says
Gary Mathews
Matthews
Gary Matthews Jr. agreed to a five-year deal with the Angels on Wednesday, pending a physical examination. Matthews posted a career-high .313 batting average for the Rangers this year; that's 50 points higher than his career average (.263) and 58 points higher than his 2005 mark (.255). Matthews's batting average increase from 2005 to 2006 was the second-largest among players who qualified for the batting title in both seasons. Justin Morneau's 82-point improvement (from .239 last year to .321 this year) helped earn him MVP honors earlier this week.

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Family won out.

Matthews, whose 7-year-old son lives in nearby Santa Monica, reached a preliminary agreement Wednesday on a $50 million, five-year contract with the Angels following a career year with the Texas Rangers.

"You spend so much time away from your family when you play baseball, and no amount of money can make up for that," Matthews told The Associated Press while driving to San Jose for Thanksgiving. "This move is a way for me to accommodate my son and be around him more."

Matthews' parents also live in Southern California. His father, known as Sarge, was also a big-league outfielder, beginning his with the Giants. The younger Matthews has been called Little Sarge.

"I'm so appreciative that they gave me a chance to literally follow in my father's footsteps," Matthews said. "It would have been something just to have another Bonds and Matthews in the Giants' outfield. But this move was for my family."

Longtime San Francisco star Barry Bonds' father, Bobby, was a member of the Giants when Gary Matthews Sr. began his career.

The younger Matthews must pass a physical before the deal is completed. That won't happen before early next week because of the holiday.

Scott Leventhal, Matthews' agent, said his client made up his mind Wednesday morning.

"They were right there," Leventhal said of the Giants. "It was a very difficult decision. More than 10 teams kicked the tires. Everybody couldn't be more pleased."

San Francisco was said to be offering $50 million over five years before the Angels matched that package.

Matthews, a 32-year-old switch-hitter, batted .313 with 102 runs, 44 doubles, 19 homers, 79 RBI and a .371 on-base percentage as the Rangers' leadoff hitter. He became the third player in Rangers history to hit for the cycle, doing so on Sept. 13 at Detroit.

Center Field
Texas Rangers

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
GM HR RBI R OBP AVG
147 19 79 102 .371 .313

"He's a guy we're really happy to have," Angels general manager Bill Stoneman said during a conference call. "One of our objectives during this offseason was to improve ourselves in center field."

Matthews had a career batting average of .249 entering last season.

"It's been a process to get to where I am today -- every day working toward something like this," he said.

"Guys learn at different times in their careers," Stoneman said. "Gary's coming into his own."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia pointed to Matthews' ability on defense and versatility on offense as most attractive qualities.

"Being a premium defender is something that's a priority for us," Scioscia said. "He plays center field on a Gold Glove level. I think his experience has helped him to understand this league and understand his talent. He can lead off or hit in the middle of the lineup.

"Even though it took him a while to get his career to where it is right now, he's figured it out. He's in great shape, we're excited to have him as part of our club. I think he's a great fit," he said.

Matthews was a first-time All-Star last season. Among his highlight-reel catches was one on a ball hit by Houston's Mike Lamb on July 1. Matthews sprinted, leaped and stuck his glove far over the eight-foot wall in center to make the catch. Even Lamb applauded after standing in the infield and watching the replay on the scoreboard.

"It's kind of ironic," Matthews said. "I've always been known as a defensive player. And then I started to come on offensively in the last few years. I'm real proud of what I've done at the plate, but when people talk about this deal, I know they're going to show highlights from that catch."

Matthews blossomed after signing a minor-league deal with the Rangers in 2004. He had been released earlier that spring by the Atlanta Braves, the team for which his father was an All-Star in 1979.

The younger Matthews had played for five teams (Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets and San Diego Padres) the previous three seasons.

Matthews' signing probably means versatile Chone Figgins will move from center field to third base unless the Angels add another third baseman.

"It makes Figgy a lot better to be able to concentrate on one position," Scioscia said.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press