Weaver eager to kick off exciting year for Halos

Weaver eager to kick off exciting year for Halos

ANAHEIM -- Before it was the cool thing to do and with only one season remaining before free agency, Jered Weaver -- a client of hard-line negotiator Scott Boras, no less -- agreed to a long-term deal with the Angels.

"I've never been a big fan of the business side of things, so when the Angels offered me a contract, I couldn't help but grab it," said the ace pitcher who signed a team-friendly five-year, $85 million extension last August. "And look what happened. I think it was a pretty good decision overall."

Was it ever.

Since signing on the dotted line, Weaver's Angels have gone from a team that missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons to legit championship contenders -- from below the radar to national phenomenon, from unable to sign the big-name free agents to grabbing the two biggest.

On Dec. 8, the Halos signed Albert Pujols (the first baseman who will greatly help an offense that was 17th in the Majors in runs last season) and C.J. Wilson (the starting pitcher who makes last year's second-best staff in the American League even better), committing more than $315 million to the pair.

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Now, the Angels are a powerhouse.

And on Friday night at 7:05 PT against the Royals at Angel Stadium, Weaver -- fresh off a season in which he was the best pitcher in the AL not named Justin Verlander -- will kick off arguably the most anticipated season in Angels history as the Opening Day starter.

"This is, I think, the best team on paper that we've had since I've been here, no doubt about it, in terms of the rotation and obviously the lineup," said Weaver, who gets the honor for the third straight year. "But there was a couple of other teams that looked good on paper last year and didn't quite accomplish what they wanted to do. That's why baseball's such a great game. Nobody's got a crystal ball and anything can happen. It looks good on paper, and we just have to make it work."

Weaver, 29 and recently married, had it all working in 2011.

He finished second in the AL in ERA (2.41) and WHIP (1.01), third in wins (18), fifth in innings (235 2/3) and seventh in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.54) to trail only Verlander in votes for the AL Cy Young Award. Over the past three seasons, Weaver now ranks fifth in the Majors in wins (47), eighth in innings (671) and 10th in ERA (3.03).

The scariest part for opposing hitters: He seems to get better every year.

Angels
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 SS Erick Aybar
2 2B Howard Kendrick
3 1B Albert Pujols
4 RF Torii Hunter
5 3B Mark Trumbo
6 LF Vernon Wells
7 DH Kendrys Morales
8 C Chris Iannetta
9 CF Peter Bourjos
Projected rotation
1 RHP Jered Weaver
2 RHP Dan Haren
3 RHP Ervin Santana
4 LHP C.J. Wilson
5 RHP Jerome Williams/Garrett Richards
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart

"The thing I've always admired of him is his ferocity on the mound," said Dan Haren, the No. 2 man in the Angels' staff who would be an ace in other rotations. "He's a really competitive guy, especially out there. He might seem mellow, laid back, California kid. But out there, he's an animal. He wants to win. I really respect that, because he goes out and does it, and he pitches through aches and pains."

Weaver's impressive ERA decline last season was partly due to the natural progression of a fantastic pitcher in his prime (his WHIP, in fact, has dropped in each of his five full seasons in the Majors).

The other part -- the part which makes that extension such a great idea -- is the pitcher-friendly ballpark he pitches in and the three center fielders who roam the outfield. Weaver can be great anywhere, sure. But having Vernon Wells in left field, Peter Bourjos in center and Torii Hunter in right is big for a fly-ball pitcher.

"Huge," Weaver said. "When those guys came over, I couldn't help but brag about how that was going to help me out."

Now the Angels have something else that will help Weaver out: run support.

Last year, the team went 50 games without scoring a single run in the first five innings -- a statistic that led all of baseball and made the win total Weaver wound up with even more impressive. Now with Pujols on board, Kendrys Morales seemingly healthy and Mark Trumbo bouncing around, the Angels should finally have the type of offense that can complement a dynamic rotation.

And with all that in his favor, Weaver seems bound to win a Cy Young sooner or later, right?

He's done everything else, right?

"I don't look at it that way," Weaver said. "If I wanted that, I would've been a golfer. This is a team game. [Last year] was great from an individual standpoint, but overall, the most important thing is winning a championship, and we haven't quite gotten there. We've missed out on the playoffs the last couple years, and the thing I want to accomplish is winning a World Series. Hopefully, we can accomplish that this year."

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.