By Paul Casella
At a time when Major League Baseball is as much a business as ever before, it's no surprise that loyalty -- both from players and organizations -- seems to be at an all-time low.
Look no further than the oft-discussed, but rarely honored in recent years, "hometown discount." The term applies to a player accepting a smaller contract, in terms of money and/or years, in order to remain with the team with which he has spent a significant portion of his career.
It's a topic that has been broached multiple times this offseason alone. First, it was whether or not Pablo Sandoval would cut the Giants a break on a potential deal, followed by the same questions surrounding Jon Lester and the Red Sox.
Now that neither player did any such thing, the attention turns toward Max Scherzer, who figures to make a similar decision with the Tigers. It appears unlikely that Scherzer would offer any type of hometown discount to the Tigers after he rejected their seven-year, $144 million extension offer this past spring.
Instead, Scherzer seems content to let any number of interested teams enter into a bidding war, then make his decision once the dust settles. It's hard to blame him, given that the notion of a hometown discount has become more and more elusive in recent years, including this offseason.
Though players may seem to lack loyalty in simply pursuing the best deal, they have a number of reasons for doing so. From potentially suffering unforeseen career-altering injuries to the possibility of being traded at any given time, some players find it hard to justify leaving precious job security or extra millions on the table.
That said, extending such discounts aren't completely extinct quite yet. Below is a look at some of the players who have settled for these hometown bargains in recent years, as well as some who have scoffed at the idea.
Home Sweet Home
Perhaps no player embodies the "hometown discount" concept better than Pedroia. The former Rookie of the Year and 2008 AL MVP signed an extension in July 2013 that essentially equated to seven additional years and $100 million in new money. While that contract is by no means a small one, it's certainly a bargain given the fact that fellow All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano signed a 10-year, $240 million deal the ensuing offseason
While Pedroia would not have gotten Cano-type money when he potentially hit free agency in 2016, he undoubtedly could have found a deal that would pay him more than the $13.75 million average annual value he agreed to. Pedroia, who's also a year younger than Cano, has averaged a 4.8 WAR over his nine seasons, while Cano has put up a 5.3 average WAR over 10 seasons. There certainly isn't enough seperation on the field to warrant Cano earning a nearly double AAV than Pedroia ($24 million to $13.75 million), but Pedroia made it clear at the time of signing his extension that his only concern was spending the rest of his career in Boston.
In one of the more surprising hometown discounts in recent memory, Angels ace Jered Weaver went against the advice of agent Scott Boras -- who also represents Scherzer -- when he signed a five-year, $85 million extension in August 2011. It's rare that a Boras-represented player leaves anything on the table, yet another indication that Scherzer won't give the Tigers any special treatment this winter.
That wasn't the case, however, with the then-28-year-old Weaver. Set to hit free agency after the 2012 season, Weaver -- who grew up about 70 miles north of Angel Stadium in Simi Valley, Calif. and attended nearby Long Beach State -- may have lost out on tens of millions of dollars by instead signing an extension in August 2011 to remain with the Angels. Weaver was in the midst of a dominant season that would earn him runner-up honors in AL Cy Young voting and he went on to win an AL-best 20 games in 2012 -- something that would have earned him a substantial contract offer had he indeed hit the free-agent market that winter. In fact, many at the time believed that he could have signed a deal similar to the seven-year, $161 million contract that CC Sabathia signed with the Yankees before the 2009 season.
"If $85 [million] is not enough to take care of my family and other generations of families then I'm pretty stupid, but how much money do you really need in life?" Weaver said at the time. "I've never played this game for the money. I played it for the love and the competitive part of it. It just so happens that baseball's going to be taking care of me for the rest of my life."
Headley may not be on the level of Pedroia or Weaver, nor had he spent a significant chunk of his career with the Yankees prior to this offseason, but he is the most recent example of a player leaving money on the table to return to his former team. While Francisco Liriano may have done something similar with the Pirates this offseason, Headley fully acknowledged that he had a better offer on the table, but instead chose to sign with the Yankees because he and his family preferred to stay in New York.
"There was a bigger offer out there, but I don't want to get into the specifics," said Headley, who played 58 games for the Yankees last season after being acquired from the Padres. "I really enjoyed my time in New York last year, but I think the first consideration in my decision was winning baseball games and hopefully winning a world championship. New York has done that in the past, and you know each and every year, that's the goal."
Though not the stereotypical "hometown discount," especially given that he spent his first seven-and-a-half years with the Padres, the fact that Headley took less money to return to New York at least puts him in the discussion.
If you're confused as to why Pujols is listed in this category, just wait until you see which of his former teammates is on the other list. Though Pujols ultimately walked away from the Cardinals following the 2011 season to sign a 10-year, $240 million with the Angels, his former skipper Tony La Russa later acknowledged that Pujols indeed was willing to take a hometown discount to stay in St. Louis.
Even with Pujols' apparent willingness to offer the Cards a bargain, however, the club still couldn't come close to making a reasonable offer to keep the three-time MVP. It's tough to speculate what type of discount Pujols may have offered the Cardinals given that a deal never came to fruition, but it's worth noting that he at least seemed open to the idea.
Wherever You Lay Your Cap Is Your Home
Though Lester was reportedly willing to offer the Red Sox a discount, it never materialized. Boston reportedly went as high as $135 million over six years, but Lester ultimately elected to sign a six-year, $155 million pact with the Cubs.
Lester initially rejected a four-year, $70 million offer last spring and was later traded to Oakland in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes. Though he repeatedly said that he had put that all behind him and would welcome a return to Boston, it appears as if the Red Sox never fully got back in Lester's good graces.
Sandoval helped his own cause with another stellar postseason just before hitting the market this offseason. Though he hit .279/.324/.415 with 16 homers during the regular season, Sandoval became one of the hottest names in free agency after posting a .366/.423/.465 line in 17 postseason games. For his career, Sandoval now has a .344/.389/.545 postseason batting line.
It's primarily those postseason heroics that led to Sandoval inking a five-year, $95 million deal with the Red Sox, with a $17 million club option for a sixth year. Though the Giants were reportedly willing to make a similar offer, Sandoval elected for a change of scenery over staying in the place where he spent his first seven Major League seasons.
Cano made it relatively clear before he even hit free agency that he had little interest in returning to the Yankees on a bargain-type deal. He hit the market following the 2013 season and ultimately landed a massive 10-year, $240 million from the Mariners -- far better than the $175 million maximum the Yankees were said to be offering.
As it turns out, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that Cano's representatives actually called the Yankees brass and said the second baseman would return to the Bronx for a "hometown discount" at $235 million -- but it was still far beyond what the Yanks were willing to spend.
Hamilton made his feelings regarding "hometown discounts" abundantly clear following the 2012 season when he left the Rangers to sign a five-year, $125 million deal with the Angels. Though he had been selected to the All-Star Game in each of his five seasons with Texas -- and won the '10 AL MVP Award -- Hamilton felt zero obligation to show the Rangers any favoritism.
"The Rangers have done a lot for me, but I've got a question for y'all: Have I done a lot for the Rangers? I think I've given them everything I've had," Hamilton said at the time. "I don't think anybody can say I haven't. When it comes down to it, people don't understand, fans don't understand, this is a business, this is an entertainment business. I love Texas. I love my fans. I love fans of the Rangers. I love the organization. I love my teammates. I love everything about it. But I'm not going to sit here and say that I owe the Rangers. I don't feel like I owe the Rangers."
Hamilton more than stuck to his word, as he not only signed on with arguably the Rangers' biggest rival, but he never even gave the Rangers a chance to match the Halos' offer.
While it may seem as if Molina and Pujols need to be flipped, that's actually not the case. Though Molina indeed signed an extension with the Cardinals, it had little to do with any type of hometown bargain. Pujols' decision to leave town in December 2012 reaffirmed to Molina that this truly is a business, and the All-Star catcher made it known that he would stay in St. Louis only if the club offered him the best deal.
Not wanting to lose a second core piece, the Cardinals stepped up and offered Molina a five-year, $75 million extension in the spring immediately following Pujols' departure. Molina, who could have taken his own turn in free agency the following offseason, instead decided to accept St. Louis' lucrative offer.
Paul Casella is a Sports on Earth contributor and a reporter for MLB.com.