ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - Erick Aybar signed with the Angels as an undrafted teenager a decade ago, progressing all the way from rookie ball in Utah to a glamorous job as Los Angeles' Gold Glove shortstop and leadoff hitter.
With free agency finally in sight, Aybar chose to stay loyal to the organization that believed in him.
Aybar signed a four-year, $35 million contract through 2016 with the Angels on Thursday, passing on the chance to go on the open market this winter.
The switch-hitting Dominican veteran formally signed his deal at a news conference in a restaurant just outside Disneyland while flanked by his wife and daughter and Albert Pujols, who showed up for support.
"I knew the free-agent possibility was there, and I knew some teams were going to be needing a shortstop, but the way I've been treated here was more than fair," Aybar said through a translator. "There was no need to look outside. ... Now I just need to put that aside, play the game, and get on base so Albert can drive me in."
Aybar first made the majors in 2006 and emerged as a starter in 2009, when he batted .312 with 58 RBIs while helping the Angels reach the ALCS. He posted career highs of 10 homers, 59 RBIs and 30 stolen bases last season while winning his first Gold Glove.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia remembers the first day he heard about Aybar in 2002 from then-general manager Bill Stoneman.
"He came to us one day right after Erick had signed, and said, `Wait until you see this kid at shortstop,"' Scioscia said. "We really saw the growth he had from a young, flashy shortstop that could make an incredible play ... to a kid that has turned into, I think, the best defensive shortstop in our league. That's a growth we're all proud of."
Aybar gets a $1 million signing bonus. He will make $8.5 million in each of the next four seasons in a deal structured from 2013-16 because of its luxury tax implications.
He will get a $75,000 bonus for his next Gold Glove or a Silver Slugger award, and $50,000 for making an All-Star team. Aybar would make $75,000 as the MVP of a league championship series and $100,000 as World Series MVP.
Aybar's deal has a $150,000 bonus for winning a league MVP award, with $75,000 for a second- or third-place finish and $50,000 for fourth or fifth.
Aybar's .389 average in spring training led the Angels, but he has begun the regular season in a slump. He snapped an 0-for-15 skid Wednesday night with a pinch-hit double, raising his average to .190.
Aybar's deal adds another hefty long-term contract to the growing list of commitments by the Angels, who signed Pujols to a $240 million deal and left-hander C.J. Wilson to a $77.5 million deal during free agency. Aybar's double-play battery mate, All-Star second baseman Howie Kendrick - another homegrown Angels player - got a $33.5 million deal in January, and ace Jered Weaver agreed to an $85 million deal last August.
While acknowledging concerns about roster flexibility, general manager Jerry Dipoto sees the Angels' growing commitments as a privilege, not a burden. He sees the long-term deals as a mandate for the Angels' scouting and player-development staffs to keep producing young homegrown talent that can fill the gaps between the huge contracts.
"It's awfully hard to find good middle-of-the-infield players, and we've now wrapped up Erick and Howie for ... these are the best years of their career," Dipoto said. "These contracts are good for the club, and good for the players. They got to achieve what their goals would be. They got to stay where they want to stay, where their families are going to be taken care of, and we achieved what we want to achieve, to get good players that can impact our team at positions that are tough to fill."
Weaver and Kendrick both cited the Angels' talented clubhouse and the organization's collegial atmosphere while signing deals likely below their open-market value. Aybar did the same.
Winning also helps: The Angels have made the playoffs six times in the past 10 years while winning at least 80 games in every season since 2003.
"Clearly, this is a family," Dipoto said. "Sosh means a lot to him. His teammates mean a lot to him. I think he saw this core group starting to stabilize, and he wanted to be a part of it."