Angels ink David Fletcher to five-year, $26 million contract

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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ANAHEIM, Calif. — David Fletcher agreed to a five-year, $26 million contract with the Angels, capping his rise from an unheralded infield prospect to a key figure in Los Angeles’ future.

The Halos announced the deal with their homegrown talent before taking the field for their season opener against the Chicago White Sox with Fletcher batting leadoff and playing second base.

Fletcher, who would have been eligible for arbitration for the first time after this season, agreed to a new deal that stretches through his arbitration years and across his first two potential seasons of free agency. The contract could be worth up to $41 million because it includes two club options worth $8 million in 2026 and $8.5 million in 2027.

“It’s exciting to me to know I’m going to be playing at home for a while now,” Fletcher said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Ideally, if it was up to me, I’d play here my whole career, and I have a lot of work to do to make that happen, but I’m excited.”

Fletcher is a former sixth-round pick who was born and raised in Orange County before playing at Loyola Marymount. Once considered a fringe major league prospect, he has relentlessly played his way into a starting job at second base and an important role in the Angels’ lineup since his debut in 2018.

The deal is a sign of new Angels general manager Perry Minasian‘s belief in Fletcher, who became just the fifth player with a financial commitment from the team beyond the current season. Only Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Fletcher are signed beyond 2022.

“The guy is from the area, and he’s what we want to be about,” Minasian said. “Before I took this job, I watched a lot of video, and obviously there’s some big-name guys on this team, and the guy that stood out over and over again was Fletch.”

Fletcher is a throwback player in many ways – a high-volume contact hitter who doesn’t rely on homers, hardly ever strikes out and plays stellar defense at multiple positions.

Fletcher is a career .292 hitter with 10 homers and 92 RBIs in his three big league seasons, frequently serving as the Angels’ leadoff hitter in that stretch. His 239 hits in the past two years are the seventh-most in the AL, and he led the Angels in hits and doubles last season while finishing third in the league with a .319 average.

“I just try to play the game the right way,” Fletcher said. “I like to think I inspire some younger kids to be OK with just going out and playing the game hard and getting the most out of what you can do. … I don’t think I was really overlooked. I just think people value different things. I just play the game, and might not have as good of tools as other guys, and some of those things don’t really get measured, but it’s nice to see me getting rewarded for that.”

Fletcher loves the Angels as much as they love him: He was born in Orange, California, next-door to Anaheim, and attended high school a few miles away in Cypress.

“I don’t take it for granted, playing at home,” Fletcher said. “It’s a big thing for me. I’m really fortunate to be able to do so, and especially here with great fans and great people around here.”

Along with providing sturdy defense at second base, shortstop or third base, Fletcher also is among the toughest players to strike out in recent history. His 9.67 plate appearances per strikeout since 2018 are the second-most in the big leagues.

The Angels value Fletcher’s defensive versatility along with his offensive skills. Although shortstop is his natural position, he can also play the corner outfield spots along with three infield positions.

“That was an intriguing part of this,” Minasian said. “He can do so many different things on the field. To have this player locked up for as long as we do is beneficial, and he’s the type of guy that will play anywhere. … I’ll bet if we asked him to put on the (catcher’s) gear, he’d do it. That’s the kind of guy he is.”

Fletcher will make $2 million this season, $4 million in 2022 and $6 million in 2023 and 2024, followed by $6.5 million in 2025. The Angels have a $1.5 million buyout in 2026 and 2027.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.