As Teddy KGB once said, “give that man his money.” That statement very much applies to Mike Trout right now, well, expect for the “man” part since Trout is but 20 years old. But should the man-child get his money? Absolutely.
While the Angels promoted Trout to the majors less than a month ago, the uber-prospect has lived up to his lofty billing and then some. He’s hitting .315, giving the team a legit leadoff man for the first time in years with a .382 OBP and six steals and he has shown a surprising amount of power. With a 1.4 fWAR, trailing only Jered Weaver on the team, Trout is probably the team’s best player.
What does that mean other than small sample sizes are so much fun? It means that the Angels would be well-advised to act fast and secure Trout and his cost levels.
The idea of signing a rookie to a long-term contract before the end of his first season is hardly new one. The Tampa Bay Rays pretty much set the standard for this tactic with the deal they inked Evan Longoria to. For those who don’t know, Longoria signed a contract that guaranteed him $17.5 million for his pre-free agency years with club options for his first three years of free agency eligibility that could push the contract’s total value to $47.5 million. That contract is ridiculously team-friendly for a player of Longoria’s caliber and, well golly, it sure would be swell if Trout would help the Angels out by signing a similar pact.
While the motivation for Trout to sign such a deal would be setting himself up for life financially he is old enough to drink, the Angels stand to gain a lot more. While the Halos may not seem like they need cost certainty like the cash-strapped Rays, they actually do. In order to finance their massive off-season spending spree this winter, the Angels heavily backloaded the deals for Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson as well as the contract extension for Jered Weaver. By the time Trout reaches the potentially expensive final years of arbitration and first year of free agency eligibility, the Angels will already have over $65 million committed to those three players alone. Big TV contract or no, the Angels would surely like to get a major discount on those years of Trout in order to maintain financial flexibility.
Just look at what the deal has done for Tampa. Longoria is one of the best players in baseball and making just $4.5 million in what would be his second year of arbitration when he could’ve been making nearly three times that much had he not been locked up. That kind of money would cripple the Rays, but it would still hurt the Halos given the current cost structures.
More importantly than all of that is the Angels finding a way to prevent Trout from hitting the open market. As it stands right now, Mike would be a free agent at the age of 26. A player of his caliber hitting the market at such a young age? That could put him in line for… dare I say it, Pujols money, if not more at the rate salaries are growing. While the Angels will hopefully still have the deep pockets to offer Trout a monster deal like that, they’d be a whole lot better off if they just delayed his windfall by a few years.
That, of course, is the hard part.
While the Longoria deal is considered a model for all team’s, it is almost a cautionary tale to young budding superstars since Longo has performed so well that he will probably have given away tens of millions of dollars in potential earnings by the time his contract expires. If the Angels are going to get Trout, or more accurately his agent, to entertain the idea of signing a similar extension, they’ll have to make it a little less similar. Namely, the Halos need to up the ante. Instead of seeking out the mega-savings the Rays got on Longoria, the Angels should focus more on avoiding Trout breaking the bank in arbitration or free agency.
The luxury the Angels have that small market teams don’t have is that they can offer Trout a fair amount of guaranteed money, say maybe $24 million, for his six team control years and not sweat it financially if he somehow doesn’t pan out. They can even afford to make those club options Longoria a little more expensive and possibly even guarantee one or more of them. If the Angels step up and offer Trout a contract that guarantees him at least $30 million for the first six years and as much as $60 million through the first nine, can he or his agent really turn down that kind of long-term stability?
It would be a gamble for the Halos and conservative move by Trout, but one that both sides would be wise to make.