Multiple reports out of spring training Sunday suggest that the Angels and megastar Mike Trout are working on a contract extension. Details are slightly hazy, as usual, but the reports eventually coalesced around a contract length of six years worth somewhere around $150 million for the Millville Meteor, a 22-year-old preparing to enter his third full season in the major leagues. Trout had no comment, but told Los Angeles Times Angels beat writer Mike DiGiovanna, "I like how a lot of people are writing it. It's pretty funny." Indeed, who wouldn't like to have lots of people writing about themselves and $150 million?
If it comes to fruition, the deal's $25 million annual average salary would be the highest ever for a player with between two and three years of service time. It would be second in total value to the nine-year, $167 million contract signed by Buster Posey last March, but the proposed Trout deal comes out well ahead in terms of highest annual salary. Posey will make $21.4 million annually from 2017 through 2021, the five free agent seasons bought out by the contract. The proposed six-year deal for Trout would buy out just two of his free agent seasons -- 2018 and 2019 -- and according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, would pay the two-time AL MVP runner-up $35 million and $38 million respectively for those two seasons.
(Before we dive into this whole thing, an aside on "fairness" in sports contracts: Of course it is not fair, in the cosmic or metaphysical sense, that the baseball player Mike Trout will make hundreds and hundreds times more money than you and me. This is because life, and capitalism, are not fair. So in this or any other discussion about "fair" contracts, remember that "fair" is set by the 30 rich men who own baseball clubs and the executives they pay to run team finances -- not anything deeper or more satisfying. So it goes.)
What will $38 million buy a baseball team in 2019? We already know it would nearly cover the contracts of 29-year-old Andrelton Simmons ($13.1M), 29-year-old Anthony Rizzo ($11.2 million) and 35-year-old Dustin Pedroia ($15.1 million). Or the contracts of 36-year-old Shin-Soo Choo ($21 million) and 35-year-old Prince Fielder ($18 million). Or the contracts of 33-year-old Felix Hernandez ($27.8 million) and 29-year-old Starlin Castro ($11.8 million). Or the contract of 31-year-old Clayton Kershaw ($34.1 million) and the buyout on Cole Hamels's 2019 team option ($6 million).
(Data from Baseball Prospectus's compensation page.)
Mike Trout will turn 27 in August of 2019. He will be two years younger than the youngest of the players already signed through that season (except for Jorge Soler, who has yet to appear above Class A for the Cubs). He will be entering his prime as every other player listed above will either be at their peak or already on the downslope. And the only two full seasons Trout has played so far are the best two seasons (by FanGraphs WAR) by any player signed through 2019. Switch the metric to Baseball-Reference's WAR or Baseball Prospectus's WARP and only Albert Pujols's brilliant 2009 season (.327/.443/.658, MVP award, league-leading 47 home runs) jumps ahead. Of course, Pujols will be 39 in 2019 and has already fallen far from that level.
Analysts will dig for comparisons, but all will be imperfect. Pujols posted two seasons with an OPS+ over 150 to open his career and signed a seven-year, $100 million contract after his third season, but he was a year and a half older than Trout is now when he signed that deal. Ken Griffey Jr. didn't sign an extension of comparable length until he was 30. Alex Rodriguez didn't sign a contract of comparable length until he was 25 -- and he made $252 million over 10 years ending before Trout even entered the league. Andruw Jones -- the only player besides Trout, Griffey and Rodriguez to compile 10 WAR before his age 22 season since free agency began in the 1970s -- earned $12.5 million as a 27-year-old, despite playing in an era when the market severely underpaid defensive wizards like him (via Baseball-Reference).
Surveying the current market and the brief history of comparable players, it is difficult to argue the $38 million figure the Angels would reportedly pay Trout in 2019 is too much, by the rules of the game MLB owners have set down. Mike Trout is a transcendent player, a player who has defied all comparisons over the past two years and seems determined to do so for the next couple decades. Essentially, a fair contract for Trout will pay whatever amount is enough to make him say yes.
If he stays healthy, Trout will all but certainly set the record for the largest contract of all time at some point in his career. It might be after the 2017 season, when he accrues his sixth year of service time and the earliest point at which he can become a free agent at the tender age of 26. It might be after the 2019 season, when the rumored contract extension ends, when he will be 28 years old -- younger than every single position player to sign a multi-year deal this offseason.
Mike Trout says he is laughing at the current rumors, at the idea of so many people writing about him and $150 million at the same time. Expect the laughs to continue, because the big money talk isn't stopping any time soon.