FanPost

Mike Trout and the Questions of Too Much, Too Soon

If you're the type to judge a story by its title, you may assume my intent is to say that there has been too much pressure on Mike Trout, too many accolades given, or that he was simply brought up too soon. You'd be wrong. If you're going to be a Major Leaguer, pressure comes with the territory. If you start performing, and performing extremely well, you deserve the praise. If you're performing like Trout, you deserve so much more than praise. And clearly, the Angels didn't bring him up a second too soon. Since his call-up on April 28th, the Angels are 52-39.

So what is this too much, too soon? The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are in a unique situation. They have a player who truly defines the term generational talent. I don't think there is anyone out there who will argue Trout's talents are for real. Many players have break-out rookie campaigns only to fall flat in their sophomore season and eventually level out as mediocre. That's not going to be the case with Trout. Barring injury, we can see his future. All-Star appearances, MVPs, World Series rings, etc. If all this is true, the Angels have a decision to make. Do they wait until he's played a few years before making the decision to sign him to a nice, long-term deal, or do they do it this offseason?

Trout does not even hit his first arbitration year until 2015. That means the Angels will be paying him at or near league minimum for this season, the 2013 season, and the 2014 season. After that we may see one of, if not the, biggest salary jumps in the history of salary arbitration. It's well documented that arbitrators favor power, average, and RBI - many of the more traditional statistics. But the truth is, Mike Trout should blow away anyone with any of the statistics in which we use to measure him, traditional or advanced. A $10 million jump or more in his first year of arbitration would not be surprising. With that knowledge, could the Angels sign Trout to an extension this offseason and buy out his arbitration years and some free agent years? Of course, but will it be too much, too soon? (see I got you all wrapped back around to the title)

First, it's important to understand how many years away from free agency we're talking with Trout. Not including this season, Mike Trout will be able to play five more seasons in L.A. before he becomes a free agent. That would mean a contract extension that buys out any free agent time must be at least six years. However, teams generally don't buy out just one year of free agency, and with a player like Trout, it would make sense to buy out much more than one year. A ten-year deal would buy out Trout's remaining pre-arbitration eligible years, his three years of arbitration eligibility, and five years of free agency. Ten more seasons in the White and Red would surely be a welcome thought to most Angels fans, but it will cost the Angels. A lot.

Beyond the Boxscore's own Glenn DuPaul wrote back in March about a fantasy, 20-year contract for Mike Trout. This came about thanks to a tweet by Baseball Prospectus' Sam Miller. Glenn theorized that the Angels would never go as far as offering Trout a 20-year deal, and he's right. Of course, Glenn's piece was written before we saw Trout play 89 games of incredible baseball. The truth is that while the Angels won't give Trout a 20-year contract, the numbers Glenn used for estimated contract price have absolutely changed. I think he would agree. I will borrow Glenn's numbers that show the estimated production and salary for Trout over a fictional 20-year deal.

Glenn estimated that Trout's first arbitration year would see him jump to about $3 million. This was a fair estimate at the time considering we had then only seen Trout play 40 games in 2011. The comps used for this estimation were Hunter Pence and Andre Ethier. I think we can all agree, Trout is proving to be on a different level. Glenn has Trout receiving $7million in his second year of arbitration and $10.5 million in his third. As Trout settles into his free agent years, Glenn has him making an average of about $18 million per season.

The analysis behind this projection was fantastic. It was as accurate as you could get with the data we had prior to the 2012 season. What we couldn't have known, what Glenn couldn't have known was the incredible success Trout would have this year. The free agent years and salary estimates were based on Trout settling in as a 3 win player per year. He's already at 7 bWAR this season in 411 plate appearance! It may be time to rethink Trout's value and what the Angels would have to offer in terms of arbitration buy-out dollars and free agency buy-out dollars.

Kevin Goldstein wrote a piece for ESPN Insider in which he polled scouts and executives around the league. The common theme was that Trout's success would make him a lot of money in arbitration, thus making a contract extension more difficult for the Angels - and by more difficult, we're talking more expensive. Most of those polled did not think now was the time for a Trout extension since the Angels could pay low now and work the extension as his free agent years grew nearer.

Yet, the Angels want Trout eight years from now. They want him ten years from now. As Trout enters his year 29 season, he should be in is prime. That's right, he's not in his prime yet, folks. Now we're back at the ten-year contract extension, which would carry Trout into his prime years. Why not offer it now? The Angels will be spending more over the next five years, but they could save themselves some money on the back-end of the deal. While Trout knows what he's worth, a ten-year deal now would be very enticing. During his pre-arbitration years, anything could happen. He could be injured and never make a dime. He could be injured and never play the same again. There are so many things that could go wrong and cost Trout money, he would be hard-pressed not to seriously consider a ten-year deal now even knowing that he would likely make a lot more if he played it out and became a free agent after the 2017 season.

The other thing to consider is Trout's age. A ten-year contract given this offseason would carry Trout through the age of 31. A 31 year-old All-Star and potential MVP outfielder can earn a large multi-year deal, so Trout has another big contract to look forward to even if he signs one now with the Angels. Maybe Trout signs the "team-friendly" deal now with the understanding that he will have a chance for another big payday again in the future. And make no mistake, a "team-friendly" deal right now will still be expensive.

A ten-year, $150 million deal for Trout this offseason would give him and average of $15 million per year. That's quite the jump from the $500,000 he's due to make this year, next year, and in 2014. And if we go back to Sam Miller's question about a 20-year deal, my ten-year suggestion would indicate I think Trout is worth $300 million over 20 years. Maybe he is, but let's break down the ten-year suggestion.

We know Jerry Dipoto likes to back load his contracts (see Albert Pujols as a great example), so it would not be surprising to see a ten-year deal fro Trout look something like this:

2013 - $5 million

2014 - $8 million

2015 - $10 million

2016 - $12 million

2017 - $15 million

2018 - $15 million

2019 - $18 million

2020 - $20 million

2021 - $22 million

2022 - $25 million

Rather than justify the totals of this suggested contract, I'd like to show what Trout would have to do to live up to it and make it a team-friendly deal (bargain just doesn't seem like it could be the right word). Obviously this is not a free agent deal, it's an early extension. We know about what Trout would make over the next two year ($500k per season), and we can estimate he would get a large bump in arbitration. After we get past the arbitration years, we can finally use our friend WAR to figure just how productive Trout would need to be.

Remember, this is not an estimate, but rather what Trout would need to be worth in terms of WAR to break-even:

Year

Non-Extension Status

10-Year Contract Pay

Break-even WAR

2013

Pre-Arbitration

$5 million

2.0

2014

Pre-Arbitration

$8 million

2.0

2015

Arbitration

$10 million

2.0

2016

Arbitration

$12 million

2.0

2017

Arbitration

$15 million

2.0

2018

Free Agent

$15 million

3.0

2019

Free Agent

$18 million

3.6

2020

Free Agent

$20 million

4.0

2021

Free Agent

$22 million

4.4

2022

Free Agent

$25 million

5.0

To calculate the break-even WAR, I started with the end of the contract and worked back. The general thought is that each win above replacement is worth about $5 million in free agent dollars. If Trout is to make $25 million in 2022, he would need to be worth 5.0 WAR. I worked back from there for each of the free agent years to estimate the WAR necessary to break even. From there I was left with the arbitration years and the pre-arbitration years. Essentially, the Angels would be over-paying in those years for the chance to make it back in the free agent years. They would obviously be over-paying in the pre-arbitration years, and may actually be paying the going rate for the arbitration years.

For the sake of argument, let's assume the Angels over-paid in each of the 2013-2017 seasons. That's five years in which they are paying $50 million dollars according to my suggested contract. In free agent dollars, Trout would need to be worth 10 WAR over that time to make it worth it. Of course, these aren't free agent dollars, but considering the Angels probably won't be over-paying for the arbitration years, it seems fair to say that 10 WAR over that time would be around the break-even point or better.

The WAR totals alone make this seem like an attractive contract for the Angels. They would be getting a star player for his age 21-30 seasons. They wouldn't need him to be a 7.0 WAR player like he is right now to make the deal beneficial, they'd just need him to average 3.0 WAR. On Trout's end, he'd be getting $150 million guaranteed. That's hard to turn down at 21 with an entire career ahead of him. But assuming Trout would take the deal, how much risk is there for the Angels? The answer is, a lot. Two or three injury plagued seasons could take Trout's average WAR below the 3.0 necessary to break even on this proposed contract. A career-threatening injury could cost the Angels more than just their $150 million. It could cost them the ability to put a contending team together for upwards of of a decade. But risks are part of baseball, and Jerry Dipoto has shown a willingness to take risks. He gave Pujols a ten-year deal worth $240 million. The same risks that come along with a contract for Trout come along with the Pujols contract.

However, Trout is far less proven than Pujols. Would it hurt the Angels that much to wait a couple years before considering an extension? As the first arbitration year approached, couldn't the Angels consider an extension then? Of course they could. However, if Trout continues to perform at the level he has this season, the Angels may find themselves unable to complete a deal that makes economic sense. It may be unprecedented, but a ten-year deal for Trout this offseason is probably not too much, too soon.

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