The Los Angeles Angels renewed the contract of OF Mike Trout today and opted to pay the phenom $510,000 for the 2013 season, which rankled Trout’s agent. As Mark Townsend relates in that Big League Stew piece, Craig Landis went public with his criticism of the organization over this move.
Now, the Angels are well within their rights to give such a salary to any pre-arbitration player and, though the major league minimum currently sits at $490,000, Trout’s at the mercy of the same protocol that every 2nd-year major league player deals with. The obvious problem with that is the incredible rookie year that Trout had for these Halos.
At age 20, Mike Trout went nuts at the plate and in the field to earn Rookie of the Year honors and, if Miguel Cabrera hadn’t won the Triple Crown, he would have brought home MVP hardware as well. It is very debateable whether Trout should have been named MVP anyway, despite Cabrera’s historic feat.
But there’s another side to this story and if the Trout camp sees it, they’ll be much better for it. The Angels are going for it. Not the AL west, but the 2013 World Series title. And beyond. You think the Dodgers are all-in and spending huge money to win now? Don’t overlook what the Angels have done recently.
The Angels stole the headlines at the 2011 Winter Meetings by swooping in and, presumably out of nowhere, signing Albert Pujols. That cost them 10 years and $240M, not to mention that the back end of that deal will pay huge amounts while Pujols approaches and passes the age of 40. It didn’t work out in 2012, so GM Jerry Dipoto dove in again this offseason and signed Josh Hamilton at $125M over five years. If you look at the terms, those two contracts are going to cost the Angels $16M (Pujols) and $15M (Hamilton) in 2013, and it only gets worse for the club from there. The escalators kick in pretty quick and as soon as 2015 the Angels owe the pair a total of $47M.
Add to the financial mix the mother of all bad contracts in Vernon Wells, which was acquired by Dipoto’s predecessor, Tony Reagins. Whoops! There goes $21M in 2013 and again in 2014. And it’s easy to forget about lefty starter C.J. Wilson who was lured away from the division rivals in Texas for $77.5M over five years. That Jered Weaver guy that’s the ace of the staff costs a little money too ($85M over five years).
So, at some point, money has to become an issue, right? Well, here’s the greatest 20-year old in history and he just posted a season for the ages. Under ordinary circumstances, he wouldn’t be the guy you exercise your cost-control over despite the fact that he is still so early into his club-control years. You’d basically hand him the keys to the franchise. Outdo the Evan Longoria and Troy Tulowitzki contracts if you have to, but keep this guy around and let your fan base know he’s yours for the long term.
Yet, with all that money flying around in Anaheim, this is a special case. Trout can certainly wonder where the love is, but if he’s in it to win, he should be able to recognize that his paydays are coming and they’re going to be as historic as his performance was on the field last year. The Wells debacle clears the books after 2014. If Trout performs at, or anywhere near the other-worldly 2012 level over this season and next, it’s hard to imagine that things wouldn’t play out any other way than that money being converted to his long-term deal.
Bottom line, the Angels have one hell of a bottom line. They have spent to compete at the highest level and aren’t happy with coming in third like they did in 2012. It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and say what a team should or shouldn’t pay a player, but if it isn’t your money then it’s all just words in the wind. The Angels have made financial decisions that go well beyond 2013 and it’s a strange twist of fate that one area in which they can find some relief is in a guy who is set up to have the greatest career in baseball history. It was only one season, of course, but as the baseball tides flow, Mike Trout is a tsunamai. Not because of anything on a scouting report or what he did as an amateur or in the minor leagues. It’s because he ran roughshod over the big leagues and he did it as a 20-year old. (He turned 21 in August). That’s contract bargaining leverage in spades.
But he’s under club control, per MLB’s rules. So the Angels did what they did today and Trout’s agent sounded off about it. It doesn’t look good right now, but this too shall pass. Let’s see how the Angels perform, if Trout has a sophomore slump, what the club gets for all its money spent on big name talent, etc. These things have a way of working themselves out. Mike Trout will have his day at the bargaining table. You can’t fault Landis for feeling the way he does at the point where his client may possibly have the most leverage he will ever be able to wield in a contract negotiation. He just didn’t have a say this time around. Those are the rules.
Here’s hoping Trout doesn’t let this affect him on the field. That would be a shame. He’s going to get paid and he’s in an organization that is handing out lucrative long-term deals. Let’s see how this plays out and if he gets his blockbuster payday from this organization or, with today’s move being a factor, some other MLB club.