Can the Angels Afford to Extend Mike Trout?


Los Angeles Angels center fielder

Mike Trout

(27) rounds the bases after he hits a solo home run in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday Jonah Keri wrote an excellent and lengthy piece on Mike Trout‘s sophomore year which as it turns out, is nearly as historic as his rookie season (read our piece on Trout’s historic 2013 here). In the Keri’s piece, there’s a side bar regarding what it would take to extend Mike Trout past his arbitration years. Keri asked Dan Szymborski, the creator of the ZiPS projection system and here’s what he said:

"“With arbitration discounts, ZiPS estimates that a fair price to buy out arbitration years would be four years, $42 million ($0.5M, $6.2M, $14.6M, $21.1M). After that, at 4 percent salary growth, a win’s estimated to be worth $5.7 million by the time he reaches free agency, so you’re going to have to give him $30 million a year for those free-agent years. At least.By those estimates, if the Angels wanted to give Trout a 10-year deal to take him through his 32nd birthday, they’d have to offer something like $222 million. The crazy thing about that deal is it would be the fifth-largest in baseball history, trailing only Alex Rodriguez‘s $275 million and $250 million deals, Albert Pujols‘s $240 million contract, and Joey Votto‘s $225 million deal … even though Trout would be four years away from even being able to test the market if he signed this winter.”"

When using the popular advanced metric stat Wins Above Replacement, Szymborski concludes that even at that price, Mike Trout would be a steal :

"“…ZiPS projects Trout to produce a staggering 71.5 Wins Above Replacement over the next 10 seasons — roughly what Reggie Jackson and Rod Carew produced for their entire careers. In other words, even if you paid Trout as a $30 million–a–year player for his first six years of free-agent eligibility, he’d still project to be a hellacious bargain.”"

Currently, the Angels have two multi-year deals worth over $100 million dollars committed to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Their payroll for the 2016 season currently sits at $106 million for just five players.

Can the Angels even afford to offer Trout such a deal? Surprisingly, it seems plausible.

Mike Trout doesn’t become a free agent until 2018 and isn’t arbitration eligible until 2015. If the Angels offer Trout $42 million to buy out those arbitration years as Szymborski suggests, they would likely try to stagger Trout’s yearly salary through those years much as they have done with previous expensive, long-term contracts (see C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols). In doing so the Angels would leave themselves a bit of financial wiggle room (not much but some) through those years as some of their longer, more expensive contracts expired. Then by the time Trout’s $30 million dollar a year salary kicked in come the 2018 season, only one of the remaining long-term contracts the Angels are currently committed to (Albert Pujols) would remain.

Of course, this possibility presupposes that the Angels won’t lock themselves into any other long-term contracts until then. If the past few years are any indication, that seems unlikely. Then again, maybe the Angels have learned their lesson in the wake of a struggling Josh Hamilton and a hurt and aging Albert Pujols.

And think about this: while it may seem like the Angels signing another long-term contract is the last thing they should be doing with a bloated payroll and a lopsided win-loss record as a result. Mike Trout will be only 27 in 2018. Or in other words, the prime of his career. Which might make what could be the most expensive contract in Angels history also their smartest.