Mike Trout: The Verge Of Riches In 2014
By MJ Lloyd
As we welcome in the New Year and try to remember where we left that bar napkin with all of our brilliant resolutions scribbled on it in a bourbon fueled haste, I’d like to take this time to tell you to slow down and smell the roses. Enjoy the things you normally take for granted. Your friends, your family, an inexpensive Mike Trout. I say this because you never know what’s going to happen. But I have a hunch Mike Trout is going to be insanely rich soon. Like start your own space program rich.
Trout had another historic and MVP caliber season posting a 10.4 fWAR to follow his 10.0 fWAR rookie season. And he made $510,000. He didn’t win the MVP, losing to Miguel Cabrera again, but Trout easily provided the most value for what he was paid (or just in general but that argument is getting exhausting). 2014 marks the final pre-arbitration year for Trout. In Trout’s case, pre-arbitration translates to “before eight figures per season.”
Now, I’m not advocating “that greed – for lack of a better word – is good” but Trout won’t have to be. People are lining up to throw money at the 22-year-old phenom just in case he hits free agency in four years.. And that black cloud, filled with gold doubloons, will be hanging over his head all season. In fact, it started in August and the “Trout contract situation” storyline has only picked up steam heading into 2014.
Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs got it started when he wondered what Trout would get as a free agent this winter if he would only sign a one-year deal. The crowdsourcing project resulted in a $39MM median and Cameron himself saying he wouldn’t be willing to go over $48MM. Buster Olney ran a similar experiment at ESPN (Insider) but with front office types which was summed up with this quote, “I’d think the bidding would begin at $35 million,” said one evaluator, “and wind up somewhere in the range of $45 million to $50 million.”
Of course, those are just fun hypothetical scenarios for Trout fanatics like yours truly and Mike’s portfolio manager. And, hopefully, so was the answer Olney received when he asked what an Angels extension would/should/could be in his December 16 article (also Insider)…
"I asked a long-time agent who does not represent Trout what he might ask for in a negotiation for a multiyear deal, and he paused for a few moments, like someone savoring a good piece of steak. “Why not do something that’s never been done before?” he asked rhetorically. What do you mean? “Twelve years, $400 million.”"
That seems highly unlikely. Although, with the cost of a win going over $6MM in free agency this season, 12/400 might look reasonable by the time Trout plays 12 more seasons. I’d like to believe that 10 years and somewhere between $240MM and $280MM would get a Mike Trout autograph but it’s unclear what the Angels are even considering doing about the looming Trout financial crisis. Trout could start making $15MM in his first arb year in 2015 since the record is $10MM set by Ryan Howard in 2008. The Angels backed themselves into a win-now mode with the Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton contracts that require a spend-your-way-out strategy only the Yankees can afford. While signing Masahiro Tanaka or Matt Garza might make a ton of sense, it also takes away money that is eventually going to have to be stuffed down Mike Trout’s pants. Or however major leaguers receive paychecks.
Okay, instead of continuing on with Trout’s compensation preview for 2014 and beyond, including how he’ll eventually buy New Jersey from the US and rename it Troutlandia for tax and health care reasons, let’s move forward to his on-field outlook.
Prognosticators were correct expecting the babip and batting average regression from Trout’s magical rookie campaign. The batting average on balls in play tumbled from .383 to .376 causing his batting average to slip from .327 to .323 but he actually got better at the plate. He increased his walk rate and decreased his strikeout rate. It resulted in second place finishes in wOBA and wRC+ behind Cabrera and ahead of Chris Davis. His defense didn’t rate as prolifically as it did in 2012 but Trout will have center field all to himself in 2014 after Peter Bourjos was dealt to St. Louis in the off season.
With a healthy Pujols and not-possibly-as-terrible Hamilton in 2014, Trout shouldn’t have to shoulder the offense again. Not that anybody expects him to slow down. Fangraphs’ Steamer projects a .308/.405/.543 line with 27 homers and 33 steals and a 9.0 fWAR. Yes, kids, the projections have moved right to ludicrous speed with Trout. Don’t believe me?
If you didn’t click to embiggen, that’s a .305/.408/.542 line with 34 doubles, 10 triples, 29 home runs, 43 stolen bases and a 10 WAR from ZiPS. And ZiPS, like most computer programs, doesn’t usually fall in love like that. Who’s going to keep Dan Szymborski warm at night now, huh ZiPS?
Another 10 WAR season to start his career would be unheard of. Another 10 WAR season and we’re starting to talk about Willie Mays 1962-1965 or Mickey Mantle 1955-1957. And we’re talking about a kid who won’t turn 23 until August. I guess the argument against Trout is how can he possibly get any better. But that’s what we were left wondering at the end of 2012 and he had no problem with that.
*removes crumpled napkin from back pocket*
My New Years resolution? More aggressively promote Mike Trout’s awesomeness. Maybe a Kickstarter to fund Banksy painting Detroit with Trout’s likeness?