Mike Trout: How his historic contract looks one year later

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

Looking back at Mike Trout’s historic extension one year later.

One year ago today, Mike Trout put ink to paper on the largest contract in sports history. The player many consider the best in baseball was finally paid as the best player, guaranteeing himself more than $420 million over twelve years, a $100 million surplus compared to the 13-year contract superstar outfielder Bryce Harper had signed weeks earlier. Trout’s contract includes a full no trade clause. He is an Angel for life, unless one day he doesn’t want to be (unspeakable!).

Looking back a year later, it is interesting to see if market conditions have changed since Trout signed his historic deal. A lot can happen in a year, as the current realities from the novel coronavirus have taught us. We can look at the most recent free agent signing period, which occurred before COVID-19 impacted baseball operations, to evaluate whether the size of Trout’s contract would have looked different one year later.

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Gerrit Cole was the big winner this offseason, signing his own record-breaking deal with the Yankees worth $360 million over ten years. That is a rich contract for a pitcher, a position that carries unique value, but also significant risk due to heightened injury concerns. If you consider the amount remaining on Trout’s contract before he signed his extension ($66 million), he essentially signed for the same price as Cole by adding $360 million to his existing wage to reach $426 million total over twelve seasons.

Cole produced 14.3 WARP over his past two amazing seasons on the mound, according to Baseball Prospectus. That is nearly three wins less than what Trout produced over that time. In other words, Billy Eppler was able to sign Trout for essentially the same contract as Gerrit Cole, with Trout one year younger, more impactful as an everyday player, and probably less prone to break down at the center field position compared to a pitcher.

Stephen Strasburg was the second highest paid pitcher this offseason. He inked a seven-year deal worth $245 million to remain with the Nationals. The average annual value of $35 million coming out the same as Cole’s and within $500,000 of Trout’s.

We don’t need to look too far to find the highest paid positional player from the winter. The Angels gave Anthony Rendon $245 million over seven years, which again equates into an average annual value of $35 million, right in line with Trout.

One year later, it appears the Angels are still paying Trout market value on an average annual basis. Part of this is because his signing helps set the market. Front office executives and player agents use the top player in the game to create a baseline for what other contracts should look like. You expect his annual average salary to be in line with other top players. It is the length of Trout’s deal where you find potential risk. Remember, while Rendon is one year older than Trout, his contract will come off the books four years sooner. Trout will be paid until 2030 when he will be 39-years-old. In evaluating Trout’s deal, you have to consider the length on top of the dollar value.

To do that, we look at projections. At the time of his signing, PECOTA projected Trout to amass a franchise-changing 80.3 WARP (Baseball Prospectus’ Wins Above Replacement Player) over the length of his extension. If he actually meets those expectations, throw out the calculators and fancy math, it means he will have remained one of the best, if not, the best, players in baseball over a long stretch of time.

One year into those projections and the returns are good. The center fielder actually outperformed the model in 2019, finishing atop the major league leaderboards for WARP. Meanwhile, Bryce Harper, one year younger than Trout, underperformed his PECOTA projection in 2019 by nearly 25%.

Trout is expected to perform his best over the front-end of his contract. By doing so, he essentially creates surplus value, as his annual average salary is locked no matter how amazing he performs. If his production eventually dips towards the end of his career, the Angels are then protected: they would have realized a market efficiency in the near-term (receiving production worth more than the amount he is paid) to help offset any lost production in the long-term.

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For Angels fans, the most important news about Mike Trout’s contract is that he will be in Anaheim until 2030. And unlike other big dollar signings of the past, he doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.