Mike Trout Leaves Money On the Table Again

Mike Trout is a better player than Bryce Harper and Manny Machado combined. He’s been more than twice as valuable as each of those players in their young careers. And yet Mike Trout is about to agree to a contract that, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, will pay him like he’s one of the greatest players of this generation instead of potentially being the greatest player of this century, and one of the greatest baseball talents of all time. As first reported by Passan, Mike Trout and the Angels have agreed to a 12-year deal worth $430 million, with Bill Shaikan reporting the deal will come in at $426.5 million. Because Trout was already owed $66.5 million over the next two seasons, the contract is functionally a 10-year extension worth $360 million. Trout is essentially accepting something similar to the Harper/Machado deals two years in advance. This is not the first time Trout has made this choice, which is very much a personal decision, but it is one that has cost him potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 2014, Trout was coming off an eight-win season, which itself came on the heels of two 10-win campaigns. His 29.2 WAR mark through his age-22 season was the best in baseball history. Before he signed a six-year, $144.5 million contract giving away three free agent seasons, Dave Cameron wrote about the potential for a contract extension, and expected a figure more than $100 million higher. When Trout actually signed, Cameron followed up:

You don’t need another 1,500 word explanation of why this is a hilarious steal for the Angels. Trout would have made something like $50 to $60 million in arbitration had he gone year to year, so the Angels are basically getting three free agent years for $85 to $95 million. This doesn’t come anywhere near Trout’s value, and Trout has left an enormous amount of money on the table. Even if his goal was to reach free agency again and sign a second monstrous contract, he still is worth so far more than the roughly $30 million per year he signed away three free agent years for.

That bargain five years ago made the current one possible. Because Trout had two more years left until free agency (instead of entering the market last offseason), he was limited to the Angels when it came to contract partners. Because the Angels’ risk of losing Trout wasn’t going to present itself for another two seasons, any new contract with him was going to come with a discount. In this case, the discount meant signing a deal like Harper and Machado’s instead of one like Alex Rodriguez’s.

After Harper and Machado signed their contracts, I attempted to compare the two deals because it can be difficult to put a 13-year deal and a 10-year deal for differing amounts into proper context. The present-day values of each contract is below, with the numbers translated into a 10-year deal, and Trout’s contract listed with just the extension (2021-2030), as well as with the two years Trout was already guaranteed (2019-2030). The numbers have been updated now that we know Trout is paid $36 million the next two seasons and $35.45 million each year beginning in 2021.

Present-Day Value of the Mike Trout Contract
Total Value Present-Day Value 10-Year Equivalent
Bryce Harper $330 M $220.8 M $305 M
Manny Machado $300 M $217.4 M $300 M
Mike Trout (2021-2030) $360 M $225.5 M $311 M
Mike Trout (2019-2030) $426.5 M $289.6 M $400 M

The Angels appear to have looked at Mike Trout and said, “We know we owe you about $65 million over the next few seasons. Keep that and we will give you the Harper/Machado contract right now.” Trout said yes, and now the Angels have one the best players in baseball history locked in for his age-29 through age-38 seasons. Even when you factor in the two years Trout is already owed, that $400 million is significantly below his value, assuming that Machado and Harper are worth $300 million. Those two years left until free agency meant a massive discount for the Angels.

When we call this deal a bargain, we can look at Mike Trout’s contract relative to Harper and Machado’s, and know that Trout is only receiving a little more money despite being a lot better. We can also look at potential future value. I love to look at comps and try to get a sense of a player’s future, but comps aren’t really fair for Mike Trout because there are barely a handful of players who even come close to his level of play. Consider Trout’s career trajectory by year, and the number of players ahead of him by WAR.

Mike Trout By Age
Age Season Trout WAR Players Better Since 1901
Through Age-20 10.8 Mel Ott
Through Age-21 21 NA
Through Age-22 29.2 NA
Through Age-23 38.5 NA
Through Age-24 48.2 NA
Through Age-25 55.1 Ty Cobb
Through Age-26 64.9 NA

Ty Cobb the only comp for Mike Trout. Ty Cobb! Trout ranks third right now through age-27 even though he hasn’t even played the season yet, and he needs just four wins to pass Cobb and Mickey Mantle. He’s already surpassed the average Hall of Famer. Maybe you think that the early start to Trout’s career inflates the numbers. Even taking away his first two seasons, from age-22 through age-26, the only players with more WAR are Mantle and Cobb. Even just looking at the last three years, which includes an injury-shortened 2017 campaign, only Babe Ruth, Mantle, Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Tris Speaker, Alex Rodriguez, and Cobb are ahead of Trout. If Trout plays like any of those players, he’ll cost something like $4 million to $5 million per win over the last 10 years of the deal. If we wanted to conservatively estimate the current value of a win on the free agent market at $9 million without any inflation, Trout wouldn’t need to age like one of the 10-best players in history — aging like the 50th would still be a good value.

The deal is such a slam dunk for the Angels that it feels a little silly to talk about what it means in baseball terms. The Angels get to keep one of the best players in history. They can now plan for the future knowing they have Trout. It would have been fun to see what an all-in Angels team would’ve looked like in 2020 with Trout a pending free agent, but hopefully this deal means we get to see the fun of a franchise that is secure in its star ensuring that that star gets a ring. After all, Mike Trout in the playoffs is good for baseball.

When it comes to adjusting the biggest contracts in baseball history for inflation, this one is a little tough to assess. We have that $430 million, but we also have that $363.5 million that doesn’t kick in until 2021. To provide some historical context — as I did for Machado and Harper earlier this offseason and later updated — I’ve included two Trout contracts below. The first is the $426.5 million figure representing the total value of the money owed to Trout; the second is Trout’s extension, assuming 5% inflation in the following two seasons.

Biggest Contract in MLB Adjusted to 2019
Player Year Years Total Value ($/M) 2019 Adjustment ($/M) AAV 2019 ADJ ($/M)
Alex Rodriguez 2001 10 $252 M $592 M $59.2 M
Alex Rodriguez 2008 10 $275 M $448 M $44.8 M
Derek Jeter 2001 10 $189 M $444 M $44.4 M
Mike Trout 2019 12 $426.5 M $426.5 M $35.5 M
Giancarlo Stanton 2015 13 $325 M $393 M $30.3 M
Manny Ramirez 2001 8 $160 M $376 M $47 M
Albert Pujols 2012 10 $240 M $358 M $35.8 M
Bryce Harper 2019 13 $330 M $330 M $25.4 M
Ken Griffey, Jr. 2000 9 $116.5 M $330 M $36.6 M
Mike Trout (extension only) 2021 10 $360 M $327 M $32.7 M
Prince Fielder 2012 9 $214 M $319 M $35.4 M
Robinson Cano 2014 10 $240 M $310 M $31 M
Manny Machado 2019 10 $300 M $300 M $30 M
Kevin Brown 1999 7 $105 M $297 M $42.5 M
Joey Votto 2014 10 $225 M $290 M $29 M
Mark Teixeira 2009 8 $180 M $290 M $36.2 M
Joe Mauer 2011 8 $184 M $289 M $36.1 M
Mike Hampton 2001 8 $121 M $284 M $35.5 M
Clayton Kershaw 2014 7 $215 M $277 M $39.6 M
Todd Helton 2003 9 $141.5 M $277 M $30.8 M
Jason Giambi 2002 7 $120 M $276 M $39.4 M
Carlos Beltran 2005 7 $119 M $263 M $37.6 M
Nolan Arenado 2019 8 $260 M $260 M $32.5 M

When stacked up against comparable players and comparable contracts, Mike Trout was a humongous bargain in his last contract and will be one in his the next, but if we can play devil’s advocate a little, it’s tougher to determine how much Trout actually cost himself. Let’s say he had been a free agent last offseason like he would have without a contract extension. What would his contract have been? There’s a reasonable argument for 15 years and $600 million. Look at the Alex Rodriguez contract above. In another two years, might $500 million been on the table? That might have been what Trout was looking at, but what if last year the market didn’t quite develop as he had hoped, and he ended up with just $500 million? What if the top offer had only been $400 million after 2020? Does that seem so far-fetched given the way these past two offseasons have progressed?

Trout is now set to make around $460 million for the remainder of his free agent years. He jumped the gun twice and took a discount. The value he will provide will far exceed the money he is set to earn. It’s possible, however, because of the way spending has progressed, that Trout has actually cost himself little to no money by signing these extensions. Mike Trout was always going to be a bargain; we have a hard time wrapping our heads around the number he’s really worth. He’s the best player in baseball, and simultaneously the most underrated one. That’s a ridiculous feat, but with Mike Trout, we’ve grown accustomed to ridiculous feats.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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4 years ago

True, but. Even moving the payroll up to the luxury tax, there is only so much LAA can pay Trout and still have money for the rest of the team. Does no good for him to make $60M per year and have the team be in third place. Plus he has a lot of endorsement $. And maybe breaking the bank wasn’t his primary objective?

4 years ago
Reply to  gyaris

Only making $30 million (or less) hasn’t really stopped the Angel’s from finishing 3rd or worse in Trout’s career.

4 years ago
Reply to  oconnk11

While it would be great to see Trout in the playoffs, I’m weary of the narrative that the Angels and Arte Moreno don’t deserve him or somehow aren’t trying to build a winner around him. The Angels have had a top 10 payroll every single year of Mike Trout’s career. Every single one, including the pre-arbitration years where Trout himself was making a pittance. Last off-season they signed Justin Upton to a five year deal, added Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart, while also managing to bring in Shohei Otani. Unfortunately those moves didn’t work out and the team still finished below .500, but that’s the nature of baseball. It’s difficult to build a winner, even if you’re blessed with one of the greatest players of all-time.

4 years ago
Reply to  jdbolick

Well, part of the problem has been that they’ve also had to work around the money owed to Hamilton and Pujols (and once the Hamilton contract expired, Pujols’s salary kept getting higher). Perhaps they can field a winner starting in 2022.

4 years ago
Reply to  oconnk11

Expert on the past that tells us nothing about the future. Dead weight contracts are nearly all cleared and farm system has been rebuilt into a top 10 system and rising.

4 years ago
Reply to  gyaris

Pay him what he’s worth and he has to hope they can develop a top rate farm system. So far, the Angels have shown they aren’t capable of that. So maybe there will be enough money left to buy a decent team.

4 years ago
Reply to  jcutiger

Last time, I checked that’s actually what the Angels did over the past couple years.

4 years ago
Reply to  gyaris

When Stephen Curry was in talks about his new contract, he commented, “My Pop told me never to worry about how much money another man makes.”

baltic wolfmember
4 years ago
Reply to  WARrior

Damn straight! If you enjoy what you do—and excel at it—the money will be there anyway. That’s exactly what my Dad told me when I first entered college forty yrs. ago.

4 years ago
Reply to  WARrior

Depends on the man. When Bill Russell heard Wilt Chamberlain signed a $100,000 contract for the next season, he told Red Auerbach he wanted a hundred thousand and one dollar. Players are competitive but Trout has no competition.

4 years ago
Reply to  gyaris

“Does no good for him to make $60M per year and have the team be in third place.”

No good? Making $25 million more per year is “no good”?

4 years ago
Reply to  johansantana17

How would the extra money improve his life? I’m sure he’ll have massive regret for not accruing another $100m for his heirs…

Dr. Davemember
4 years ago
Reply to  evo34

This is actually an important point, in evaluating how much Trout left on the table. When you start getting past amounts of money that could actually be consumed as fast as you earn them, overall utility is sharply decreasing. You can’t do twice as many things with $200M as you can with $100M; nearly all of the the things people enjoy can already be done with $100M. And, conversely, being known to have only $100M doesn’ t make you and your family significantly less of a target than being known to have $200M.

In terms of lifestyle, getting what he’s expected to be worth wouldn’t have changed Trout’s future options much. If he’s not into bragging about whose is bigger, and he likes playing for the Angels, maybe he’s being sensible.