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August 8, 2012

Future Shock

Considering a Trout Extension

by Kevin Goldstein

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Mike Trout is having a season for the ages. That shouldn't be news to you. But let's forget about the present for a second and think about what could be an even more promising future, as terrifying as that sounds. By common thought in the analytical community, Trout is still six to eight years away from his peak, and if you’re the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, you want that peak. That means an extension for the most valuable young asset in the game. If you are the Angels, how do you even approach this? To find out, I talked to a number of scouts and executives to get their take.

Theory No. 1: The Cautious Route
For many I polled, now is simply not the time to discuss a Trout extension. “I'll go low because I can just pay him $1-1.5 million for the next two years and then try to do an eight-year deal going into his age 23 season,” said a National League executive. “You're going to be paying him either way,” said another NL official. “So I would probably wait another year or two since you still get him relatively cheap.”

An American League assistant GM noted that Trout's remarkable performance over his three-plus months in the big leagues means you are paying at his absolute peak. “I think they've missed the window to lock him up,” he said. “I know he's not going to suck at any point, but he may at least cool off sometime in the next two years and give you a chance to actually compare him to someone else.” All deals out there are baselines for future deals, and Trout's lack of comparable performances has the potential to create a real problem for the Angels. “Right now, there are no comps and you open the door to any contract number the agent wants to throw out there,” the exec continued. “$100 million isn't crazy right now, but that's kind of the problem.”

Theory No. 2: Fair Market Value
For many officials, this is really just a math question and it falls into three parts. The easy part is the known quantity of Trout's 2013 and 2014 seasons, or, to stick to the industry jargon, the pre-arb years. Those are simple enough to calculate, and even with the Angels giving Trout considerable raises simply as a nice gesture, both seasons should come in at well under $2 million.

Things get complicated from 2015-17, and Trout's three years of arbitration. For one NL executive, the best comparable for these years might be Phillies slugger Ryan Howard. “Howard went Rookie of the Year, MVP, and then back-to-back top five MVP years and his arbitration numbers were $10 and then $15 million,” he explained. “I know Trout could go higher, but a reasonable guess can't be much more than this.”

But others think it could creep a bit higher, according to one AL official. “He has a chance to set arbitration records since he dominated in the statistical categories arbitrators look at, and he has a chance at some hardware.”

Ranges for Trout's three years of arbitration were from $52-$55 million, But there was a remarkable universality in the value of Trout's free agency at this time. “My approximate math has him at $25 million for free agency,” said an NL executive, while another responded, “let's say he gets $25 million per as a free agent.” One AL official wrote “so we'll assume $25 million on the free agent years.”

Add up the $1.5 million for 2013-2014, and average estimate of $53.5 million for the arbitration years and $75 million for the three free agent years, and you have a total of $130 million for the next eight seasons, covering 2013-2020.  Eight years seemed to be a magic number for those that responded as it buys out three years of free agency, while still allowing Trout to hit the open market at 28.

So the question becomes, what's the discount for providing Trout with immense security, and how does one structure the deal?

For many, options could provide additional opportunities for both sides of the table. “I'd be aiming at eight years at $85 million with two option years at $20 million and each with a $5 million buyout,” explained an NL exec. “That guarantees $95 million for eight years with the potential for $115 million over ten.”

That was the general range of logic, but that's also considerably more than previous similar deals done with young stars like Carlos Gonzalez (7 years, $80 million), Evan Longoria (6 years, $17.5 million with the potential for 9 years, $33.5 million), and ranks with Ryan Braun's two contracts that add up to 13 years and $150 million, though five of those years represent free agent time.

“I'm not even sure a $100 million dollar offer would start the conversation at this time,” said an AL official. “That first Pujols deal with the Cardinals (7 years, $100 million) might be the barometer, and in retrospect, that ended up looking like a very club-friendly deal.”

Theory No. 3: The All-In
And that's the problem. In the midst of a historic season, and clearly a remarkable talent, and obviously so incredibly young, would Trout even entertain anything but an equally historic offer at this point? “You might need a 12-15 year contract for it to make sense from Trout's side,” explained an AL executive. “Otherwise, why not dominate your arbitration years and test free agency at 26?”

Even with those parameters, many team officials were interested. When one NL scout was asked how much he'd offer Trout, he simply responded “whatever he wants.”

“I don't think anything is too much for Trout,” said another NL official. “It's just such a different situation given the leverage. If I'm the Angels, I'm looking to do something historic, and we're talking those 12-15 years, to make sure he is the man for our franchise for as long as possible.”

One thing was certainly clear with competing executives: they'd all love to have Trout on their roster, but they did not want to be in their shoes when it came to trying to keep Trout around long term. “I do not envy the Angels. They are in a very precarious situation with this kid,” said an AL front office official. “That being said, I'd certainly try to sign him.”

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  MLB,  Contracts

49 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Very interesting article. Thanks Kevin.

Aug 08, 2012 10:16 AM
rating: 4

Great stuff.

Aug 08, 2012 10:21 AM
rating: 1
Nathan Aderhold

Hindsight 20/20 and all that, but the Angels really missed the boat on this one.

Should have taken a page out of Friedman's book and offered him an extension right away. Now they're going to pay through the teeth.

Aug 08, 2012 10:53 AM
rating: -2
Nathan Aderhold

Geez, not sure I used enough descriptive metaphors there.

Aug 08, 2012 10:55 AM
rating: 10

Right away when? Everybody seems to forget that he was hardly extraordinary last year, and he was only called about up three months ago. By the time it was clear how special he was, it was probably already too late to get a significant bargain for his services.

At this point I'd say there is no rush to extend him.

Aug 08, 2012 12:29 PM
rating: 4

You are correct - Trout was best in 2010. He slumped in 2011.

Possibly a more interesting signing will be Trumbo. What will the Angels do about him?

Aug 08, 2012 16:12 PM
rating: 0

OPSing .955 at 20 in AA is a brutal slump.

Aug 08, 2012 20:25 PM
rating: 0

But that's the whole point. Being smart is offering the extension a year ago when Trout's value is lower, because you know you have a special player on your hands (even if you don't know he's going to be as good as he has been this year). It wasn't a secret that he was one of the top 2-3 prospects in the game, so it's a pretty good gamble to make the deal then. Now, you probably don't try extending him because his value is actually probably higher than his talent (unless you expect him to do this every year).

Aug 10, 2012 06:53 AM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

Do you lock up Jesus Montero now? Is he doing too poorly?

What about someone who is performing at the league average like Matt Moore?

Aug 11, 2012 21:23 PM
rating: 0

Not sure how it's humanly possible for Trout to perform better than he already is now. To me, the questions is whether or not his current performance is sustainable, and if so for how long.

Aug 08, 2012 10:55 AM
rating: 7

You knocked the low hanging fruit out of the park.

Aug 08, 2012 11:17 AM
rating: 1
Richard Bergstrom

While we're on the subject of sustainabiltiy, how sustainable is his .398 BABIP? Sure, he's good, but he's also been a bit lucky. While Alex Rodriguez had a tremendous 1996, he didn't come close to that kind of production again until 2000. It is probably wrong to assume that Trout will remain "this good" and similarly, whatever the Angels do about a Trout contract shouldn't pay for this level of performance.

Aug 08, 2012 11:00 AM
rating: 3

Austin Jackson has a career .377 BABIP in 1743 PAs (maybe 1556 ABs is a more relevant number?) without near the speed of Trout.

I'd also have a hard time believing his power has peaked at 20.

But ARod's 2nd best year was at 20. That doesn't mean the rest of those year's were bad.

Aug 08, 2012 12:42 PM
rating: 1

Jackson's 1091 Balls In Play is going to be the most relevant number.

Aug 08, 2012 13:39 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

So which is it? Does his BABIP remain high because he's faster or because he hits for more power? Are we saying his BABIP is sustainable because, as his speed drops as he ages, his power will increase?

And no, I'm not saying that the rest of A-Rod's years will be bad or that Trout will pull a Corey Patterson... a .300/.350/.550 CF is still very valuable. I'm saying the Angels, if they sign him to a contract, should pay him like a .300/.350/.550 and not at his current rate of .346/.410/.598.

Aug 08, 2012 14:48 PM
rating: 1

If they paid him for this type of performance (a 12-win player per year) he might get $50 mill a year in his FA years.

But I still think a .900 OPS plus defensive CF with plus speed is worth more than $25 mill/yr on the open market. Well above that.

Aug 08, 2012 16:13 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

I would agree (though I'd actually place it closer to $20 million), except that a .900 OPS plus defensive CF with plus speed would probably hit the market with a few thousand plate appearances under his belt, validating that production. Trout just doesn't have an established level of production yet. Last year he was horrid, this year he's been a beast. We don't know whether his true performance is either/or/somewhere in between. As I said earlier this year, even a .900 OPS is hard to do consistently. Alex Rodriguez's career OPS is .947, Pujols 1.027. Heck, Albert got off to a slow start, the last two years are considered "down years" and he had a .906 OPS last year and a .877 OPS this year. Granted they have to go through old age and those numbers will go down even more.

In some ways, this reminds me of the Joe Mauer hype over his power surge a few years ago and everyone saying he was going to remain a better player than Pujols. Turns out, that wasn't the case.

It's great what Trout has done so far and he is very damn promising, but he needs at least another season to "prove" what his level of production is.

Aug 08, 2012 22:03 PM
rating: 1

We probably have more of an idea than you are suggesting. The likelihood of a player with true talent of Trout's 2011 season producing a season like Trout this year is vanishingly small. The likelihood of any player, almost however talented, struggling when they first reach the bigs, is pretty high. It seems very likely that 2012 is signficantly closer to Trout's true talent level than 2011, especially given that most 21 year olds continue to improve for some time.

Aug 10, 2012 07:29 AM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

While I agree that 2012 is likely closer to his true talent level than 2011, the "significant" adjective is a bit shaky. Anyone can have a season "better than the norm" and I am not convinced that he even settles in at a .950 OPS. If I were a betting man (in something other than Texas Hold'em), I'd wager he'd settle in at a .900 OPS which, as I said, is still very valuable, especially in a center fielder. He may even settle in to a .950 OPS but I'm not betting on that yet.

Why do I think he might settle in in that .900 range? Ok, call me very silly, but his minor league OPS is .941. Granted, players mature and get better as they age, but the major leagues is supposed to be more difficult than the minor leagues. I can't fathom that turning a year older offsets the additional difficulty of hitting major league pitching.

In the history of baseball, there have been many many hyped prospects who flamed out before reaching the majors. There've also been many prospects who had a good rookie year and a bad second year and similarly, a lot of good propsects who had a bad first year and a good second year. You have hyped players who are good like Joe Mauer who had a .936 OPS at 23, had a home run surge 3 years later in 2006 for a 1.031 OPS but, while remaining above average, hasn't broken that .900 OPS barrier otherwise. You have people like Ben Grieve who had a .840ish OPS in his age 22-24 seasons and never broke .800 again in his career. Basically, there are a whole range of career paths. Trout may be a once-in-a-blue-moon-OMG-never-seen-before-talent but there have been similarly anointed players and not all of them have panned out.

Please keep in mind, my argument isn't really whether Trout is talented or not. The argument is a .900 OPS is damn hard for any player to do once but it does, on occasion, happen. However, as hard as that is to do, it's much much harder to sustain that level of production. If we're talking in terms of a Trout extension, there's little justifiable reason, at this point, to pay assuming Trout will continue to produce at even a .950 OPS level.

Aug 11, 2012 21:18 PM
rating: 0

His BABIP remains high because he hits the ball hard, and because he runs fast. Probably not .398 high though, and I doubt that Jackson's .377 or whatever is fully sustainable either.

Aug 10, 2012 07:31 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

Even if he is getting lucky to some extent (something I haven't looked at at all and am not making any claims about one way or the other), wouldn't you assume a general improvement in skill level as he gets older from 21? Skill improvement could be enough to more than cover up for anything lost to luck.

Aug 08, 2012 12:45 PM
Richard Bergstrom

If skill improvement is more than enough to cover for anything lost in luck, wouldn't it suggest that he'll be even more "elite-er" than what he is doing now? Are we suggesting that, based on a 1.008 OPS over 399 plate appearances that he'll be posting an OPS in the 1.100 or 1.200 range regularly as he matures?

Just think about what we're saying... There was already a discussion earlier in the year that Trout already is the most valuable Angels player this year based on 150 plate appearances, and will remain for this year, more valuable than Pujols. Also, that Trout will always produce more than Pujols does for the rest of their careers though Pujols had established a 1.000+ OPS talent level. Now, are we hyping him up even more and suggesting that Trout is the next Barry Bonds? Based on 400 plate appearances? Heck, even Alex Rodriguez didn't end up being the next Barry Bonds.

Aug 08, 2012 14:54 PM
rating: 1

Is it unfair to comp Rickey Henderson's career, or 1975 Fred Lynn?

Sit and wait another year or 18 months before making any decisions...

Aug 08, 2012 16:29 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

If you toss out stolen bases, I still don't think you could comp Trout to Henderson because Henderson was great at drawing walks. Hard to tell a guy hitting .340ish that he needs more walks, but if there is some BABIP regression, a better walk rate can help offset that.

Aug 08, 2012 22:06 PM
rating: 2

Richard, I'm not saying he is currently producing like either of those players, but that they are possible comps as much as any of the other names tossed out there.

I agree, Trout's 9% walk rate isn't close to Henderson's, but as you point out, he's making up for it in his Avg at the moment. I wouldn't be surprised, however, to see his walk rate improve if pitchers start to pitch around him more.

I read an article on line this morning (USA Today?) saying that others have also comped him to Mickey Mantle. I mean jeez. No pressure.

Aug 09, 2012 06:45 AM
rating: 0
Matthew Avery

Couldn't the same have been said of 2010 Jason Heyward? I'm not saying he's chopped liver by any means, but pitchers adjusted to him, and it's taken him a year plus to get to the point where he's almost as good as he was as a rookie.

I don't at all buy the assumption that Trout will just continue putting up numbers like this, so I wouldn't be handing out any 12-year deals. Wait a year or two and see where his level sits. My guess is he'll drop off a bit and then slowly improve until he's doing this kind of stuff annually. But I don't think that will start for another couple of years, and it's over that period that I would look into signing him long term.

Aug 08, 2012 21:05 PM
rating: 3

Earlier this year, there was some work showing that Trout was seeing more fastballs than just about anyone in baseball (whereas Harper was seeing the fewest). I'm about to look this up, but I wonder if that's changed, and if so, by how much... that is, what kinds of adjustments have pitchers attempted with him?

Aug 09, 2012 07:08 AM
rating: 1

Also look up his OPS vs off-speed stuff. Its insane.

Aug 09, 2012 07:53 AM
rating: 0

I know there's a huge literature on pitcher injury rates at a young age, but what about position players? Do you learn anything about the 'skill' of staying healthy for position players through their 20-23 year old ages? I would hate to be the Angels if it turns out Trout has a problem with a labrum somewhere. When to clubs/players usually figure out if a position player is injury-prone?

Aug 08, 2012 11:45 AM
rating: 1

They'll probably keep paying him the least they can until Wells, Hunter, etc. are off the books.

Man, Longoria's agent should be exiled- what a terrible job he did.

Aug 08, 2012 11:55 AM
rating: 0

Unless Longoria's agent was holding a gun to his head when he signed that extension, he probably did the job Longoria told him to do.

Aug 08, 2012 12:48 PM
rating: 6

Not to mention nothing happens in a vacuum. Perhaps because Longoria wasn't playing under any pressure of his next contract he could merely focus on his guaranteed millions and be happy and hit. If he does what he should he'll hit free agency in time to land a Beltre-type deal.

Aug 11, 2012 22:14 PM
rating: 0

I just think that Trout has the leverage to wait until free-agency and sign at worst and ARod deal. I think these numbers are way low.

With the increase in TV deals and the values of these franchises way up, would anyone be surprised if Trout signed a 10 year $400 million dollar deal in 2017 when he's a free agent at 26? Mauer just got $23 mill a year with way less leverage.

Now, if you accept that, with a possible $300-$400 mill deal looming, is there any way he accepts below $200 mill to buy out the next 5 years?

Aug 08, 2012 12:23 PM
rating: 0

I like the cautious route (1) too. Wait one more year and then take a look.

Aug 08, 2012 13:21 PM
rating: 0

fun article. seeing as how the $$$ numbers keep going up for elite players a 12-15 year contract at $22-$25mil per year might look very good towards the end of the deal if only because in 8 years a player of slightly lesser ability might be the same amount if not more

Aug 08, 2012 13:23 PM
rating: 0

β€œI don't think anything is too much for Trout,” said another NL official. β€œIt's just such a different situation given the leverage. If I'm the Angels, I'm looking to do something historic, and we're talking those 12-15 years, to make sure he is the man for our franchise for as long as possible.”

The situations aren't terribly comparable, but replace Angels with Twins and Trout with Mauer and I think you have similar lines of thought. Mauer has been pretty good, but nowhere near worth what they're paying him.

Aug 08, 2012 13:43 PM
rating: 2

Either wait for him to cool down in a year or two or offer him 13 years, 320 million which would make it the largest contract ever, carry him through his likely peak years and still be reasonbale on a $$/year basis at about $24.

For Trout, it gives him a record contract in length and dollars, instant life-long security, and still a chance for him to secure another contract at age 33 in which he might still secure another $200-250 million for 7-10 years.

Aug 08, 2012 17:14 PM
rating: 1
John Hilton

I would approach this totally differently. First, Trout is under control for the next 5 years. The Angels are at no risk of losing him over this time period and therefore no long term contract has to be issued. This places the onus and risk on Mike Trout to maintain his performance.

Second, in terms of free agency, there are very few teams that can compete in terms of dollars with the Angels, in addition to the advantage of the club being in Southern California. The Angels should take advantage of what they have to offer and wait.

Aug 08, 2012 17:36 PM
rating: 8


This was a really, really well-written article. I know you don't think of yourself as a good writer, but you really maximized this piece given the word count limitation.

I do think there is one important factor that went unconsidered: inflation in player salaries. Salary inflation is the single biggest reason that Pujols' contract ended up providing such value to the Cardinals, and given the general expectation (gleaned through comments here and there) of real increases in cable TV revenue in coming years, I think we could see significant salary inflation. If this happens, even a $130M contract for Trout could end up being a bargain.

Aug 08, 2012 21:29 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

Thanks for the kind words. I totally agree with you on the inflation, but to be honest, I don't think we're really sure what that inflation is going to be.

Aug 08, 2012 22:05 PM
Richard Bergstrom

Everyone thought, after Alex Rodriguez's $250 million dollar contract with the Rangers in 2000, we'd see a $30 million per player soon after...

Aug 08, 2012 22:09 PM
rating: 0

While it's not soon after, A-Rod is making 30 million this year even if the AAV of the extension is not at that level.

Aug 09, 2012 10:02 AM
rating: 0

that's a Yankee-pay him crazy money cause we're loaded and we're paying him mad bonuses for passing Aaron and Bonds contract--no one else is even approaching 30 million. 25 seems to be the barrier.

Aug 11, 2012 22:16 PM
rating: 0

The big pink elephant - They're already locked into some huge long term deals. Pujols, Weaver, Wilson, Eybar, Kendrick. That's nearly half a billion all by itself.

All of whom are probably at or past their prime btw.... but that's an another topic.

Aug 08, 2012 23:17 PM
rating: 1

What about the risk Trout takes in waiting and not asking now? What if this very limited sample size is the outlier and in 2 or 3 years he's a .275/.340/.420 player? Now, I don't think that will be the case but it seems everyone just assumes his production is going to continue to be off the charts and there is ZERO guarantee of that.

Aug 09, 2012 05:45 AM
rating: 1

The biggest point that nobody ever mentions in these speculations is the time-value of money. Trout should be seeking his money as early as possible and the team should be looking to defer.

To receive the money and security early, Trout would need to willingly trade off some of that total contract value. But with vulture agents, especially Boras, the ability to strike this balance isn't very likely. For this reason, and because of probable regression or injury, I would seek a solution two years down the road. Might as well keep some of that money in my pocket for a little while longer if I'm the Angels.

Aug 09, 2012 10:31 AM
rating: 1

I have to think that regardless of how good someone is, the realistic max you're going to give someone is around 30mil/year. So right now the Angels have very little risk in waiting another year.

If Trout finishes the year at .340/.420/.580 and goes .325/.400/.575 in his first 200 ABs to start 2013, I still don't think he's driven his price up all that much.

So $55mil for the next 5 years, then somewhere between $25-$30mil/year for as many years as it takes to convince Trout to sign on the dotted line.

Getting it done before 2013 starts does allow them to pay him $5mil or so instead of $1mil, and spread out the cash a little more if they're worried about the luxury tax, but that's about it. So instead of going:

2013 - 0.5
2014 - 1.0
2015 - 15
2016 - 20
2017 - 20
2018+ at 27mil/yr

They could go something like this:

2013 - 5
2014 - 5
2015 - 20
2016 - 20
2017 - 20
2018+ at 24mil/yr

Aug 09, 2012 10:47 AM
rating: 0

I was wondering if there's anything to prevent the club from simply paying him more in the years before arbitration as a sign of appreciation and to foster good will.

Call it a performance bonus. It's not like he's not earning it.

Aug 09, 2012 11:24 AM
rating: 0

Perhaps this is just my perception, but it seems like you've been doing a lot more of these sort of "polling execs" pieces since you started doing some writing at ESPN. Either way, these are really freaking interesting and I hope you continue doing them.

Aug 09, 2012 10:51 AM
rating: 0
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