For months on end, the main questions of this MLB offseason pertained to two 26-year-old stars: Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.
Where would they sign? How much would they sign for? Could one of these megastars be the first $400 milli0n man in big league history?
When the dust settled, Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres only to be surpassed (in terms of guaranteed money) by Harper’s 13-year, $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Plenty of superstars could potentially hit the open market next winter. Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Paul Goldschmidt, Xander Bogaerts and more could all be unrestricted next year if they fail to reach an extension with their current teams.
But in a more holistic sense, the attention of the baseball world has already shifted to Mike Trout. The 27-year-old signed a six-year, $144 million extension with the Angels back in 2015, and would become an unrestricted free agent after the 2020 season.
Not even a week removed from signing with the Phillies, Harper has already made headlines by publicly stating he will recruit Trout to Philadelphia.
There has been plenty of contention between the league and the MLBPA with respect to free agency, and that testiness only grew as Machado and Harper remained unsigned into mid-February.
However with both players still receiving record deals in the end, what might that mean for Trout, widely regarded as the best player in baseball?
His value has skyrocketed
Trout is hardly starving. He will make $34 million this year after adjustments, the highest salary for any position player in baseball.
Yet after Machado earned a $30 million AAV and Harper received the most guaranteed money in the history of North American sports, Trout’s value has only increased.
From 2012-2018, Machado and Harper combined for a 60.9 fWAR. In that exact same time frame, Trout posted an insane 64.0 fWAR. In terms of sheer value, Trout far surpasses any other player in the league, setting up for a massive payday.
There are subtle differences, of course. Machado and Harper entered free agency heading into their age-27 seasons, whereas Trout will be 29 and entering his age-30 season in 2021. Age has played a vital role in the last two free agencies, and given that the current CBA will not expire until December of 2021, it could continue to be a factor in the market for Trout.
According to FanGraph’s “Dollars” metric— which converts WAR into monetary value– Mike Trout was worth $78.5 million last season and has been worth nearly $500 million to the Angels in just seven big-league seasons. While it would be ludicrous to suggest that any organization would put up close to $80 million AAV, Trout could (and should) easily surpass $400 million in guaranteed money, especially when considering the contracts that Machado and Harper received.
Angels will push hard for an extension
A third variable that we have not discussed yet is the extension that the Colorado Rockies gave to their young star, third baseman Nolan Arenado.
Arenado would have hit the open market after this season and had just set a record for a single-year salary in arbitration ($26 million), but the Rockies converted that into an eight-year $260 million contract, making Arenado the highest-paid position player in terms of AAV.
This creates a baseline for the Angels. Los Angeles reportedly was considering offering Trout a 10-year, $400 million extension. Meanwhile, Trout himself has said that he will not discuss his contract during Spring Training or the regular season. This means that the Angels will have one more offseason to extend him before he hits the open market after 2020.
Mike Trout knows that he can likely receive closer to $400 million in free agency, and it seems unlikely that he would take a discount to return to an Angels franchise that has made the playoffs just once in his tenure.
That said, Los Angeles will certainly do everything in their power to extend the best player of this generation. Albert Pujols’ salary will finally come off the books after 2021, and Justin Upton’s contract runs through 2022, if the Angels don’t try to trade him first.
Most of the big money will be gone in relatively short order, and even at 30, Trout is a player that a franchise can build around.
One way or another, a massive–and historic–payday is looming for Mike Trout.