August 18, 2019

Mike Trout Didn’t Go on the Market. It Came to Him.

Mike Trout Didn’t Go on the Market. It Came to Him.


This was always the logical blueprint for Mike Trout, the greatest and least complicated player in baseball. Trout would not sell himself short financially, but he also would not draw out the process of determining his future. He and the Los Angeles Angels would wait for Bryce Harper to set a contract record in free agency, and then make a deal that would break it.

That is what has happened, apparently, with Trout and the Angels finalizing a 10-year, $360 million contract extension with no opt-outs, a deal that will bring the Angels’ total commitment to nearly $430 million for Trout over the next 12 seasons, through 2030.

The agreement, which was first reported by ESPN, is expected to be formalized soon, according to two people who had been briefed on it but were not authorized to comment publicly. It is the fourth megadeal reached this spring training, following those for Nolan Arenado (eight years, $260 million with the Colorado Rockies), Manny Machado (10 years, $300 million with the San Diego Padres) and Bryce Harper (13 years, $330 million with the Philadelphia Phillies).

Those contracts did little to quell the angst of the players’ association about the relatively subdued state of the overall free agent market. The union has become so suspicious of ownership that it has moved some camp visits outside of clubhouses this spring training, for fear of possible surveillance inside team facilities. The union is dismayed at the lackluster bidding for the sort of midlevel free agents who until recently had generated much more interest on the open market.

“What we’ve seen the last couple of years, we haven’t seen before,” Tony Clark, the union’s executive director, said on Sunday, citing “a climate that we don’t think is sustainable for the industry as a whole.”

The deals for Arenado, Machado and Harper, though, showed that teams still place a premium on elite talent — and Trout, 27, is the best of the best. The most similar players in history at his age, according to Baseball Reference, are the Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mickey Mantle. Trout has won two American League Most Valuable Player Awards and has been the runner-up four times. He has a .307 career average and is the majors’ active leader in on-base plus slugging percentage, at .990.

Trout’s contract had been set to expire after the 2020 season, and Harper had publicly pushed for Trout to eventually join him in Philadelphia, where Trout attends Eagles games in the off-season, traveling from his nearby hometown, Millville, N.J. But the Angels emphasized to Trout the benefits of keeping his work and home lives separate, and promoted the idea of being a one-team icon in a place where he has thrived.

In an interview this month at the Angels’ training camp in Tempe, Ariz., Trout seemed content with the team’s new manager, Brad Ausmus, and its other off-season additions.

“It’s like a whole new start,” Trout said. “I think the biggest thing is injuries. We’ve got to stay healthy, top to bottom, stay on the field and see where it goes. The chemistry’s great, a lot of new faces, a lot of new coaches, meeting a lot of new people. Everybody’s been great so far.”

The Angels have reached the playoffs with Trout just once, when they were swept by Kansas City in a 2014 division series. But the team is far from hopeless, with a 584-550 record in Trout’s seven full seasons and a farm system that ranks No. 6 over all, according to Baseball Prospectus. Their stadium lease in Anaheim runs through 2020, so they could, in theory, open a new ballpark before Trout retires.

Since wildly overpaying for Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton early in this decade, the Angels have added high-impact players like shortstop Andrelton Simmons, outfielder Justin Upton and the two-way star Shohei Ohtani. General Manager Billy Eppler signed catcher Jonathan Lucroy and pitchers Cody Allen, Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey to one-year deals this winter, and he has steadily modernized the way the Angels use technology.

Still, the Houston Astros are the dominant team in the A.L. West, and Trout could have used his clout to publicly demand that the organization do more to close the gap. He never has, he said in a 2017 interview in Anaheim, because he believes in Eppler and his lieutenants.

“They’re doing a good job, trying to put the players in the right spots,” Trout said then. “You’ve got to trust it. There’s only so much that they can do.”

Had Trout played out his deal, the noise around his future would only have intensified, surely an unappealing prospect for a player who never courts controversy. Yet Trout is not exactly withdrawn. He is readily accessible to reporters, he is an active — if benign — presence on social media, and he might lead the league in signing autographs.

Trout has a few endorsement deals but does not spend much time promoting his personal brand, a source of frustration for Major League Baseball, which would rather its best player showed more interest in marketing. To Trout, though, that has never made much sense.

Trout has always seemed to recognize how good he has it, with little incentive to disrupt that life. He is dominant on the field and respected off it; comfortable with the direction of his franchise; happy in both Southern California and Southern New Jersey; and extremely well paid. Who could ask for more?

“If you were Mike Trout,” his agent, Craig Landis, once asked, “would you really wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’ve got to start changing things’?”

It was a rhetorical question, of course, and Trout has now answered with a resounding no. You cannot blame him, and you cannot be surprised.



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