Trout Fishing Hits Big in LA

Mike Trout did a smart thing yesterday- he signed a ten year contract extension that will guarantee him $426.5 million over the next twelve years. While I certainly wanted him to reach free agency and come home to Philadelphia, I cannot make a economic argument that opposes taking $426.5 million in guaranteed cash for a 27 year-old.

There are plenty of hot takes about who won and lost here. The Phillies, Bryce Harper, and every team that waited this Winter on signing a superstar have been declared losers. The Angels and Trout have been declared winners. I think most of these takes are basically wrong.

I’m not sure how the Phillies “lost” here. They had an off-season for the ages. Yes, they landed a generational talent in Bryce Harper, and universally are considered to have done so at a team friendly price. They landed a multi-time All-Star shortstop in Jean Segura, who gives you 200 hits and a huge improvement at a position where they stunk last year. They got arguably baseball’s best catcher in J.T. Realmuto, and like Segura got him on more than a one year rental. Lost in the shuffle of those guys is former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, who provides a veteran bat and wildly improved left-field defense to upgrade this team. In David Robertson, the Phillies signed one of the most consistent late-inning relievers in baseball over the past decade. They extended Aaron Nola for four years. They did all of this with prospects and payroll to spare. While they won’t get their shot at Trout, I guess that shows you the wisdom in going big with Harper now. They still have payroll space to lock in some of their other core players. They’re in very good shape to contend for the playoffs now.

How did Bryce Harper lose here either? His career earnings will end up in the $400 million range, thanks to his $330 million deal with the Phillies, enough money to live on. He signed with a franchise committed to winning and spending money. He signed a big contract, but one that offers the club room to continue to improve. He’ll play in a hitters ballpark, one that he has succeeded in previously, and one that should help his career numbers. He signed with a team who’s core players are basically in his age range. He signed in one of the biggest markets in the country, which has a lot to offer.

I think Mike Trout did great here, but let’s not pretend his decision is totally beyond reproach. Staying with the Angels basically is co-signing to continue his relative anonymity as a superstar. He’s played three playoff games in his career so far, despite his multiple MVPs and All-Star Games. His club is still saddled with bad contracts, like Albert Pujols’ deal, for a while. Shohei Otani already has major injury issues. They lack pitching. Their minor league system has continuously been bottom tier since Trout’s arrival. How do the Angels improve their system or payroll situation by throwing a record-breaking contract at Trout now? Trout has not managed to outshine the crosstown Dodgers so far in his career, so how does his extension change their status as the “B team” in LA? The deal is long enough for them to work in, and I don’t think it’s an overpay, so I won’t rip the Angels here. It also does give them certainty on keeping their star, and at what cost they’ll pay him, but it doesn’t change who they are either. Signing Harper probably did more for the Phillies long-term trajectory than this extension does on it’s own for the Angels. With all of this said, Trout and the Angels both do win here. There was no trade of Trout that would make baseball or PR sense, and losing him to free agency would have been crippling. And he’s crazy wealthy now.

The real losers here? All the teams that didn’t go out and get themselves a star this off-season. The Phillies, Angels, and Padres should take a victory lap for getting their centerpieces. The Dodgers lost the last two World Series, but did nothing to get over the top here. The Cubs window to win with their current group is growing older. The Yankees didn’t do anything huge in their quest to catch Boston and Houston with their current 100 win roster. You could mostly say the same for Cleveland. The Mets didn’t try to keep up as the Phillies transformed their line-up and the Nationals assembled possibly baseball’s best rotation, and even worse, haven’t extended either of their ace pitchers yet. Meanwhile players like Bregman and Arrenado signed extensions that take them off the free agency market for future seasons. The chances to land a major free agent and change the direction of a team are slimming. Premium talent will only get more expensive on the free agency market.

So for what it’s worth, I don’t agree with most of the hot-take commentary around Trout’s contract. While I’m sad the Phillies won’t get a shot at him, I can’t say Trout, the Angels, or the Phillies lost here. The losers are the teams who stood pat.

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