Mike Trout is the best baseball player alive. Period. Through seven full seasons in the majors (and part of another) Trout has received the following awards: 6 Silver Sluggers (2012-16, 18), 2012 Rookie of the Year, 2 MVP awards (2014, 16), and been voted top 2 for AL MVP in every other full season except for one (finished fourth in 2017). Looking at these accomplishments, Trout’s free agency in the 2020-21 off-season has already become a topic of conversation and debate in the baseball community.
The Los Angeles Angels seem quite intent on trying to extend Trout beyond his current contract and ensure that he remains the face of the organization for the rest of his career and, by all reports, will spend whatever money they need to in order to accomplish that. While they do that, the Philadelphia Phillies, Trout’s hometown team already seems to be making plans to try and lure Trout there along with either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper this winter to compile a team of superstars along with young studs Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Nola.
While it has become the consensus that the Angels and Phillies are the early front-runners for Trout’s services beyond 2020, the speculation for what his contract will look like. Early reports have shown anywhere from 10 years and $500M to one report saying there could be offers as absurd as 20 years and $1B. Yes, one BILLION dollars. My best guess is that most offers would be closer to the 10 year side of that spectrum based on the free agent markets over the last two winters. However, I believe that teams should offer Trout a different kind of contract, one that has not ever been signed in the history of baseball: a lifetime contract with wording somewhere along the lines of “We will pay you “X” million dollars for each year that you want to continue playing baseball for the rest of your career. When you retire, the contract will end.”
Why is this any good for the team and for Trout?
In the first season of his next deal, Trout will be entering his age 29 season and nearing the magic age of 30 when teams grow weary of players as they leave their prime and enter their years of decline. However, this isn’t about most players, this is about Mike Trout.
Trout is on a career trajectory we have never seen. Ever. Through 7.07 years of service time, Trout has accumulated 64.3 career bWAR (Wins Above Replacement as calculated by baseball-reference.com), good for 144th all-time. In the top 400 of all-time, there are only 2 other players with less than 10 years of service time: Al Spalding (60.3 bWAR in eight seasons, 182nd) and Noodles Hahn (44.8 bWAR in eight seasons, T-398th). At his current pace of 9.09 bWAR/year, Trout would eclipse Babe Ruth’s record of 182.5 in the next 13 years, and barring injury or worse-than-average aging, it will likely happen. In addition, his career wRC+ (a metric comparing a hitter’s ability compared to league average with league average being 100) is 172, meaning he has hit 72% better than the average hitter would have over the course of his career, good for sixth all time.
Even Trout’s non-metric statistics are astounding. He averages 37 home runs and 29 stolen bases each season with a good success rate while stealing. He’s led the league in walks two of the last three years and averages 105 per season while keeping a reasonable strikeout rate that is getting better (from 27.4% of his PA’s in 2015 to 20.3% in 2018). He has led the league in OBP each of the past three seasons and has his best season in 2018. He led the league in OPS each of the past two seasons, including leading the league in both OBP and SLG in 2017.
The one thing we’ve seen over the past few seasons from free agents is a desire for security. Very few players have turned down long-term offers in favor of shorter ones. For Trout, having this lifetime deal would offer security that doesn’t exist with any current contracts, a guaranteed job for as long as he wants it. Whether that’s in ten years or twenty. This contract gives him the assurance that he won’t have to ever move his family as long as he remains in the league (assuming there will be a no-trade clause). A guaranteed lifetime deal should be a no-brainer to accept from the player’s perspective as long as the money is the right number.
As for the team, what would signing a player to a fixed dollar figure for the rest of his career do to help them? Well for one, this is possibly the best player of all-time. His stats, both classical and metrics, are phenomenal and seem to be improving still. In addition to being a great player on the field, Trout has proven to be an amazing man while off the field in his work with charity and philanthropy, all while maintaining and handling the pressure of being the star player on a team in Los Angeles. The spotlight doesn’t seem affect Trout, and if it does, he thrives from it. Adding him isn’t just adding a great player, it’s adding a face of the franchise who will represent your team well to the fans and community around the team.
The biggest concern for teams these days for signing big contracts as a player enters their thirties and starts to decline. But when you consider the greatest seasons by players over the age of 30, all of them are by the same players that Trout is already grabbing comparisons to: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Barry Bonds. These are all players that were successful into their late-thirties, each of them posting at least one season of 8.0 bWAR or higher in their age 37 season or later. These are not men, they are legends of the game, and Mike Trout is on a career trajectory that matches or is better than theirs.
There may never be a player so comparatively dominant to his peers as Trout is. If there was ever a time to sign the first lifetime deal in baseball’s history, it would be for Mike Trout. The dollar value of that contract may not be consistent. Perhaps the deal could be structured to decrease in value as he ages to interest the team a bit more. Regardless of if he signs a fixed-year deal or a lifetime deal like this, Trout has earned the right to make history with his next contract. The only question left is whether it will be the largest number or the first lifetime deal.
Photo Credit: flickr.com