At first glance the numbers seem preposterous; $400 million for a single player?
Not even Alex Rodriguez's gaudy $275 million figure comes close. Not a single player in Major League Baseball history has ever even cracked the $300 million mark.
In fact, Rodriguez ranks both first and second when it comes to all-time record salaries. His previous 10-year, $250 million contract comes in second.
Albert Pujols couldn't crack $300 million when he reached free agency. He wound up signing for 10 years and $240 million with the Los Angeles Angels.
Robinson Cano attempted to become the first player to reach $300 million when his agent, Jay-Z, asked the Yankees for such a figure during the regular season, but he fell short and also landed at 10 years and $240 million this offseason (still the third-largest contract in history by the way, not too shabby for falling short).
Then there's Mike Trout.
ESPN's Buster Olney posed the question, could Trout become baseball's first $400 million man? (Insider access needed).
The 22-year-old is already entering his third full season in 2014, fourth overall if you count the 40 games he played in 2011 as a 19-year-old, and will reach arbitration for the first time following this coming season.
There's no doubt that Trout will shatter every arbitration salary record if the Angels do not come to terms with him on a contract extension between now and next offseason. At 22 years old, he already boasts a Rookie of the Year award, a pair of All-Star appearances, a pair of Silver Slugger Awards and two runner-up finishes in MVP balloting.
In his piece for ESPN, Olney quotes an anonymous agent as recommending that Trout and his agent do the unprecedented and ask for a 12-year, $400 million contract. This would pay Trout an average of $33.33 million per season.
I asked a long-time agent who does not represent Trout what he might ask for in a negotiation for a multiyear deal, and he paused for a few moments, like someone savoring a good piece of steak.
"Why not do something that's never been done before?" he asked rhetorically.
What do you mean?
"Twelve years, $400 million."
Considering his age and that he is already arguably the best player in the game, and he hasn't even reached his peak yet, it's very hard to argue that he won't become the first player to crack the $30 million per season mark anyway, making the suggestion, actually, somewhat considerable from the Angels' standpoint.
If the Angels were to bypass the arbitration process and give him the record-shattering 12-year contract now, the pact would take them to his age-34 season, still young enough that they shouldn't see the type of decline that has come along with other 10-year contracts—something the Angels could be wary of following their current deals with Pujols and Josh Hamilton (5 years, $133 million).
At 26 years old when he reaches free agency, there's no doubt that Trout will still command a 10-year deal and could push beyond that if he hasn't suffered any injuries and proves durable. How much more will his stock rise if the Angels choose to save a little now by going the arbitration route and limiting him to salaries in the $15-20 million range rather than ponying up and making him the highest-paid player in the game?
Really, by the age of 22, only Pujols and Rodriguez compare to Trout in terms of modern day salary negotiations. Rodriguez was 25 when he reached his then-record-setting deal of 10 years, $250 million with the Texas Rangers back in 2001. Add 16 years worth of inflation to that number and the presumption that Trout is beyond reproach in performance-enhancing drug (PED) discussions and you have the makings for a figure well above $300 million at the 10-year mark.
Pujols didn't sign his deal until his age-32 season to begin 2012, exemplifying the type of inflation that came over the 11-year gap between his deal and the original A-Rod deal. A-Rod's second 10-year pact, signed in 2008, was also in his age-32 season.
Even Cano's deal this offseason came in his age-31 season and will take him through the age of 41.
Subtract the 10-year age difference, all those years of peak productivity, and you are left with Trout's impending mega payday. Twelve years and $400 million just isn't that shocking at that point, especially with him only at age 34 by the end of the deal, instead of into his 40's.
In general, these 10-year mega deals handcuff the teams and have not proven to be worth it long term. In the case of Trout, though, someone is definitely going to hand him the largest payday in the history of the sport soon, so it might as well be the Angels.
The risk with Trout is not a decline in production due to age as has been the case with A-Rod, Pujols and even Hamilton (and likely will be the case with Cano). Sure, he could wind up regressing, but history does not suggest that would be the case. The risk in such a deal with Trout would be injury, and teams take out insurance policies on such deals that would help cushion that risk and not cost the Angels should he become injured and not able to play out his contract.
Having jumped in on both Pujols and Hamilton on mega deals the past couple of seasons, it would be a PR nightmare to not take the gamble on Trout and watch another team give it to him instead.
Spend the money now and lock him up. Forget the short-term savings, give him 12 years and $400 million and hope he returns the favor in his age-34 season and signs a more team-friendly deal as he acknowledges that he is entering the twilight of his career.
Trout can become the Derek Jeter of the West Coast and spend his entire career in one uniform. He is already set to become the new face of baseball when Jeter hangs up his cleats.
As eye-popping as the number may be, it would be more costly to risk allowing a bidding war start when he reaches free agency.
The Angels will profit from making Trout an Angel for life and the $400 million will come out looking like a wise investment.
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