Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout have become the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson of modern baseball debate and conversation. Rarely will analysts utter one without the other. In light of Miguel Cabrera's record-breaking contract extension, an obvious question emerges: What about Mike Trout?
No, not about Trout's contract status. In time, baseball's best all-around player and the Los Angeles Angels will sort things out, through a long-term agreement or year-to-year arbitration figures.
Instead, Cabrera's extension sheds new light on just what a younger—some may argue better—superstar deserves when signing a life-changing deal. If the two-time reigning AL MVP is truly worth a $248 million extension—not set to kick in until 2016—what can Trout command from the Angels?
If Cabrera at 30 is worth $300m, what might Trout be worth at 26?— Will Carroll (@injuryexpert) March 27, 2014
To put it bluntly: much, much more.
On Opening Day 2014, Trout will be entering his age-22 season. Cabrera will be swinging his way into the record books during his age-31 season. No matter what, nine years will always separate two different, yet similar stars. Soon, the gap between their salaries will look drastically different.
I hope Miguel Cabrera enjoys being the highest paid player in baseball until Mike Trout gets his billion-dollar deal. Yes, I wrote billion.— Adam Rank (@adamrank) March 27, 2014
The Tigers can cite Cabrera's hitting genius, maturity and eventual soft-landing spot that the American League's designated hitter position provides, but baseball experts raised a collective eyebrow when the news broke on Thursday night, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
While the yearly and headache-inducing AL MVP debate is fun, this time Cabrera vs. Trout isn't about the present. Instead, it's about future worth, dollars and sense.
According to Detroit decision-makers—or the wallet of Tigers owner Mike Illitch, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports—Cabrera is going to be worth nearly $300 million over the next 10 years. Furthermore, the deal could be worth over $350 million if vesting options are reached in years 11 and 12 of the pact, per Heyman.
Needless to say, Cabrera was quite thrilled about the deal and staying in Detroit for the next decade:
If Cabrera continues to hit through his 30s, the Tigers will look smart. Still, at some point—just like every great hitter—Cabrera will decline. That's a reality for the Tigers, this deal and any long-term contract for a player over the age of 30.
According to FanGraphs, Cabrera has been worth $68.4 million to the Tigers over the last two seasons en route to back-to-back MVP trophies. Using that model—along with factoring in increased revenue and inflation—the first few years of this deal could be a boon to Detroit's bottom line.
Eventually, that won't be the case.
On the other hand, Mike Trout's game should only grow, potentially giving the Angels one of the best young players in the history of the sport.
After two sterling seasons in Los Angeles, Trout can easily rebuff any contract overtures unless it makes fiscal sense. After all, if Trout continues to dominate the sport, his year-by-year dances with arbitration—eligible for the first time in 2015—will net the great outfielder significant money before free agency even arrives.
However, if the Angels try to buy out those arbitration years and keep their best player in tow beyond his first year of free-agent eligibility (2018), the process just became more difficult thanks to the Detroit Tigers' disregard for an important tenet of negotiations in professional sports: Pay for what a player will do, not what he's done.
Trout himself does not seem overly concerned with getting paid as soon as possible, according to Mike DiGiovanna of The Los Angeles Times:
"It doesn't matter to me," said Trout, who signed for $1 million this season but is expected to command well over $100 million in an extension. "Nothing bothers me. I go out there and play, man. I don't worry about any of that stuff."
Cabrera has accomplished more than most players. In just two full seasons, Trout has superseded careers of some players. Head-to-head, the difference has been in the eye of the beholder.
Yet, it's hard to find one reasonable baseball observer who wouldn't expect Trout to pass (if he hasn't already) Cabrera in the very near future. FanGraphs' Oliver Projections sees a major divide in how the two stars will perform over the next five seasons.
If that's close to accurate, Trout shouldn't sign a significant long-term deal for anything less than $300 million.
Rosenthal used the WAR and value argument in his column on Detroit's decision, citing that industry sources typically value the cost of a win (in player value, not the standings) between $6 and $8 million.
Per Rosenthal: "These endless contracts always work the same way — teams pay a premium for the early years, knowing their asset will depreciate over time. The expected value of a win varies from club to club, year to year. One executive, however, said the current number generally is between $6 million and $8 million."
Who should be paid more?
Using those figures and Oliver Projections, Trout could be worth between $300 and $400 million over the next five seasons.
Granted, both the Angels and Trout's representation likely understand and are privy to those same figures. Yet, before this week, no team had ever committed so much money to an older player with two years left on a deal.
The Detroit Tigers didn't just leave the industry speechless. They gave Trout the leverage to ask for what he's worth now and what he could be worth in the coming years. If his team balks at the asking price, a 26-year-old Trout will hit the open market in 2018 poised to become the richest player in the history of professional sports.