TEMPE, Ariz. — Last week, I joked with Mike Trout that he should answer Bryce Harper's public recruiting pitches by aggressively lobbying for Harper to drop his no-trade clause in Philadelphia and join Trout in Anaheim, California.
Trout got a good chuckle out of that and then, as baseball's quiet superstar usually does, he immediately went off to hit without saying much of anything else.
However this all played out, you knew Trout would get the last laugh, because baseball's best player always does. Always.
And as word of his reported record-smashing, jaw-dropping, Harper-topping 12-year, $426.5 million contract (according to B/R sources) with the Angels rocketed throughout the sports industry and social media landscape Tuesday morning, there was no doubt it was happening again.
Chalk up this deal as the most Mike Trout thing ever.
All winter, the white-hot spotlight was on Harper and Manny Machado while Trout was over in the Anaheim shadows, quietly minding his own business.
During the past couple of weeks, after Harper signed his 13-year, $330 million deal and lobbied for Trout to join him two years in advance of the Angels superstar's free agency—which he began by telling the Phillies' flagship radio station, "If you don't think I'm not going to call Mike Trout to come to Philly in 2020, you're crazy"—Trout just kept doing what he does. Which is smile, maintain a positive demeanor and play baseball.
And then, once the dust settled, the final decimal points were put into place and the microphones were disassembled from glitzy Harper and Machado press conferences…Trout blasted another one out of the park.
For accounting purposes, according to industry sources, the Trout deal incorporates the two years remaining on his current contract, which calls for him to make $33.25 million this year and next. Then comes another $360 million over the next 10 years, carrying Trout through the 2030 season. It all adds up to $426.5 million. Beginning in 2021, Trout will average $36 million annually for a decade, eclipsing Machado's $30 million and Harper's $25.38 million, who are both slightly younger at 26.
For those who prefer their Hall of Famers to be old-school and wear just one jersey throughout their careers—Sandy Koufax, Cal Ripken Jr., Kirby Puckett—Trout probably always has been, and will remain, right up your alley.
For all of the talk this winter about Trout's love of his hometown area of Millville, New Jersey, (just 46 miles from Philadelphia), his devotion to the NFL's Eagles and the frustration many assumed he carried regarding the Angels' ongoing failure to get him onto the October postseason stage, it turned out all of that was the stuff of late-night cable television conspiracy theories. The reality is, Trout has not only been happy in Anaheim, but he's also been a loyal and model employee. And the union has been perfect because the Angels have had his back.
Eight years into his career, Trout, 27, still has never appeared in a Home Run Derby or in a World Baseball Classic. The reasons essentially boil down to these: Mike Scioscia, the only manager Trout has had until Brad Ausmus took over the club this spring, made it known that he preferred Trout save his energy for the Angels. And as a simple guy who does not enjoy the circus that those big-time events can become, Trout was happy to pass.
The Angels don't say much, but they are highly protective of their superstar, which is something he undoubtedly appreciates. They contacted MLB about potential tampering charges regarding Harper earlier this spring. And when commissioner Rob Manfred stepped in it last July while discussing baseball's promotional efforts and mentioned that MLB can't do much about marketing Trout because he won't market himself, the Angels fired back the next day with an extraordinary public statement that zinged Manfred.
In it, the Angels called Trout "an exceptional ambassador for the game," noted that "one of Mike's traits that people admire most is his humility," talked about his love of spending time with family and ended by applauding their superstar for "prioritizing his personal values over commercial self-promotion."
Indeed, what can be frustrating about Trout to the outside world is that in this me-first era of self-aggrandizement and personal branding, Trout is a throwback who cares more about his team, playing baseball and having fun than expensive suits, clever sound bites and being seen at all the right parties. With him, there are no pretenses. This is who he is.
So now the most pressing question becomes: Is Trout sentencing himself to a lifetime of hunting in October while other teams and superstars play on baseball's World Series stage? Did he choose comfort and familiarity over competitiveness?
Obviously, the Angels will be the first to say no way, but the fact remains that in his eight seasons, Trout's Angels have played in just three postseason games. They were in 2014, and the Kansas City Royals waxed them in all three. In those games, Trout batted .083 (1 for 12; the hit was a home run) with a .267 on-base percentage and a .333 slugging percentage.
His odds for playing in October maybe would have increased, say, if he held out and signed with the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or, egads, even the crosstown Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency after the 2020 season. But that also would have meant two more years of fielding endless questions about his future, squelching speculation and listening to Harper's recruiting pitches.
Angels owner Arte Moreno has tried hard to win, but he's too often swung for the fences and missed with free agents such as Albert Pujols (whom the Angels got in decline), Josh Hamilton (they needed pitching instead at the time), C.J. Wilson (not that pitcher) and others. While that was going on, the Angels' farm system was left mostly untended, and all that resulted in too many Octobers at home.
Since Billy Eppler took over as general manager in 2015, the Angels' once-barren farm system has improved, moving up into the top 15 in the game in FanGraphs' rankings this winter, and there is a better balance throughout the organization. For not just Angels fans, but for baseball fans everywhere who would love to see Trout play in a World Series, maybe that will be enough at some point over his next 12 years. Preferably, while he is still in his prime.
It will be a shame if they don't, because while there never have been any guarantees in this game, Trout individually is as sure of a bet as there is these days. On the field, and now financially, he always ends up with the biggest, the best and the most.
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.