(After becoming Mike Trout’s agent,
Dr. Evil finally got the payout he’d been searching for.)
Seeing the overwhelming consensus on Mike Trout’s contract from the now-well entrenched stats community in Major League Baseball, one would think it would be silly to even mention the POSSIBILITY that the Angels made a big mistake today. With a headline that seems to imply HE’S taking the contrary position, The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh writes, “Mike Trout Isn’t Worth $430 Million—He’s Worth Much More“. A blogger for Nate Silver’s 538 website assures us that Trout’s contract is “a bargain”. ESPN’s Sam Miller goes full Dr. Evil, telling us Mike Trout is worth one BILLION dollars. And never lacking for confidence, Keith Law suggests anyone with lazy (aka “different than his”) opinions should smash their “phone with a strong hammer“. (I wrote mine on a computer, so I guess I’m safe.) Opinions like this can be seen all over the Internet, as the old school types that would shake their heads at such an absurd guaranteed contract for a single player have been virtually ridiculed out of existence. Fortunately for them, however, I’m still here!
Before continuing on about just how ludicrous this contract will likely end up seeming in a few years- I’ve been wrong enough times in my life to add qualifiers- let me acknowledge several facts, so I don’t seem like a COMPLETE Internet troll. For one thing, Mike Trout is almost unarguably the best player in baseball these days, and likely has been throughout nearly his entire career. Relative to Manny Machado and Bryce Harper’s recent $300+ million deals, Trout’s $460 million is a bargain. And, for what it’s worth, he does come across like a genuinely good, down-to-earth human being, not someone who’s been carefully crafted by some PR firm to seem like “just one of the guys”.
“What it’s worth”, though, is a whole let less than $460 million. For starters, Trout’s being praised for handling his extension with “class”. Come on. As a human being, he appears to be the real deal, but his quiet handling of this contract is hardly evidence of this- only someone with no restraint whatsoever would go blabbing to the media if they were negotiating the most expensive contract in North American team sports history! But that’s neither here nor there. The problem is that there is far more to consider, when making such a huge financial commitment, than the reasons given for why Mike Trout is worth all of this money (or more). There’s no need to understand the fancy WAR stats to acknowledge the greatness of Mike Trout. (Full disclosure- I do not understand the fancy WAR stats.) The problem with today’s advanced stat valuation is that it puts more worth into wins “above replacement” than it does into ACTUAL winning- something the Angels have not been particularly good at in recent years. I’m not blaming Mike Trout for Anaheim’s lack of winning in recent years- far from it- but that’s exactly the point. What good is paying so much money for one single player, without building a team around him? It’s not Mike Trout’s fault the Angels have been woefully absent during postseason baseball- well…outside of his one and only playoff appearance a few years back, which was pretty lousy. But giving him all this money is not going to do much good, if the rest of the guys in his clubhouse get to visit their homes during the All Star break.
Even if the Angels do have success in the early part of Trout’s contract- unlikely as that may be- what are they going to do with all those years at the end of it? (“Adjusting for inflation” with baseball contracts is a hot topic these days, but if I’m right about ONLY one thing, it’ll be this- that will be coming to a halt sooner, rather than later. It HAS to!) And as great as Mike Trout is, let’s not act like he, nor the “experts” praising him, are infallible. In the former category, we have Clayton Kershaw as a recent example of the last baseball player who could do no wrong, being deemed worth any amount of money given to him. While he has led the Dodgers to numerous postseason appearances, he has come up short repeatedly- as has been well documented- and is now injury-prone and on the wrong side of 30. (The Dodgers may regret extending HIS contract this offseason, although that’s for another discussion.) In the latter category, we have Jason Heyward, another young outfielder (supposedly) in his prime a few years back, who the stats community deemed a “steal” for the Cubs at the time. Never had the WAR stats and the traditional stats been so at odds, but the sabermetric community, who by then had fully infiltrated baseball’s front offices, INSISTED that Heyward was more than worth it. As it would turn out, the most well known sports professional who turned out to be correct about Heyward was…Joe Buck! Of course, the Cubs famously won the World Series in 2016, but to the extent Heyward was a key contributor, it was due far more to his “locker room talk” (no, not that locker room talk) during a rainout, which motivated the Cubs to victory. Irony of ironies- he DID have a unique skill, after all, but it was one that not even the stat guys could measure- the gift of gab.
So as of now, the Angels don’t appear much closer to postseason appearances, let alone success, than they were prior to Trout’s massive contract. And without winning, the Angels’ marketing department will not be able to make up for his massive paydays- all 12 years of them- as MLB doesn’t have the kind of marketing ability that the NBA does for individual players. Not even close. And, while baseball might not be “dying”- regardless of whatever Bud Selig was doing during his feckless time at the helm- it’s certainly not healthy enough to continue handing out these contracts, which are enabled by the cable bubble, that is enabled by the financial bubble, which is due to burst any day now. But that’s also for another discussion. (For those interested, click here. Or here. Or here. Or…)
Update- Not even a full three hours after this was posted do I have to issue a modification. I shouldn’t have JUST labeled the sabermetric community as being so in favor of this deal. Their onetime arch-nemesis, Bill Plaschke, has fully endorsed it, as well. The unconditional love for Mike Trout is even MORE transcendent than I originally stated. It’s truly incredible that no one of prominence will even acknowledge the POSSIBILITY that this deal is risky.