There will not be a bidding war for Mike Trout's services in two years. He will not be joining Bryce Harper in Philadelphia or wearing Yankees pinstripes. He will not skip up I-5 to sign with the Dodgers. He will not follow the path of so many superstars who leave their original franchise for greener pastures somewhere else. Mike Trout will now be an Angel for life.
ESPN's Jeff Passan reports that Trout and the Los Angeles Angels are finalizing a 12-year, $430 million contract extension that will potentially keep Trout with the Angels through the 2030 season, when he'll be 38 years old. The contract shatters the $330 million deal Harper recently signed with the Phillies for the largest in MLB history, and the average annual value of $35.8 million is another record. It may be a bargain.
By the end of the contract, there is a chance Trout might be regarded as the greatest player of all time, right up there with Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Willie Mays and Barry Bonds. Through his age-26 season, Trout has won two MVP awards and finished second in the voting four times. He has compiled the highest career WAR through his age of any position player in history, just ahead of Ty Cobb and Mickey Mantle. He led the American League the past three years in on-base percentage, the past two seasons in OPS and the past four seasons in park-adjusted OPS. He has hit .300 five times and owns a .307 career average. He hits for power, steals bases, draws walks, scores runs and plays center field.
In short, Trout does everything well. Barring injury, his skill set will age well since he's strong, athletic and fast, even if he has to move to left field down the road or even to designated hitter way down the road. The recent contracts that Harper and Manny Machado signed contain a great deal more risk than this, because Trout is the far superior and more consistent player.
There is one thing Trout hasn't accomplished, however: He hasn't won a playoff game. In his seven full seasons with the Angels, they've made the playoffs once and were promptly swept in three games. The Astros have left the rest of the AL West in a cloud of dust, and the Angels finished under .500 the past three seasons. Can Trout win a ring with the Angels? Sure, it's possible, which is about as definitive as it can get in baseball, where predicting the present is difficult -- never mind predicting the next 12 seasons.
Some thoughts on why it's certainly possible the Angels will finally build a winner around Trout:
1. They are a big-market team with financial flexibility.
The Angels have drawn over 3 million fans for 16 consecutive years. They have one of the most lucrative local TV deals in the sport, a contract that runs through 2031 and pays the club an estimated $150 million per year. The only players now signed beyond 2020 are Trout, Justin Upton (through 2022) and Albert Pujols (through 2021). Pujols' contract is still a drag on the team due to his poor performance, but at least it becomes less of an albatross with each passing season.
Of course, having the ability to spend big and actually doing it are not the same thing. After getting burned with the Pujols and Josh Hamilton mega-deals, owner Arte Moreno has been reluctant to go after the best free agents in recent seasons. The Angels have run a top-10 payroll for years but have stayed in the seventh- or eighth-highest range the past five years after ranking as high as third or fourth before that. Moreno has viewed the luxury tax threshold as a hard cap and refused to go over it. This past offseason, with obvious holes to fill, the Angels took a curious route, signing second-tier free agents Matt Harvey, Jonathan Lucroy, Cody Allen and Justin Bour in a halfhearted attempt to improve the club. Those four players will make $25.35 million in 2019, but none was worth even 1.0 WAR in 2018 (combined, they were worth just 0.8).
There are other steps to take along the way. Re-signing Andrelton Simmons in two years will be important. At some point, the Angels have to decide whether to just eat Pujols' contract or continue to play him. We'll see if Brad Ausmus will be the right choice to replace longtime manager Mike Scioscia. But having money to spend is always a nice option.
2. The farm system is much better
Under general manager Billy Eppler, the farm system has improved dramatically in a short period. Keith Law just ranked the Angels' system No. 7, up from No. 19 in 2018, which in turn was up from 27th in 2017 and 30th in 2016, when it rated as one of the worst farm systems in recent memory.
Outfielder Jo Adell has emerged as the crown jewel of the system, a powerful and athletic player who could reach the majors later this year at 20 years old (although that progress will be slowed after he sprained his ankle and injured his hamstring while running the bases in a spring training game). Starting pitchers Griffin Canning and Jose Suarez are rotation candidates after reaching Triple-A last year, reliever Ty Buttrey could emerge as the closer, and infielder Luis Rengifo hit .299 with 41 steals and 75 walks across three levels in 2018. There are other high-end upside prospects lower in the system, like outfielders Brandon Marsh and Jordyn Adams.
Bottom line: All this gives the Angels much more flexibility than they've had in the recent past -- both to supplement the big league roster with young talent and use the system depth to make some trades. They won't be forced to use only free agency to improve the team.
3. They still have Shohei Ohtani
He won't pitch this year, but the Angels hope he will return to the mound in 2020 as dominant and exciting as he looked in 2018. The Angels can dream of a future rotation that includes Ohtani, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Jaime Barria, Canning and Suarez.
In Trout, Ohtani, Simmons and Adell, the Angels have a chance to build around four star players. They won't hit on all those prospects, but these four project as a terrific foundation.
4. The Astros may not be as powerful in future years
Let's face it: The best chance for the Angels to get back to the postseason will be the Astros not being as good. That could happen, although you wouldn't expect the Astros to suddenly collapse in the near future. It's worth noting, however, that Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander are both free agents after this season, so on the heels of losing Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, the Astros will be tasked with potentially rebuilding almost an entire rotation over a two-year span. Cole, by the way, graduated from Orange Lutheran High School, near Anaheim. The best way to hurt the Astros next season would be signing Cole as a free agent.
5. They will have Mike Trout!
Having the best player in baseball who annually produces somewhere in the range of 9 to 10 WAR is an enviable starting position. But maybe Trout will help recruit players to the Angels, much like Harper had already started his recruiting of Trout to Philly. Now that Trout knows he's going to remain with the Angels long-term, he and the Angels should use that to their advantage. Come play with Trout in front of 37,000 fans every night. Oh yeah, the weather is also nice.
From 2002 to 2009, the Angels had a remarkable eight-year run, making six trips to the postseason and winning a World Series. They say baseball runs in cycles. With Mike Trout as the face of the franchise for the next 14 years, the odds of a new cycle of success for the Angels have just gone way up.