This isn’t really a Cardinals-centric post, but I spend a lot of time here so this seemed like the most appropriate place to post it. One of my dream jobs would be to be a baseball writer so every now and then I like to write an article to see if I can hack it. The inspiration for this post is Cano’s current outrageous contract demands and the fact that Angels reportedly still haven’t approached Trout about an extension. Constructive criticism is welcomed, nay, encouraged. You can say I suck but please also say why. Thanks for reading. Salary information is provided by Baseball Prospectus’ contract pages and stats are provided by Fangraphs. I hope you enjoy.
As we are a month away from the end of the year, fans of teams worse than ours are starting to talk more and more about winter meetings and the coming free agent market. Cano and Jay-Z of course have got a lot people to start talking about the best second basemen in the non-Marp Division (did I do that right?) with him reportedly wanting a 10 year, $305 million contract. Being that Cano will be 31 next year, most everyone agrees that this amount is absurd for a lot of the same reasons Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder, and numerous other player’s current contracts are absurd. At the time of their signing their best years were already behind them. It’s not the steroid era anymore and in general players are back to peaking in their early 30s. That doesn’t mean they can’t be productive of course, Matt Holliday has had a great year and ended the season as the Cardinal’s best hitter by wRC+ (148) in his age 33 season. But in general the odds are against it again and decline should be expected from 32+ year olds.
So basically, because of how many horrible contracts are out there, the kneejerk reaction to most any big number contract is to assume it will be a bad one. But there is one player who, at the pace he’s going now (or even if he’s 80% as good as he now) will definitely deserve a huge contract. That is none other than the ultimate sabermetric-darling Mike Trout.
Trout will be 22 at the start of the next season, and he has already accumulated over 21 WAR in less than 1500 PAs. He’s the guy that should have won the MVP last year and didn’t, and should win it this year but won’t, both because the Angels are terrible and the voters don’t understand anything besides basic hitting stats. But people like us understand Mike Trout is easily the most valuable player in baseball. But of course that’s not the only reason Mike Trout will command a huge contract when he’s a free agent. His first FA eligible season, should the Angels not extend him beforehand, will be 2018 when he’s 26. That happens to be just one year older than the age Alex Rodriguez was when signed his first record breaking contract before the 2001 season, with the Texas Rangers.
Of course, besides PEDs, choking in the postseason, or general douchebaggery, one of the first things people associate with Arod is his current albatross of a contract. Starting in 2008 which was his age 32(!) season, the Yankees agreed to pay him $275 million over the next ten years. Six years into that contract he has accumulated just 20.2 WAR. At $5 million/WAR, He’s earned just $101 million of that contract thus far. To breakeven on the contract, Arod would have to earn 34.8 WAR in the next four years, which would be incredibly unlikely even without the biogenesis scandal and his suspension looming. Yes, if he gets suspended Arod won’t be paid for the time he misses but the Yankees DO have to pay it to MLB baseball charities instead. That money won’t count towards the payroll tax so the Yankees will save some money, but in this example we weren’t considering the payroll tax anyway so we’ll ignore it in this example anyway. Suffice to say that the payroll tax makes Arod’s contract an even worse deal but it also makes things more complicated so we won’t consider it here. He’s also made additional money from incentives (like the money he got for passing Willie Mays in all-time HRs) but for simplicity and the fact that his deal is still really bad without the extra incentives we won’t consider those either.
Anyways, Arod’s current deal is really bad. But as bad as Arod’s current deal is, his first one was actually a good deal for the teams he played on during both the span that he played under the contract and under the hypothetical scenario that he doesn’t opt out of the deal after 2007 like he did.
From 2001 to 2010, which is the years he would have served out the contract had he not opted out after 2007, Arod accumulated an astounding 69.6 WAR, second only to hitter of the decade, the classic version of Albert Pujols. During that ten year period he would have been paid $252 million, meaning the Rangers and Yankees would have collectively paid $3.62 million/WAR. I don’t know what the going rate for WAR was back in 2001 and being that we were just getting into the Moneyball era the A’s were probably the only team making WAR calculations anyway. But looking retroactively, $3.6 million/WAR was probably a pretty good deal.
But it gets better when you consider that Arod opted out. Arod opted out after 2007, leaving a total of $72 million on the table, $50.7 million from the Yankees and $21.3 million from the Rangers due to the way the trade was structured. This means that Arod effectively completed a 7 year, $180 million deal for his age 25 to age 31 seasons. During that timespan he was more valuable than Pujols and indeed everyone else as he accumulated 55.8 WAR in that timeframe. This gives him a production output of $3.23 million/WAR. Pretty good deal.
Anyways, when looking at Arod’s first contract as a reference, Trout looks to smash Arod’s second contract as the biggest contract in Baseball. For one, as mentioned above, the price for players has risen a bunch since then. Second off, Trout so far is having a much better career than Arod did in his pre-FA years. From 1994 to 2000, Arod produced 35 WAR in 3515 PA. Trout thus far has already produced over 21 WAR in 1490 PA with four more years remaining. Even if Trout stops producing 10 WAR should-be-MVP seasons he’s very likely to have a higher career WAR after four more years than Arod had when he made free agency. The only knock against him is he will be one year older than Arod was, but with his first FA season being his age 26 season a long term contract covers a bunch of prime years that at this point project to be some of the greatest individual baseball seasons of all-time.
Remember, right now the free agent market dictates that teams pay around $5 million per expected WAR. By the 2017-2018 offseason WAR will very likely be more expensive, let’s say $6 million. If he’s expected to have 10 WAR seasons in his prime (which certainly seems possible at this point considering his first two seasons have both been 10 WAR and he’s still not in his prime) Trout seems poised to absolutely shatter Arod’s current $275 million deal. Hell, it would easily surpass Cano’s $305 million contract that will most likely never happen. And being that he will have his prime years in front of him at the start of the contract, it is likely, that is, pretty likely considering it’s 2013 and we’re talking about 2018 and on, that Trout’s hypothetical record-destroying deal will actually be a team-friendly contract.
To bring it back to the Cardinals, we won’t have any superstars only 26 by the time their FA eligible any time soon. Miller, Rosenthal, and Wacha will be a little older than that. And while I don’t expect any of them to deserve record-shattering contracts if they get to FA, hopefully the Cardinal’s FO is smart and extends them sometime early in their team control (like, in the next couple years should they continue to improve) and manage to get some pretty cheap control of at least their first few FA-eligible years. I believe they will since they have a track record of doing so with Craig, Garcia, and even Pujols. The 7 year, $100 million deal plus an option year at $11 million over the buyout Pujols received prior to 2004 preceded Pujols’ first arbitration eligible year, thus the deal scored the Cardinals five FA eligible seasons. This was a fantastic deal for the Cardinals as from 2004 to 2011 Pujols was the best player in baseball and produced 60.7 WAR, meaning the Cardinals happily paid him $1.83 million/WAR! Of course, we can’t compare that to the other deals we’ve discussed because those deals were given to FA eligible players and the time Pujols signed the deal he had 3 more arbitration years left. We were going to get cheap production from 2004-2006 no matter what as another team was not an option for Pujols. But for what would have been his first five FA eligible seasons that he was a Cardinal (2007-2011) Pujols was paid $79 million and produced 36.6 WAR, again best in baseball during that time frame and cost the Cardinals just $2.16 million/WAR, which is a freakin’ steal. By the end of the 2006 season Pujols had not only led his team to their second WS appearance in three years, but his first WS ring and had already accumulated 46.4 WAR, more than Arod had accumulated when he had become a free agent. He was 27 at the start of what would have been his first FA eligible season. So the move to sign Pujols long-term before any arbitration years was likely one of the best deals the Cardinals’ FO has made. Had Pujols not been extended early he very likely could have commanded a bigger contract than he scored with the Angels after the 2011 season.
To the contrary, I hope Trout DOESN’T agree to a contract with the Angels before he reaches free agency. For one reason, I don’t like the Angels for the same reason I do like the A’s and the Rays. I enjoy watching the A’s and Rays’ FO make smart moves and enjoy watching the Angels’ FO make bad moves. But the bigger reason is that I’m really interested to see the bidding war over Mike Trout, and see the what the next biggest contract ends up being. Here’s to hoping Trout keeps up his performance and doesn’t sign away any FA eligible seasons. Thanks for reading.