The largest contract in MLB history stands at $275 million. What we’re here to discuss is the prospect of Mike Trout one day putting that to shame with a $400 million contract.

“Ridiculous” might be the first word that comes to mind. Or maybe one of those weird hybrid words like “absurdulous.”

But the possibility is neither ridiculous nor absurdulous, my friends. Considering what he has working for him, $400 million for Trout would actually be quite reasonable if the stars align just right.

We’ll get to that. But first, a bit of background.

To my knowledge, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports was the first to take a serious stab at forecasting a potential mega-contract for Trout. On the heels of the Los Angeles Angels superstar’s remarkable 2012 season, Passan wrote that Trout could one day have a “reasonable case” to be baseball’s first $300 million player.

But that was then. This is now, and what we know now that we didn’t know then is that Trout’s 2012 season was no tease.

Maybe you don’t need the numbers. But since they’re fun numbers to look at, we’ll look at them anyway. Here’s the good stuff from FanGraphs:

Trout’s not the best at everything. He’s just among the best at everything like nobody else in the league. He is baseball’s most dominant all-around player, and it’s scary how not close it is. Nobody else has compiled more than 15.0 WAR over the last two seasons.

Also scary is the fact that Trout’s only through his age-21 season. WAR-wise, nobody so young has ever been so good. FanGraphs has Trout’s 21.1 career WAR (2011 included, mind you) as the best ever for a player through the age of 21. So does

In Trout, we’re witnessing a legit once-in-a-generation talent. Further, it’s OK to acknowledge that we’re witnessing a player who has a head start at becoming the greatest the game has ever known.

As such, it’s hardly surprising that ESPN’s Buster Olney has recently spoken to some people in the know who have been willing to get much more bold than Passan.

“Twelve years, $400 million,” one agent suggested shortly after the winter meetings. 

Olney subsequently spoke to a talent evaluator who scoffed at the notion at first. And then…

“But then you think about it,” he said. “Robinson Cano is a decade older than Trout and he just got $240 million. Trout is 22 years old and he’s a better player than Cano right now.”

Trout is so good right now that he’s worth more than the $33.3 million per year he would make in a 12-year, $400 million contract. Heck, he’s even worth more than the $40 million per year he would make in a $400 million deal over just 10 years.

We know this because FanGraphs has a handy way of converting WAR into dollar value. In the last two years, Trout has been worth:

  • 2012: $44.9 million
  • 2013: $52.1 million

Such is life when you’re a 10-WAR player. And right now, Trout’s the only player in MLB who would know.

Now, there’s no way we can know for certain that Trout’s going to keep it up. Maybe somebody will come up with a genius and easily copycatted solution for keeping him contained. If not that, maybe injuries will do the trick.

But since we’re being optimistic here, let’s take Oliver’s word for it.

Oliver is a projection system that, in the words of The Hardball Times, “uses a simple weighted mean of the previous three seasons, with aging factors and regression to the mean.” Via FanGraphs, here’s what the system sees for Trout over the next five seasons:

In other words, Trout is projected to be himself. And that makes sense, because we know he’s superbly talented and far from the highway to the danger zone that is the age of 30. Trout just needs to stay healthy.

The catch, if you’ll pardon the pun, is that Trout will very likely have to stay healthy to land a $400 million contract. If he’s going to get a deal like that, it will probably be a free-agent contract rather than an extension.

The Angels already have enough big-money players on their books. Per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver are all owed escalating salaries over the next several years. If the Angels are determined to stay under the luxury tax threshold, they need Trout to be as cheap as possible.

One thing the Angels could do is sign Trout to a deal that’s backloaded like crazy. But they already have a guy with a deal like that, as Pujols is owed $114 million over the final four years of his 10-year, $240 million contract. 

Besides which, Trout’s interests have to be considered. He might prefer a shorter extension that would allow him to hit free agency in his prime rather than a long extension that would cover his best free-agent years.

My guess is that something in the $200 million range is the most reasonable possibility for an extension for Trout, with $300 million probably being the Angels’ max. Trout could settle for something like that, or he could just wait until free agency.

Don’t be surprised if that’s what he chooses to do. His free agency isn’t that far off, and it promises to be worth the wait.

Trout is due for free agency after 2017. He’ll only be through his age-25 season if he gets there. Since most players hit the market in their late-20s or early-30s, Trout hitting the market in his mid-20s would make him the most attractive free agent since a guy named Alex Rodriguez in 2000.

If the Oliver projections for Trout come true, here’s how his free-agent resume would stack up against A-Rod’s when he went to free agency:

*The best we can do here is an average.

Trout would go to free agency a year older than Rodriguez was. If his Oliver projections come to fruition, he would also head to free agency with fewer career home runs under his belt.

But A-Rod’s advantages end there. It’s conceivable that Trout will head into free agency both more experienced and more accomplished than A-Rod was in 2000-01, which is saying a lot.

And if this is how it plays out, then a 10- or 12-year deal worth $400 million wouldn’t be nearly as absurd as the 10-year, $252 million contract A-Rod received from the Texas Rangers. Not relatively speaking, anyway.

While I couldn’t find data for the 2002 season, here’s how MLB’s average salary has progressed since the 2000 season, courtesy of data from the Associated Press:

The $252 million deal A-Rod signed was worth $25.2 million per year—or over 13 times what the average player was making the previous season. 

The $33.3 million per year Trout would earn in a 12-year, $400 million contract would be less than 10 times what the average player is making now. A 10-year deal worth $40 million per year would be worth just under 12 times what the average player is making now.

And again, this is now we’re talking about. The average MLB salary is going nowhere but up, and there’s more than enough money in the game now to make sure it keeps going up. The average salary could be $4 million come 2017, in which case a $40 million-per-year deal for Trout would be only 10 times as much as the average player’s salary.

Considering this, the following notion deserves to be thrown out there: Rather than $400 million, how about $500 million?

That’s the number we might be kicking around as a fair deal for Trout a couple years from now when his free agency is looming. If not, here’s guessing nobody will be hesitating to say $400 million. If it sounds fair now, it will certainly sound fair later.

Trout will be rolling the dice if he chooses the patient path that leads toward him striking it rich in free agency after 2017. There’s certainly a possible scenario out there that involves him rejecting a mega-extension and then watching his career tragically unravel.

But if Trout gets to free agency unscathed, he’ll find it worth his while. He would enter as the most attractive free agent to ever hit the open market and would very likely leave as baseball’s first $400 million man.


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