Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Seattle Mariners

As we can expect for the next 15 years so, Mike Trout made a bunch of news out of a seemingly mundane act on the weekend. Mike Trout saw his contract renewed at just $20 000 above the league minimum despite posting eye-popping numbers with which your a very likely familiar. .326/.399/.564, 30 HR, 49 SB, highlight reel defense, 10 WAR, Rookie of the Year, runner-up for AL MVP, blah blah blah.

That the Angels would not extend Mike Trout a modicum of grace and bump his contract by more than they are obligated by baseball’s collective bargaining agreement doesn’t sit well with some folks – some folks including Mike Trout’s agent and, presumably, Mike Trout himself.


As Darren passed along this weekend, Trout’s agent took the peculiar steps of alerting the world of his client’s dissatisfaction with the Angels decision to treat Trout like just about every other pre-arb player in baseball.

This outrage stems from that unavoidable fact that Mike Trout is, based on last season, very much unlike just about every other player yet to reach the arbitration stage of his six years of team control. The L.A. Times noted two instances in which players entering their second year received larger than usual raises after putting together special rookie campaigns.

Grant Brisbee of SB Nation went into much greater detail, looking specifically at Rookies of the Year and how much their salary grew from one year to the next. Grant’s list runs the gamut, from Chris Coghlan, the former Marlins ROY who received the traditional Marlins bump of “basically nothing” to Craig Kimbrel, who got a healthy increase from the Braves after his first season.

It is easy to break out the hero/villain paintbrush and coat the Braves with a thick layer of semi-gloss altruism while casting well-deserved aspersions towards the miserly Marlins. But relating a relief pitcher to a five tool outfielder is folly. A pitcher like Kimbrel, dominant as he is, tends to have a clearly defined shelf life, in addition to the relatively paltry arbitration rewards for relievers. If he is as durable as Jonathan Papelbon he can expect a big time payday but the Braves might be gambling he won’t last quite that long.

Alternatively, look at the way the Phillies treated Ryan Howard. They increased their slugging first baseman’s salary by more than 150% after his rookie campaign, making him the highest paid player with less than two years service time in the history of the game at that point. As a Super Two player, Howard set records all the way through arbitration, earning $10MM in his first year of eligibility. The higher the base contract, the higher each subsequent arbitration reward, costing the team millions in the long run – while still exposing them to same risk.

This is a long play for the Angels. Can they afford to overpay Trout out of the goodness of their hearts when they’ve thrown such enormous sums of money at Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton? The damage done by the lowball offer is minimal, in my mind.

The Marlins have the worst reputation among teams unwilling to extend their pre-arb players more than required. This season they bumped Giancarlo Stanton up to a mere $40K above the minimum, in keeping with their history.

Stanton is now poised to go into arbitration for the first time, were he should win a reward similar to that of Miguel Cabrera in 2007. Former Marlin Hanley Ramirez ran through the same gauntlet, eeking out tiny pre-arb raises before selling off his three arbitration years – plus three years of free agency – when the long-term extension came his way.

If the Marlins or Angels slide the right kind of contract in front of their franchise player, the team skimping a few thousand dollars early on isn’t likely to enter into the equation. As Zack Greinke admitted to Jon Heyman earlier this month, it’s all about the money. Every time. Money is all but undefeated.

In a perfect world, Mike Trout would make what he earned in 2012. In that same world, remember, owners could slice and dice contracts they didn’t like after a period of poor play. As Dave Cameron notes at Fangraphs today, it is a trade-off. This structure is agreed upon by the union as a way of protecting and rewarding their older members. By shorting young players, it keeps more teams in the competitive loop. More money for young players would make it nearly impossible for a team like the Rays to otherwise compete under the current system.

Mike Trout got it right when he said his day will come. The Angels are going to make Mike Trout very, very rich at some point in the next five years. If Trout reaches free agency without incident, he can already count on tens of millions of dollars coming his way by way of arbitration rewards or settlements. If he signs an extension next year or after a year of arb, he gets paid all the same. Weep not for Mike Trout, his time will comes.