MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Texas Rangers

It is indeed the most wonderful time of the year. It is just about the time on the calendar where any and all Mike Trout love flows like wine. When the Angels brass call him into their Tempe office and slide a piece of paper across the table.

What will the paper say? Will it feature another borderline insulting minimal raise or will it detail the richest contract in baseball history? Either way, fire up your outrage machines, the topic du jour is Trout’s pay packet.

To their credit, the Angels are already making noise about getting Trout’s name on a contract extension before the season starts. Mike DiGiovanna first made mention of a possible extension this week in the LA Times, stating the Angels are likely to simply renew their stud outfielder’s contract for 2014 secure in the knowledge that an extension is in the works. DiGiovanna helpfully notes that any deal is likely to include a large signing bonus, taking the sting out of playing the 2014 season for pennies.

So if the Angels and Trout are working towards an extension, what might it look like? Dave Cameron of Fangraphs digs in and suggests nine year, $260 million is not beyond the realm of possibility. Maybe even 10/$300MM. As always with Trout, nothing is off the table.

It is interesting to see Cameron and others compare Trout’s numbers to those of Ryan Howard, as the Phillies slugger set records during his recent trips through the arbitration process. In his first full season, Howard famously hit 58 home runs for Philadelphia, winning the NL MVP in the process. His gaudy HR and RBI totals really set the stage for his huge arb paydays ($10 million in his first year of eligibility, establishing a record).

While Trout doesn’t have the same back of the baseball card stats as Ryan Howard, he did finish second in AL MVP voting in back-to-back seasons and is quite obviously the better baseball player. Wins Above Replacement gives Trout an astonishing edge through a comparable number of games, though Howard has twice as many home runs and RBI.

As examined earlier this month, the arbitration process is growing and maturing as front offices change the way they evaluate players. If the arb rewards for similar players like Mark Trumbo and Giancarlo Stanton can differ so greatly, there is no reason to believe an arbitrator, when presented by the mountain of evidence by Trout’s team, wouldn’t see through the RBI shine.

Which brings us back to his dollar amounts – if Trout sets a record during each of his three trips through arbitration (provided he doesn’t sign an extension), he’s looking at more than $60 million in earnings, according to Cameron’s math. Then free agency and a whole new standard for baseball pay days.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Despite playing at a Hall of Fame level for the first two years of his career, anything could happen to Trout between here and free agency. Undoubtably the best player in baseball as he is now, weird things happen. Ken Griffey Jr. was basically Mike Trout until he simply couldn’t be bothered any more, as injuries and many other factors took their toll on a player who all but stopped producing at 30.

Source: FanGraphsKen Griffey Jr., Mike Trout

But can the Angels, as a franchise, look themselves in the mirror and say they’re okay with letting the best player in baseball walk? Maybe they can. It certainly worked for the St. Louis Cardinals, though the situations were much different.

No matter how much of a sure thing Mike Trout’s skills and body look like, the Griffey Uncertainty is a factor Trout and his representatives must consider. Sure, he could continue at an 8+ WAR pace for the next four years and hit free agency as a 26-year old ready to command $50 million per year. Or, as it always does, stuff can happen.

Which is why the Angels and Trout will reach an agreement in the next few weeks, a deal they will announce after the season begins to avoid luxury tax implications. The Angels and Mike Trout will agree to an eight year, $240 million contract. Some safety and guaranteed money with an opportunity to hit free agency at 30. Plus he’ll probably be the highest paid player in the game in about three years. Sounds good? Good.

Enough about what the Angels should pay Mike Trout, where should they hit him? First? No! Third? Nah, clean up! What about second? Can he hit more than once in the lineup???