TEMPE, Ariz. — The first rule of Mike Trout’s potential contract negotiations is you do not talk about Mike Trout’s potential contract negotiations. It is also the second and third rule around the Angels.
But looming conspicuously over the sport’s near future — along with pitch clocks or whether shifts will be abolished or the draft will be restructured — is where Trout will be playing long term and for how much.
“Every year people ask what’s your future,” Trout said. “I don’t know. I have two years left [until free agency].”
Trout’s go-to about his future is mostly to claim not to have thought much about it or that he doesn’t really have to until after the 2020 season. General manager Billy Eppler said, “I’m not talking about it,” or “I wouldn’t say” regarding whether he knows what it would take financially (and not financially) to retain Trout or if extension negotiations have even begun seriously or if there is a date to do so.
“There’s a lot of interest in Trout right now because of the signings of [Bryce] Harper and [Manny] Machado,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “Clearly, any manager, myself included, would love to have Mike Trout on his team for years to come. That is not my area. That is out of my control.”
Why is this a major issue?
Because Trout “is the best player in the game,” in Albert Pujols’ words — and pretty much those of anyone else who is paying attention. Because there have been concerns about open-market bidding in free agency, and though you could find reasons for not being gung-ho about Harper or Machado, as Ausmus said, “[Trout] is a manager’s dream. He does everything right and plays the game at the highest level possible.”
How do you formulate an offer to this generation’s Mantle? The last two-decade history of peak free agency is that Mike Hampton got a record $121 million after the 2000 season, which lasted two days until Alex Rodriguez got $252 million, which lasted seven years until A-Rod got $275 million, which lasted 12 years until Machado received $300 million, which lasted nine days until Harper got $330 million.
So is Trout an incremental increase like A-Rod II to Machado to Harper — imagine $350 million. That feels more like Mookie Betts, also due to be a free agent after the 2020 campaign. Trout, contractually, projects more as an outlier like Rodriguez was — someone who can take the number to a place that will be unthreatened for a while, $400 million or more.
Trout is 27 and has two years at $66.5 million remaining on a six-year, $144.5 million extension. In seven full seasons, he has won two MVPs, finished second four times and fourth once. He is assembling a historically great career.
The price for that will stagger. Of course, folks notice he is from Millville, N.J., and is a rabid Eagles fan. Harper already has said he wants to recruit Trout to the Phillies — and was contacted by MLB to cease what could be viewed as tampering. The Angels have only made the playoffs once in Trout’s career and have yet to win a postseason game. Teams such as the Yankees and Dodgers could promise more regular October platforms.
Yet, Trout’s low maintenance needs and persona make me wonder if the bigger markets hold less allure — and no way does a pitch from Harper mean much. Trout has noticed the Angels won for Shohei Ohtani and have greatly improved their farm system. He said “anything can happen” when asked if a deal could be constructed with the Angels before free agency.
And, really, with this kind of homegrown player — beloved in his clubhouse, by fans and by history — the Angels might not want to talk about Mike Trout’s negotiations, but pretty much have to do whatever is possible to keep him.