Can Mike Trout become MLB’s first $400 million player when he becomes a free agent in 2020?
Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, becomes a free agent after the 2020 season and now knows what teams are willing to pay superstars. Harper signed for 13 years and $330 million; Manny Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres last week. If these players, with nowhere near the credentials of Trout, can get this kind of money, Trout can reasonably expect to become baseball’s first $400 million man.
Trout is 27, a year older than Harper, and will be 29 when he hits the free agency market. In his eight-year career in center field for the Los Angeles Angels, the two-time AL MVP has led the league in Wins Above Replacement four times. He has the highest OPS of any active player and ranks ninth all-time. He’s also coming off a season where he hit .312 with 39 home runs, finishing second in MVP voting to Boston’s Mookie Betts.
Yet despite his greatness, the Angels have only made the postseason once with Trout. They haven’t finished above .500 in three years. The inability of the Angels to surround the game’s best player with talent equal to his own is a mark against the organization.
Trout signed a six-year, $144 million contract extension with the Angels before the 2014 season. When he signed that deal his agent, Craig Landis, made it clear Trout was only giving the Angels that time to build a winner around him. “What Mike was trying to accomplish was some financial security, but also keeping the door open for whatever may happen down the road,” Landis said.
The Angels have failed to do that, leaving Trout in a position to walk away from the team in two years. He’s sure to have plenty of suitors, but his best bet is to drive the 30 miles down the I-5 from Angels Stadium to Dodger Stadium and sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers made a strong effort to sign Harper this offseason, trading Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood in an attempt to shed salary. News of Harper’s deal with the Phillies has left them with a hole to fill on their roster. Signing with the Dodgers will finally give Trout, whose public profile hasn’t matched his on-field performance, an opportunity to play for a big market and become the star he always should have been. The Dodgers are also coming off back-to-back NL pennants, showing they’re capable of giving Trout something he’s never had down the road in Anaheim: postseason success.
Another option is for the Millville, New Jersey native to go home and join Harper in the Phillies’ outfield. While Harper’s deal is a new record in terms of total amount, his average salary will only be $25.5 million, below Machado’s $30 million and the $32 million Nolan Arenado agreed to earlier this week. The contract gives them room to maneuver and still be under the luxury tax threshold. Owner John Middleton promised to spend “stupid” money, and going after Trout in two years will go a long way toward fulfilling that promise.
Like Trout, Betts will also become a free agent in 2020, although Boston has indicated they want to sign him to an extension before then. The two of them will become free agents at a fortuitous time, a year before baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement expires and upends the market.
Speculation about what Trout will be worth on the free agency market will have to wait another two years, however. When he does become available, he’ll surely take his rightful place as the highest-paid player in baseball and set a new mark for the richest deal in North American sports history.