The new richest contract in North American sports went to a man who has never won a championship, plays for a .500 team, and many people still don’t even know who he is. But few doubt that Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is worth every cent of his 12-year, $426 million MLB salary extension.
He’s a three-tool player — the best in the game.
The contract will carry through to Trout’s age-38 season in 2030, whether or not he’s still playing by then. This year, he’ll receive a $20 million signing bonus in addition to his base $16 million salary. From 2020 onward, he’ll get a staggering $37,116,666 per season.
Trout’s already making plenty of cash, but the size and structure of this new contract is unprecedented in US sports. It’s worth a look at how it compares with other big MLB contracts past and present. And we can speculate on what all this money may do to this rather simple guy.
Mike Trout — Talented, Unique, Simply Excellent
Mike Trout’s a 27-year-old, very gifted athlete from New Jersey who loves to play at full tilt, every game. And really nothing more.
Trout is generally accepted as the best player in the game. Hit, field, and run — he does is all exceptionally well, enthusiastically, and humbly. He keeps his face shaved and his hair buzzed. He’s often seen wearing a big smile and he’s the consummate teammate.
The two-time MVP also finished second in voting on four other occasions. After being drafted by the Angels in 2009, he won the Rookie of the Year award in 2012. Trout has never had a bad season. His career average is .307 and he already has mashed 240 home runs while stealing 189 bases.
Despite his accomplishments, Trout’s not brash and inconsistent like slugger Bryce Harper, who just signed on with the Phillies for 13 years and $330 million. Nor does anyone question him for a lack hustle or occasional dirty play, like they do with new Padres shortstop Manny Machado, who got 10 years at $300 million.
Interestingly, his team loses… quite a lot. The two-time MVP plays for the perennially underachieving Angels. The Halos finished with 80 wins and 82 losses in each of the last two seasons, haven’t been over .500 since 2015, and they finished first in their division just one (in 2014) since Trout has been on the team.
However, it seems the Angles realize they don’t stand a chance of improving, and they really don’t have much an identity without this generational player. Therefore, they pulled up the Brink’s truck for him. The contract just keeps giving
Bucking the MLB Salary Trend
MLB salaries, like those in other sports, are sometimes unbalanced, and some players cash in beyond their worth, while others are relative bargains.
These days, many teams are pursuing a strategy of finding talented young players while balancing their rosters with a couple of premium, highly paid players. The rest are mid-level players who, these days, often command disproportionately low salaries. This approach allows huge savings on the young and mid-level players to be put toward a couple of superstars, or potential superstars.
A precedent-setting salary was the 10-year $252 million the Texas Rangers gave to Alex Rodriguez in 2000. At the time, it was the most lucrative contract ever in sports. Some questioned the length and size of the contract, and in hindsight, Rodriquez only partially lived up to it.
These days, there are many similar MLB contracts. Harper’s and Machado’s contracts were the biggest ever for a very short time, before Mike Trout’s new contract. Many of the others are given to players who are now either over the hill or never lived up to expectations.
Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols signed for 10 years at $240 million and has never come near the numbers he posted in his prime in St. Louis. The Seattle Mariners’ Robinson Cano has the same amount and years, but has underachieved, as has his team. The highest paid pitcher is the Red Sox’s David Price, at 7 years and $217 million. Price has only been a number two or three starter for the Red Sox, though he did redeem himself with a strong performance in the 2018 World Series, which the Red Sox won.
MLB Contract Richer than Ever, for the Top Players
Everything changed for MLB salaries in 1975. In that year, the rule allowing collective bargaining of player salaries was lifted. Before that, it wasn’t uncommon even for major leaguers to get short-term contracts and much lower rates. This was because teams owned the player’s rights even after a salary expired.
In 2018 dollars, Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams, perhaps the greatest pure hitter ever, made no more than $1,084,431 per year. Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio got $1,048,283. And the legendary slugger Babe Ruth got the equivalent of just $1,177,019 ($80,000 in 1930).
But from 1975, salaries trended upward, the game’s commercial appeal expanded, and salaries continued to trend upward.
A Rich Guy, but Will It Change Him?
Many pro athletes have squandered their huge earnings after making bad choices. In fact, many player file for bankruptcy within 5 years of retirement. Pete Rose famously got busted for gambling on his own team; he went bankrupt, too.
One wouldn’t expect the same for the clean-cut Trout. He might do well to follow the lead of Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez, in addition to his salary, earned huge amounts in sponsorship money. He has in fact spent on fine art, houses, and other luxuries. But most-impressively, Rodriquez is now a prominent businessman and investor. He turned his money into more money, and despite often being wildly unpopular as a player, he has focused on his business and changed how some people see him.
So the newly richer Mike Trout, who is not yet a World Series winner, but is a very nice guy and the MLB’s best player, will have to choose wisely. Nothing about him indicates he’d blow his money on gambling, luxuries, or other distractions. He’s more the type to buy a decent pickup truck, treat his team to dinner and gifts, and put the rest toward his family, or in the bank.
Trout’s still just 27, so it will be interesting to see if extreme wealth changes him. It probably won’t.