Angels, Mike Trout hoping for a multi-year extension by the start of the season

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Pop quiz, hot shot: you have the best player in all of baseball on your team, one year away from arbitration eligibility. If he hits arbitration he’s going to get insanely expensive because there literally are no comps for him in recent history. If he gets close to free agency, dudes, forget it, he’s making over $300 million. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?!

Well, you sign him to an extension before you lose all your leverage, that’s what. And it’s what, according to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times, the Angels are trying to do with Mike Trout by the start of the 2014 regular season.

DiGiovanna says that the Angels may, as is their right with a pre-arbitration player, simply renew his deal with a raise set at their discretion. That’s what happened last year, giving Trout a salary far short of a million bucks despite an MVP-caliber season. It stings, but that’s the system. This year, however, it shouldn’t sting as the sides will be negotiating for that long-term deal simultaneously. Important to note that any such extension would most likely be announced on Opening Day or after. For if one is reached before then, his salary counts against the Angels’ salary figures for luxury tax/revenue sharing purposes in 2014, if announced after, it doesn’t count until 2015.

Trout’s first two full seasons are historically good. He’s hit .324/.416/.560 with 57 homers, 180 RBI and 82 stolen bases since the beginning of the 2012 season. Add elite defense and baserunning to that equation — and figure that he’s only 22 — and you have a recipe for the highest paid player in baseball sometime soon. If the Angels can lock him up through his arbitration years and for part of his free agency at a below market rate, they should do it immediately if not sooner.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.