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Mike Trout’s new $430 million contract is a bargain

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$430 million! Twelve years! The biggest deal in sports history! The mind reels!

That’s the first response of just about everyone but, once you think about Mike Trout’s new contract with the Los Angeles Angels, you realize that it’s a team-friendly deal. In fact, it’s a bargain.

One way to think about it is to look at how good a player is vs. how good other highly-paid players are.

Now, I’m sure I don’t need to go into the gory details of why Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. If you doubt that, well, there’s not much I can do to help you, frankly, because it means you’re immune to most external stimuli.  But what I don’t think people truly understand is just how much better Trout is than even the other top players in the game. Since this is a story about money, let’s compare Trout to the next two-highest paid players in the game: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

Harper has had approximately one year as good as most Trout years. Machado is consistently one of the best players in the game, but he’s never approached Trout in a given year. I don’t think that’s a slight on those guys to say that. They’d probably admit it themselves. But did you know that, according to WAR anyway, Trout’s eight big league seasons have been worth more than Bryce Harper and Manny Machado’s fourteen seasons combined? Yep. Put the two most highly paid players in baseball history before today and they don’t add up to one Mike Trout. Harper and Machado will make a combined $660 million over the next ten years while Trout will make $430 million over the next 12. That’s a deal!

Here’s another way to look at it.

Mike Trout is going to make around $36 million a year for the next 12 years. In 2018, baseball revenue was $10.3 billion. That number will, presumably, go up this year and most other years going forward. That means that Trout will make, at a minimum, 0.35% of overall revenues. When Alex Rodriguez got his ten-year, $250 million deal from the rangers in 2001, baseball revenues were at $3.58 billion, which means that A-Rod made nearly 0.70% of overall revenues. A-Rod’s first ten-year deal — as opposed to the extension he signed after his opt-out — is considered by most to have, actually, been something of a bargain. Trout’s, proportionately, is far cheaper than that.  Oh, and if inflation is a concept floating around your head right now, know that once you adjust for inflation, Trout and A-Rod’s contracts are roughly the same amount in absolute dollars. Once you adjust for inflation, however, baseball’s revenues have more or less doubled. Again, fantastic deal for the Angels.

OK, Craig, this is a bargain in the context of baseball. But is it not, possibly, an overpay for the Angels? Nah, hard to see it that way.

A lot is made of how much dead money the Angels have in the form of contracts to Albert Pujols and some other past-their-prime players. That’s rather unfortunate for them, but let’s not cry too much for Arte Moreno. The Angels play in the second largest media market in the country and are currently in the middle of a TV deal that pays them $3 billion over 20 years. Or, around $150 million a year. Which is around what their payroll is, even with Trout’s extension and even with Pujols’ (mostly) dead money. Which means that, before a ticket, a beer, a big foam finger or a stuffed Rally Monkey is sold — and before league-wide revenue sources are accounted for — the Angels are breaking even. Once the other stuff is accounted for — and they sell a lot of tickets in Anaheim — they are quite profitable. Oh, and the value of the franchise has appreciated madly too: Arte Moreno paid only $180 million for the team and it’s now worth over $1 billion and may be north of $2 billion.

All of which is to say, any claim that Mike Trout’s new deal is too big or otherwise unreasonable is, well, unreasonable. He is being paid less than he is worth in baseball terms. Proportionate to the numbers that actually matter, he’s being paid far less than a lot of big stars in the game have been paid in the past. And, with respect to the team who is paying him, he does not represent an unreasonable investment, let alone an unduly burdensome one.

Mike Trout is worth it. The Angels can afford it. In fact, the guy is a bargain.

Whitewash: Rob Manfred says he doesn’t think sign stealing extends beyond the Astros

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Rob Manfred said today that he believes the sign-stealing scandal which has taken over the news in the past week does not extend beyond the Houston Astros. His exact words, via Jeff Passan of ESPN:

“Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros. I’m not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We’ll deal with that if it happens, but I’m not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time.”

This is simply incredible. As in literally not credible.

It’s not credible because, just last week, in the original story in The Athletic, it was reported that the Astros system was set up by two players, one of whom was “a hitter who was struggling at the plate and had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team, according to club sources . . . they were said to strongly believe that some opposing teams were already up to no good. They wanted to devise their own system in Houston. And they did.”

The very next day Passan reported that Major League Baseball would not limit its focus to the Astros. Rather, the league’s probe was also include members of the 2019 Astros and would extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentioned the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Add into this the Red Sox’ pre-Cora sign-stealing with Apple Watches and widespread, informed speculation on the part of players and people around the game that many teams do this sort of thing, and one can’t reasonably suggest that only the Houston Astros are doing this.

Which, as I noted at the time, made perfect sense. These schemes cannot, logically, operate in isolation because players and coaches change teams constantly. In light of this, players have to know that their sign-stealing would be found out by other teams eventually. They continue to do it, however, because they know other teams do it too. As is the case with pitchers using pine tar or what have you, they don’t rat out the other team so they, themselves, will not be ratted out. It’s a mutually-assured destruction that only exists and only works if, in fact, other teams are also stealing signs.

So why is Major League Baseball content to only hang the Astros here? I can think of two reasons.

One is practical. They had the Astros fall in their lap via former Astro Mike Fiers — obviously not himself concerned with his current team being busted for whatever reason — going on the record with his accusation. That’s not likely to repeat itself across baseball and thus it’d be quite difficult for Major League Baseball to easily conduct a wide investigation. Who is going to talk? How can baseball make them talk? It’d be a pretty big undertaking.

But there’s also the optics. Major League Baseball has had a week to think about the report of the Astros sign-stealing and, I suspect, they’ve realized, like everyone else has realized, that this is a major scandal in the making. Do they really want to spend the entire offseason — and longer, I suspect, if they want a thorough investigation — digging up unflattering news about cheating in the sport? Do they really want to be in the bad news creation business? I doubt they do, so they decided to fence off the Astros, hit them hard with penalties, declare victory and move on.

Which is to say, it’s a whitewash.

It’s something the league has tried to do before. They did it with steroids and it didn’t work particularly well.

In 1998 Mark McGwire, that game’s biggest star at the time, was found to have the PED androstenedione in his locker. It was a big freakin’ deal. Except . . . nothing happened. Major League Baseball planned to “study” the drug but most of the fallout was visited upon the reporter who made it public. It was accompanied by some shameful conduct by both Major League Baseball and the baseball press corps who eagerly went after the messenger rather than cover the story properly.

Four years later Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco went public with their PED use and said drug use was widespread. MLB’s response was slow and, again, sought to isolated the known offenders, singling out Caminiti as a troubled figure — which he was — and Canseco as a kook — which he kind of is — but doing them and the story a disservice all the same.

The league eventually created a rather toothless testing and penalty regime. Congress and outside investigative reporters filled the void created by the league’s inaction, calling hearings and publishing damning stories about how wide PED use was in the game. Eventually Bud Selig commissioned the Mitchell Report. Some ten years after the McGwire incident baseball had at least the beginnings of a sane approach to PEDs and a more effective testing plan, but it was pulled to it kicking and screaming, mostly because doing anything about it was too hard and not very appetizing from a business and P.R. perspective.

And so here we are again. Baseball has a major scandal on its hands. After some initially promising words about how serious it planned to take it, the league seems content to cordon off the known crime scene and refuses to canvass the neighborhood. Sure, if someone gratuitously hands them evidence they’ll look into it, but it sure sounds like Rob Manfred plans to react rather than act here.

That should work. At least until the next time evidence of cheating comes up and they have to start this all over again.