Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the consensus best player in baseball and a 22-year-old dynamo frequently compared to Nationals phenom Bryce Harper, agreed to a contract extension Friday night that, starting in 2015, will reportedly pay him nearly $145 million. The deal covers his remaining three years of arbitration eligibility and also three years he would have been eligible for free agency.
Given Trout’s stature and ability, he sacrificed significant earning potential for the perceived security of $145 million guaranteed. The deal may have stoked optimism among the Nationals and their fans that they could extend Harper with a similar contract, ensuring he will stay in Washington for at least three years after the 2018 season, when he can become a free agent.
Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, scuttled that optimism this morning. In his first public comments regarding Trout’s deal, Boras indicated, in his own indirect and creative way, that he and Harper will not view Trout’s contract as a template to follow.
“I have the pleasure and privilege of watching Mike Trout play every night,” Boras said. “I think he’s a very special cup of tea, for which he is deserving of a completely different brew. While few, I definitely consider Bryce Harper as part of the next generation of elite brand of teas. Certainly as a studied connoisseur, I may hold a differing opinion as to the availability, demand and value of tea futures.”
It’s not difficult to read those, ahem, tea leaves.
Harper, 21, is 14 months younger than Trout, the runner-up in the American League MVP vote the past two years. Last season, Harper hit 20 home runs with a .270/368/.486 slash line as he played through bursitis in his left knee, which required offseason surgery. Before Harper hurt his knee, he hit nine homers in April with an OPS over 1.100.
While it would be difficult to begrudge any player for accepting $145 million, Trout and his agent, Craig Landis, almost certainly left money on the table by not going year-to-year in baseball’s arbitration system. Trout will still have another chance at free agency at age 29. But he could have signed a massive free agent contract at 26, an age at which he could have commanded far more years and dollars than at 29.
Trout and future generations of Trouts are set for life. But Trout’s ability and age gave him a unique chance to lift the standard for the entire market. He chose instead to protect himself against the catastrophic injury that essentially never happens — Buster Posey suffered one of the most gruesome injuries in recent memory, and what would his market be if he suddenly became a free agent?
To put it in a manner of speaking, Earl Grey signed a Lipton contract.