TEMPE, Ariz. – It took 117 days for Bryce Harper to score a contract once he embarked on free agency, a torturous process for player, fans and industry until Harper finally agreed to a 13-year, $330 million contract on Thursday.
Mike Trout has some 615 days before he can become a free agent. Yet, those days may zoom by far quicker than he or Los Angeles Angels fans could imagine.
Trout contacted Harper on Thursday and congratulated him on his deal, a record-setting pact that almost immediately prompted baseball fans to ask: If Harper got nearly a third of a billion dollars from the Philadelphia Phillies, what might Trout, the consensus greatest player in the game, receive should he hit the market after the 2020 season?
“‘I haven’t really thought about it,” Trout said Friday morning before a Cactus League game against the Kansas City Royals. “I’m happy, I’m happy with what they got, they obviously wanted that, and we’ll go from there.”
It’s hard to imagine Trout not lending that concept some thought, but let’s indulge him, at least momentarily.
It seemed Harper and Trout might always be joined at the hip when, as 19- and 20-year-olds, they dominated the National and American leagues, respectively, captured Rookie of the Year honors and earned MVP awards by the time they were 22.
Yet the two players, friendly but far from BFF-close, diverged both in performance and pay: Trout, as he developed into the game’s consensus best player and slam-dunk Hall of Famer, chose security in the form of a six-year, $144 million extension.
Harper did win his MVP, but his year-to-year production has been more uneven. Yet, he gambled on himself and came up big, experiencing free agency at 26. He’s guaranteed $378 million in gross career earnings.
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Through age 29, he’ll be in an almost dead heat with Trout: $152 million, compared to Trout’s $146.5 million.
It’s Trout’s next pay day that an entire industry awaits.
The Angels desperately want to retain him, and will spend the next two seasons proactively trying to make him an Angel for life. But Trout sacrificed a bit with his original extension and, while the industry has not been kind to older players in recent off-seasons, will command something near a record-setting nine-figure contract after the 2020 season.
He’s also been more engaged in union meetings as his career continues, according to people familiar with him, and may want to send the contractual stakes even higher for his fellow players.
And he indicated Friday that he does not expect to engage in talks with the Angels before the season starts.
Cross another 30 days off that countdown.
“Spring training, you try to get ready for a season,” he says. “You don’t want to worry about anything else. That’s the mindset right now, and we’ll go from there.”
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The Angels will simultaneously revel in Trout’s greatness – he’s won two MVP awards, finished twice four times and has produced a staggering 64 Wins Above Replacement by age 27 – while wondering how to keep him.
“Let’s put his ability aside and what he means on the field,” says first-year Angels manager Brad Ausmus, who spent last year in the front office. “I think his leadership – not by standing on a soapbox and talking – but by how he goes about his business and his passion for the game, for winning – it can’t help but bleed into the clubhouse and have a positive impact on the players.
“I don’t see how you can’t like Mike Trout. Certainly the fans love him. They should. Mike Trout is the best player in the game and goes about his business the right way and is admired and honored for it and should be.”
They know that in Philadelphia, too. The Phillies, after committing massive monies but only $28.35 million per season for Harper, will have cash for Trout, too.
So will 28 other teams, but Trout knows the club he rooted for as a kid will be a constant topic of conversation.
“It all comes with it, obviously being from back on the East Coast,” says the avid Eagles fan and New Jersey native.
Trout watched the Harper stakes with a keen eye, concerned as much as anyone at the process’s glacial pace.
He’s wary of the process -but does not seem scared by it, either, seeing how Manny Machado also made out with a $300 million deal. Meanwhile, the Rockies guaranteed Nolan Arenado $260 million to keep him out of the free agency fray next year.
“I figured he’d probably want to finish out his career there,” Trout said of the surprising 13-year term of Harper’s deal. “I don’t think you’d want to go through, again, what he went through and so I’m happy for him.
“I’m happy for him, I’m happy for Machado. I know what kind of person Machado is, Harper is, I know Arenado, they’re all passionate about their game. I just congratulated him. The process was probably a little longer than he wanted but I’m sure he’s happy.”
In two years, it will probably be him. The Angels hope it doesn’t come to that, that they retain their franchise player forever.
Their window is closing, however. And now that Harper has re-set the salary bar, it is Trout who is on the clock.