The Philadelphia Phillies had Michael Jack Schmidt. We have Michael Nelson Trout (and Victor Rojas, I expect you to call him that on every home run call until the day he retires). The question is, should we ensure that we will ALWAYS have Michael Nelson Trout?
Well, the answer to the Mike Trout question may well be obvious: YES. But the question is, is it smart to ensure that Trout Fever will be a chronic condition, after one season of exposure? If so, are there comparables? Thankfully, the answer to the last question is also a resounding YES. Hopefully it's enough to answer the first question.
About 2,500 miles northeast of our comfy SoCal confines, up in the Steel City just across the Allegheny, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a young outfielder by the name of Andrew McCutchen. His skill set isn't identical to Trout's, but is certainly similar: hits for average, has pop, swipes bags, plays a stellar defensive game, but above all, HE GETS ON BASE. The Pirates, after three seasons of McCLUTCHen, locked him up, buying out his arbitration years and three free agent years in the process. The deal? 6 years, $51.5 million. It took the Cutch three seasons to prove himself worthy of such an extension, but he put up pretty consistent numbers throughout those three seasons:
2009: .286/.365/.471, 12 HR, 54 RBI, 22 SB, 121 OPS+ (4th in NL ROY voting)
2010: .286/.365/.449, 16 HR, 56 RBI, 33 SB, 121 OPS+
2011: .259/.364/.456, 23 HR, 89 RBI, 23 SB, 128 OPS+
With a cumulative slash line of .276/.365/.458, $51.5 million may be slightly generous. The point is, regardless of generosity, Pittsburgh wanted to commit to their young face of the franchise, commit to winning, commit to a future where Pittsburgh is more than a cellar dweller. They saw potential, and knew that a backloaded deal across six years would get it done. And you know what? $51.5 million is looking pretty sly right now. Neal Huntington knew that McCutchen was only going up. Take a gander at his 2012 numbers (SPOILER ALERT: They're above his career norms):
2012: .343/.406/.558, 24 HR, 83 RBI, 16 SB, 166 OPS+
Now, shall we apply the same principles to Michael Nelson Trout?
One season is a bit shakier to run off of than three, especially three about as consistent as they come. In any case, it's safe to say that if Trout is putting up this stellar of numbers, even if he drops off, any extension is worth it, because his dropoff would likely be better than many players' peaks. To be fair, I'll use CAREER numbers for Trout, not just this season (let's remember he had an interesting stint in 2011). So, here are the numbers that Dipoto and Co. have to toy with during extension talks:
CAREER: .306/.370/.527, 30 HR, 91 RBI, 48 SB, 151 OPS+
Let's use McCutchen as the standard here. Trout's numbers over 1+ seasons are better than McCutchen's were in any year pre-2012, as well as the three years total. McCutchen's deal is also quite backloaded--and with Albert and C.J. also impending (not to mention if the Angels hang on to Zack Greinke), that may not be the wisest route for the front office to go. Slightly backloaded, possibly. Evenly spread, preferable. Let's play best case scenario and say an evenly spread deal is on the table. What sort of money are we talking? Assuming replacement players make league minimum ($480,000/year), and Trout's WAR is climbing to 10, it's safe to say Trout could easily be worth $4.8 million per year of any deal. That might be lowballing it, actually. Even for a young player with lots of upside, a season like this deserves more than a tenfold raise. But $4.8 million--eh, round up, $5 million--is a good base point. If any deal is backloaded, $5,000,000 is a good year-one salary. But again, we're going evenly spread here.
McCutchen's average salary on his deal is just north of $8.5 million per year. So, can we call a middle ground of $6.75 million (this being a team-friendly deal) to be safe? Yeah? Okay. Cool. Glad we agreed on that. Should we extend Trout after this season, let's say that $6.75 million is the salary we evenly spread. Now, six years buys out arbitration and one year of free agency after this season concludes. However...we ought to put more on that contract. Six years is a good length, and at the $6.75 million, makes for a 6-year, $40.5 million contract. That's GUARANTEED money. Not to mention incentives, which are so complicated of a matter I won't even factor them in. For now, let's delve into the idea of a seventh-year option, at a more superstar rate of money.
Again using McCutchen as a ruler, the top year of his deal--also an option year--pays $14.75 million, with a $1 million buyout. We can round up and go an even $15,000,000--which would certainly be a team-friendly option for an outfielder that will be theoretically entering his prime at the age of 27. This pushes the deal to 7 years, $55.5 million.
Without any incentives, a possible 7-year, $55.5 million extension pushes Trout through into the end of the 2019 season, when he'll be 28, and likely due for a VERY hefty raise.