Analysis

Free Agency is the best way to acquire Mike Trout

Wouldn’t it be great if hometown star Mike Trout played for the Phillies? His consistent hitting, dazzling fielding and likable personality would almost single-handedly sell out The Bank.  There has been some chatter around baseball that the LA Angels were exploring options to trade the MVP center fielder. Yes, you heard that right. That came to a surprise to many that there were even whispers about trading the young star. So I wanted to get to the bottom of the rumors.

I spoke with Mike DiGiovanna, who covers the Angels for the LA Times, and he shot them down emphatically by saying, “the Angels have never explored any kind of trade of Trout, and they have no interest in doing so now, and probably not in the near future…the GM said on record recently that not one team has called inquiring about Trout. They know the Angels have no interest in trading him.” With a trade out of the question for this season, that leaves two more likely scenarios in which the Phillies can acquire Mike Trout albeit neither of them are happening anytime soon.

troutFirst some background on the Angels.  They are a team at an organizational crossroads. After trading two pitching prospects to Atlanta for Andrelton Simmons, the Angels’ minor league system was dubbed last in the entire MLB. Their new best prospect has a 5.62 ERA in High-A ball – not very promising.  Albert Pujols, who signed a 10 year, $240 million contract in 2012, is on the hook through 2021. Also, the Angels are still paying Josh Hamilton (until 2017) even though they traded him back to Texas. Since the Angels shipped him back to Texas before the 2015 season, they have to dish out over $73 million until his Rangers’ contract runs out in 2017.  This is one of the reasons, the Angels have the seventh highest payroll in baseball.  Lucky for them, some of the awful deals they signed come off the books this year, like with CJ Wilson and Jared Weaver.

So what about Trout? As usual, he’s leading the Angels in all three triple crown categories – hitting .318, with 12 HRs, and 41 RBIs. His contract has him signed through the 2020 season. You would think the Angels would have learned their lesson with their contracts. Here, they had a chance to lock up a 22-year old star to a 10-year deal. Redeeming themselves for the Pujols and Hamilton signings, when they were exactly 10-years older than Trout. Why did Trout just sign a 6-year contract? It was his choice, not the Angels. The Angels wanted to lock him up longer, but Trout said in an MLB.com article, “six years is perfect for me.” Trout will become a free agent after 2020 season at 29 years old, still in his prime. Could Trout have signed a shorter deal in hopes of patrolling center field for his hometown team in 2021 or perhaps even earlier?

Here are the two scenarios in which the Phils could acquire Trout.

Scenario 1: Trade for Trout in the last two years of his contract

DiGiovanna did say there could be a point in time when it would make sense to trade Mike Trout. He explained, “If the Angels were not in contention in 2019 and/or 2020 (the final two years of Trout’s current contract) and if Trout made it clear to them that he wasn’t going to re-sign here, only then would you consider trading Trout.” Trout could have signed his 6-year deal with the intent of inspecting the progress of the front office. You already know the mess the Angels are in now.  If they’re still not in contention with a depleted farm system and more bad signings in the final year or two left on Trout’s contract as DiGiovanna eluded to, he could want out via trade.

The Phils could very well be in contention for a playoff spot in 2019/2020 and, assuming he continues performing, a guy like Trout would be able to put them over the top. I asked DiGiovanna who the Phils would have to give up to get Trout. He gave a criteria by saying Trout, “would net at least 4-5 high quality players, guys who were already established young big-leaguers or top prospects, like best-guys-in-your-system prospects.” It sounds like this is a 5-for-1 trade in the making. I’m guessing the Angels are going to want some prospects and some young, established Major Leaguers. By 2019 or 2020 guys like J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, Roman Quinn, Jorge Alfaro, and even Cornelius Randolph should be very much established in Philadelphia along with the current core of: Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, Aaron Nola, and Vince Velasquez. Plus more guys sit right on the fringe of that core, like Tommy Joseph, Tyler Goeddel, Jerad Eickhoff, Hector Neris, Jeanmar Gomez, and Cesar Hernandez.

To trade for Trout, the Phillies would most likely have to trade one guy in the current core, two guys that will be up by 2019 or 2020 (first list), and two more prospects in the mid-to-upper levels of the minors that are top-notch. That’s what it will take to get Mike Trout. If the Phillies are in a pennant race in 2019 or 2020, I don’t think it will be worth it to trade three guys that will be on the roster by that time, especially in the middle of the season.

Scenario 2 – Wait until Trout is a free agent in 2020

The best way for the Phils to get Trout is to wait until after the 2020 season, when Trout will be a free agent. However, by that time, it wouldn’t surprise me if Trout became the highest paid player ever. In the last year of his Angels contract, Trout will be making a handsome $33.25 million. If he continues to play at the pace he is now, could he paid more than $40 million a season? At the age of 29, it’s quite possible. If he makes over $40 million a year, it will be tough for the Phillies to keep all of their up-and-coming stars.

The Phillies have a new voice representing their ownership in John Middleton. Middleton is asserting himself more and more in the public eye and seems to have grabbed a hold on the team. Middleton says the ownership group has shrunk to just two families, leaving himself much more room to operate. He told Andy McPhail in his introductory presser last June that he would get him all the resources he needed to win.  Forbes lists Middleton’s net worth at $2.7 billion, so that’s a lot of resources.  That could even mean paying a luxury tax in order to sign Trout. Though perhaps he would consider a hometown discount to alleviate some pressure on the Phillies payroll. Either way, free agency in 2020 is the best way for the Phillies to acquire the phenom from Millville.  Any rumors of his impending arrival are greatly exaggerated.

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