The climax of an offseason spent contemplating and debating the value of some of baseball's biggest stars, as it turns out, was not the record-setting free agent contracts signed last month by Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, but what reportedly came Tuesday: a massive extension for Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout that zoomed past those other deals like a 600-foot home run.
According to ESPN's Jeff Passan, Trout's extension is worth US$430 million (NZ$626m) over 12 years - exactly US$100 million more than the 13-year, US$330 million deal Harper signed March 2 with the Philadelphia Phillies, which previously stood as the largest in North American sports history.
Trout's dollar figure, with its echo of Harper's total payout, was either a strange coincidence, or an expert-level troll job, which happened to come just days after Harper made a public pitch for Trout to come join him on the Phillies - the team for whom Trout, a New Jersey native, grew up rooting. Trout, 27, was to have reached free agency for the first time after the 2020 season.
Trout, a seven-time all-star and two-time American League Most Valuable Player, is already considered the best player of his generation, and at his current trajectory could rank as the best of all-time by the time he is done. And now, it appears, he will finish his career with the only franchise he has ever known; the new contract reportedly has no opt-outs.
The theoretical availability of Trout on the free agent market at the end of 2020 was already shaping long-range strategies at the top of baseball's talent marketplace, possibly helping to explain, for example, the relative absence of such behemoths as the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers from this winter's high-end market. The Phillies, with more money to spend and a built-in geographical and emotional advantage, would have almost certainly made a major play for his services.
But those possibilities all disappeared today. The Angels - who, notably, have made just one playoff appearance in Trout's eight seasons - worked quietly behind the scenes in negotiating with Trout, as word of those discussions failed to leak until Tuesday's blast that a deal was near. For the Angels to retain Trout, it cost owner Arte Moreno more than twice as much as the $184 million he paid for the entire franchise in 2003.
Trout's deal is believed to have smashed every other worldwide benchmark for an athlete's on-field compensation. Before this winter, Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, US$325 million extension with the Miami Marlins in 2014 was the record for largest contract, a number that was exceeded by Harper last month. Boxer Canelo Alvarez's deal with sports streaming service DAZN, for 11 fights over five years, was worth a reported US$365 million.
At nearly $36 million per year in average annual value, Trout's new deal would also make him the highest-paid player in baseball year-to-year, topping Zack Greinke's US$34.4 million AAV with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Harper's Phillies deal, by contrast, is worth just over $25 million in AAV.
If anything, Trout could still be considered underpaid relative to his lead over the rest of the sport in performance-value. Per FanGraphs, he has been worth 54.1 wins above replacement since the start of 2013, his first full season in the majors. Second place in that span is third baseman Josh Donaldson, at 35.7 WAR.