- Dan Szymborski, ESPN Insider
Back in the innocent days of 2000, before Biogenesis, centaurs and slaps, a young Alex Rodriguez signed what was then by far the biggest deal in baseball history, a 10-year contract worth $252 million. Unless the Los Angeles Angels take quick action -- and maybe even if they do -- their megastar in center field, Mike Trout, is set to repeat history after the 2017 season, with his own free agent deal of mouth-gaping figures.
It's conventional wisdom in some circles that A-Rod's deal with the Texas Rangers represented utter lunacy on the part of team owner Tom Hicks. In reality, the giant contract simply reflected the perfect storm of traits that caused A-Rod to be so incredibly valuable at the time. Not only did Rodriguez have a strong case for being the best player in baseball on an inner circle Hall of Fame trajectory, but he hit the market at a point in his career when his new team would get most of that value.
Typically, a superstar hits free agency is in his late 20s or even early 30s. A-Rod hit the market after his age-24 season, so his next employer didn't have to worry about his decline years like it would with most free agents.
Trout shares these traits, so when he hits the open market it will likely result in another big step forward in the record annual salary. He had a good case as American League MVP in each of the past two seasons, and didn't turn 22 until this past Aug. 7. Like A-Rod, Trout is set to hit the market at a younger than usual age, potentially becoming a free agent after the 2017 season, his age-25 campaign.
The Angels know that a long-term contract for Trout is going to be pricey, and although they can pay him close to the league minimum as a pre-arbitration player in 2014, he will start to get a lot more expensive via arbitration in 2015. Word on the street is that they are discussing a long-term deal with their young star.
They had better make a deal soon, because Trout's price will only go up with each year, and we have the tools to calculate exactly how much more they will have to pay if they don't make a deal this season.
What's Trout worth?
The first thing to do is get a long-term projection for Trout and estimate his arbitration salaries and what he could eventually get on the free-agent market. While the ZiPS projection system projects Trout for nearly 10 wins above a replacement player (WAR) in 2014 (9.5) -- a ZiPS record by a healthy margin -- the risk for a player like Trout in the long-term is quite one-sided.