Mike Trout accomplished another first today, but for once it was not on the field. The two-time AL League MVP runner-up signed a six year, $144 million extension with the Los Angeles Angels, making him the highest paid 22 year-old to ever play baseball. Though this deal is giant for a player in his position, the Angels scored a steal on Mike Trout’s contract. An average of $24 million a year seems well worth it to secure arguably the best all-around player in baseball. His contract will start in 2015 and keep him an Angel until he is almost 30.
Mike Trout has been the best player on the Angels since he was called up in May of 2012. That is not an easy feat, considering the other players the young phenom has shared the dugout with. Albert Pujols has been there with Trout for both of his full major league seasons. Torii Hunter and Josh Hamilton have each shared a season with Trout too.
Pujols has spent the better part of his first two years as an Angel coming in below expectations. 2012 saw him not hit a home run until May, and never really feeling comfortable in the box all year. An injury in 2013 shortened his season, and the time he did play was through immense pain. His biggest contribution to the team has been as a mentor for the young Trout. He took over the role after Hunter left following the 2012 season.
Hunter took the talented outfielder under his wing almost immediately after Trout was called up, and the two hitters created a dynamic duo at the top of the Angels’ lineup for most of 2012. He also taught the youngster the finer points of playing centerfield in the pros. Hunter had a career year hitting after Trout, but the Angels chose to not re-sign him and he moved on to Detroit. His numbers were good during his last year as an Angel, but Trout’s were just better, especially when you consider he was a rookie.
Josh Hamilton joined the Angels last year, and experienced the worst slump of his major league career. Hamilton had begun to slump near the end of the 2012 season with the Rangers, and continued his poor play for most of 2013. Trout’s season easily beat out his poor performance, and though this year Hamilton figures to challenge him more as the best player on the field, Trout’s progression should easily keep him well ahead of the pack.
Simply being the best player on the Angels alone would have made the contract Trout signed with them a steal. However, Trout is possibly the best player in the American League, if not all of baseball. He finished second in the AL MVP race each of his first two years, coming in behind Miguel Cabrera both times. The numbers Cabrera have put up the last two seasons are impressive, and certainly MVP worthy. Trout’s numbers were just as worthy, and any other year, he would have walked away with the hardware. However, if you look past the numbers and simply compare the two players, Trout is far-and-away the better player overall.
Miguel Cabrera is without a doubt one of the most talented players in baseball. However, Mike Trout is one of the few 5-tool players in the majors. Trout is lightning fast on the base paths. He is a threat to run from any base at any time. Though his bases stolen declined last year, it was not due to lack of talent, but rather opportunity. In 2012, Trout was a lead0ff hitter, giving him plenty of opportunities to advance to scoring position while the patient Torii hunter was at the plate. In 2013, he batted mainly in the 2-hole, often staying at first and not risking an out at second when power guys like Pujols and Hamilton followed him. In the right situation, Trout would be a threat to lead the majors in steals every year. Cabrera, on the other hand, would never be able to accomplish that feat, unless the entire league was full of Benjie Molinas.
Trout’s speed helps him defensively as well. His above average arm strength, added to the amount of ground he can cover, makes him a deadly weapon in the field. Cabrera’s arm strength and defense on the infield may not be his strongest feature, but it definitely is not a weakness for him either. Cabrera’s best attribute as a player is his ability to hit for both power and average. He is a beast at the plate, and can cover the dish better than almost any hitter in the game. Unless you throw four in the dirt, or give him a free pass, he is never an easy out. It is almost impossible to throw a pitch anywhere near the zone without giving him a chance to cover it.
Trout has carried an above .300 average his first two full seasons in the league. Though he is not as deadly at the plate as Cabrera, his eye has developed at 22 what most hitters never even reach in a career. He still does have his bad days, but they are few and far between. Like Cabrera, he is tough to fool and hard to get out. His power numbers have not been comparable to the Tigers’ slugger yet, but have improved each year and should continue to do so as he is put in positions to swing away. He is a complete 5-tool player, and has an entire career ahead of him to get even better.
Lucky Angel fans are partying in the streets today with the news that Mike Trout will be theirs for another seven seasons at least. The front office is celebrating too. The Angels may have just paid out their third giant contract in as many years, but this time, it was a steal.
Commentary by Chris Chisam
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the Los Angeles Angels