When Mike Trout is approaching free agency in five years, and the Angels have to cook blue meth to have enough money to keep him, no one is going to remember what he made in his second season. This is probably a non-story.
It's a story right now, though. In case you missed it, Mike Trout (or his agent, at least) isn't happy about the salary the Angels offered him. And by "offered him," I mean the salary the Angels unilaterally decided he was getting. Pre-arbitration players are kind of like Radiohead albums, apparently, in that teams can set their own price. As long as a second-year player is above the minimum salary, the team chooses what the player makes. The Angels gave Trout a 4 percent raise over his rookie year. How does that stack up with other Rookies of the Year over the last decade?
|Player||1st year||2nd year||Percentage change|
|Bryce Harper||N/A||N/A||(Guaranteed contract)|
|Evan Longoria||N/A||N/A||(Guaranteed contract)|
|Justin Verlander||N/A||N/A||(Guaranteed contract)|
In the last 10 years, only one Rookie of the Year got a smaller increase, and it was the Marlins who gave it out. I don't know about you, but when I play a word-association game with "Mike Trout," the first thing that pops into my head is always "Chris Coghlan," so maybe that's what the Angels were thinking, too. Still, it's kind of odd that one of the greatest seasons ever -- forget the "rookie" qualifier -- didn't garner a larger increase. (It's worth noting that a lot of those salaries were affected by the major-league minimum salaries for those respective seasons, which you can find here.)
Angels GM Jerry Dipoto gave coldly pragmatic explanations:
What we're doing contractually with Mike is within the parameters of the agreement collective bargained between players and the league.
Hmm. Sounds somewhat familiar.
Mr. White: You don't have any idea what you're talking about. These people bust their ass. This is a hard job.
Mr. Pink: So's hitting in Triple-A, but you don't feel the need to give them bigger raises. They're playing baseball for you, you should give them big raises. But, no, society says, 'Give these guys raises up here, but not those guys down there.' That's bullshit.
For some of the people defending the Angels' decision, Dipoto's rationale is all that matters. It's the system. Blame the MLBPA and Michael Weiner. Don't blame the Angels.
Except, it's an odd system. The Angels had the right to pay Trout $491,000, so they didn't have to increase it by $20,000 at all. Every organization has its own secret sauce for this, and the Angels figured out along the way that they want to pay pre-arbitration players a little more than the bare minimum. Why not just pay players the absolute least they can pay them at all times? Presumably to avoid controversy or internal strife, and/or to not come off as misers. The strategy is working just ducky, then.
There is a risk in, say, doubling Trout's salary. Next year, the figure would have to go up even higher, and then the possible arbitration awards might be affected, as well. If you set a high baseline in the first year, it costs the team more money in the subsequent years. So it's not reasonable to expect the Angels to give him a million-dollar raise for services rendered.
But there was never a risk of setting a precedent for future second-year Angels players. That's ludicrous. Say the Angels gave Trout the 41 percent raise that Craig Kimbrel received. If an Angels second-year player didn't get the same raise in the future, and then complained that he didn't get "the Mike Trout deal," the Angels representatives in the room would be right to laugh at the player. Or stare at him until he felt uncomfortable and left the room. Or roll up a Mike Trout poster and hit him on the nose.
There isn't going to be a comparable rookie season to Trout's anytime soon, if ever. The Angels had the exception to end all exceptions. All they needed to do was make a little handout that reads "You must have this many WAR to get a bigger raise!," or more simply, explain that Rookies of the Year get special consideration. They still chose not to budge from their setup, even for Trout.
Now we get to the risk of doing what the Angels did: There probably isn't a lot of risk. Think of it like a holiday bonus where you work. You don't have to get it, and if your employer doesn't give one, you probably aren't going to look for work on Dec. 26. Even if you're livid for a while, you'll probably forget about it until you get your Jelly of the Month shipment every month.
But it's something. A few grains of discontent where there weren't any before. They can add up, even if subconsciously. At some point, people do get frustrated, vindictive, or resentful for all sorts of different reasons. Limiting those reasons, especially the ones that are easy to prevent, is something a team should do without thinking. So why would the Angels take the chance that Trout is even the slightest bit disgruntled? I have no idea. It's almost like they're rebelling against the sharply increasing minimum salary.
My personal rule of thumb, then, is this: If a team knows that it is going to have to spend its time explaining a pre-arbitration salary, it should probably re-evaluate that pre-arbitration salary. The Angels are in a minor tinkling contest with Mike Trout's agent over something you almost never, ever hear about. It's probably not going to make a difference. But if there's a 1 percent chance it does make a difference when it comes to Trout deciding where to play, or what kind of contract he'll eventually sign, it wasn't worth it. Not even close. Even if the risk is small, the possible reward is smaller.