Much is being made of the Los Angeles Angels renewing phenom Mike Trout’s contract for $510,000 this season. A sum that is $20,000 over the second-year minimum, a scant four percent difference between the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year and MVP runner-up and the mere mortal second-year players.
Is Trout being disrespected?
Are the Angels being shrewd?
Do we have to pick one?
While someone’s pay has generally been a private matter, in sports a player’s salary has become another statistic. A measure of worth. If player A is better than player B, then he should be paid more.
This is the point in the story where we need to have a reality check. Your workplace and a professional athlete’s workplace are not the same. While an athlete is an employee, he/she is also the product. The athlete’s workplace differs from most of ours in that it’s regulated by a collective bargaining agreement between the player’s union and the league’s owners.
Where the two workplaces are the same is that salaries are determined based on the company’s revenue, the employee’s role in producing that revenue and the ease of replacing said employee.
That last one is where professional athletes have it all over the rest of us. Sorry, Joe in accounting, you are easily replaced.
Back to our story.
So, Mike Trout arrives on the major league scene with a season rarely seen before. He hits .326 with 30 home runs, 83 RBI, 129 runs scored and a major league-leading 49 stolen bases. He patrols center field with grace and a powerful arm.
The inevitable comparisons to Mickey Mantle fly and aren’t dismissed nearly as quickly as those offered previously.
The Philadelphia Phillies faced the same situation in 2006 with the NL Rookie of the Year, Ryan Howard. The Phillies and Howard agreed to a 2006 contract for $900,000, which was a nice raise from his $355,000 salary in 2005.
After his 2006 MVP season, Howard signed a three-year, $54 million deal and has signed another $125 million extension since. All due to that play-nice contract in 2006? Could be.
The Angels are choosing a different route. The one that the CBA allows them to take. They’re holding the line on salaries while they have the leverage. The player will get his big money when he has the leverage.
Trout is eligible for arbitration in 2015 and will certainly be awarded a record amount then, assuming he doesn't agree to a contract with the Angels before then.
The Angels are being consistent in their policy. Mark Trumbo made $500,000 in 2012 after a nice rookie year that saw him hit 29 home runs and drive in 87 runs.
Now, we can have a discussion about the strategy and whether the Angels risk upsetting their young players who will then stick it to them and leave when they earn free agency. That’s a valid discussion. While the Angels have every right to pay Trumbo and Trout what they are paying them, the players have every right to remember that when they have the hammer and go play elsewhere.
It’s a gamble. Hell, it’s business. The Angels don’t want to commit big money until they have to. What if Trout slumps this season and fails to fulfill what seems to be certain promise?
It has happened before and will happen again. The Angels are delaying the decision until they have to make it.
At that point, Trout will have a decision to make too.
It’s just business, nothing more.
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