As if the Los Angeles Angels don’t have enough problems, wait until after the 2014 season, when outfielder Mike Trout becomes eligible for arbitration for the first time.
Trout should easily surpass Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who set the record for a first-time eligible in 2008, when an arbitrator awarded him $10 million.
If you think it’s too early for the Angels to worry about such things, think again. The potential for Trout to earn three massive arbitration awards – let’s go with conservative numbers of $12 million, $16 million and $20 million, just for the sake of discussion – could dissuade him from signing long-term.
Trout, who turned 22 last Wednesday, will gain financial security the moment he signs his first arbitration contract; his deal could be worth more than second baseman Jose Altuve’s recent four-year, $12.5 million extension with the Houston Astros.
And if Trout, a native of Millville, N.J., declines to sign with the Angels long-term, he will be a free agent at 26, with the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies likely drooling over the prospect of bringing him back east.
Never happen? Well, the Angels renewed Trout’s contract at $510,000 this season, $20,000 over the minimum salary, prompting an angry response from the player’s agent, Craig Landis. And while a fat long-term deal seemingly could make everyone happy, it would leave the Angels with a third monster contract to go with those of first baseman Albert Pujols, who is signed for $24 million per season through 2021, and outfielder Josh Hamilton, who is signed at $25 million per season through ’17.
Trout, in his first full season, won American League Rookie of the Year and finished second to Miguel Cabrera in a hotly contested MVP vote. This season, he ranks third in the AL in OPS to Cabrera and the Orioles’ Chris Davis, and also has stolen 26 bases in 30 attempts.
But to best compare Trout to Howard, consider their career Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a statistic that attempts to encompass offense, defense and baserunning.
According to baseball-reference.com, Howard had a career WAR of 11.9 when he received his $10 million award in arbitration; he won his case in part due to his “special accomplishments,” including his 2005 NL Rookie of the Year Award and 2006 MVP.
Trout, through two-plus seasons, has a career WAR of 17.2. By the time he becomes eligible for arbitration, he might double where Howard was entering ’08. He also might record the highest WAR by a player in his first three seasons, beating Ted Williams’ 23.6 from 1939 to ’41.
What is all that worth? Heaven only knows. But Trout probably could file any number in arbitration and justify it. And for the Angels, that surely is a frightening thought.
SO, WHO TAKES THE FALL?
Of course, the more immediate question with the Angels is whether both general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Mike Scioscia will keep their jobs beyond this season.
No one person is to blame for the Angels’ collapse, but it’s difficult to imagine owner Arte Moreno maintaining the status quo when his team opened the season with the game’s sixth-highest payroll and currently holds the fourth-worst record in the AL.
Tension persists between Dipoto and Scioscia, according to major league sources. Attendance also is an issue – the Angels have declined from an average of 42,059 in 2006 to 37,149 this season, their lowest figure since 2002. And their current average likely will decline further with the team essentially playing meaningless games the rest of the season.
Dipoto would appear in greater jeopardy than Scioscia – the GM was responsible for the ill-fated acquisitions of right-handers Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Ryan Madson last offseason. What’s more, Dipoto also is under contract only through 2014, while Scioscia is signed through ’18.
Then again, this is only Dipoto’s second year on the job, and he appeared to lose payroll flexibility last winter when the Angels – at Moreno’s behest – signed Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million free-agent contract.
The Angels entered the season with the game’s worst farm system, according to Baseball America, but Dipoto has presided over only two drafts. For what it’s worth, five of the team’s seven farm clubs likely are headed to the playoffs, though cynics note that the team recently signed left-hander Dontrelle Willis, 31, and infielder Andy Marte, 29, to bolster Triple A Salt Lake City.
As for Scioscia, little has changed since early in the season, when I wrote about how these Angels barely resembled his crisp, aggressive teams of the past. Just last week, Scioscia held a team meeting after the Angels allowed six stolen bases in an 8-3 loss to the Texas Rangers, then conducted a special workout on fundamentals the next day.
I’ll repeat what I wrote in May: Fourteen years is a long time for a manager to stay in one place. Especially when everything no longer is the same.
ARE THEY COMING BACK?
The Detroit Tigers acquired shortstop Jose Iglesias to cover for the suspension of Jhonny Peralta, and the Texas Rangers traded for outfielder Alex Rios following the suspension of right fielder Nelson Cruz.
Would the Tigers and Rangers bring back their respective stars once their suspensions are complete? At this point, the best answer probably is, “It depends.”
Depends upon how Iglesias and Rios perform. Depends upon whether other hitters on either team are injured. Depends upon whether Peralta and Cruz can be trusted to perform at a high level after missing 50 games.
Suspended players are permitted to work out with their major league clubs, take batting practice before the gates open and participate in workouts and simulated/exhibition games at their teams’ minor league complexes. None of those options, of course, comes close to matching the intensity of a postseason game.
One thing seems clear: Peralta and Cruz will not be pariahs the way Melky Cabrera was with the San Francisco Giants last season. Both Peralta, a Tiger since 2010, and Cruz, a Ranger since ’06, have built more equity with their teammates than Cabrera, who was in his first season with San Francisco.
The Giants, of course, did not bring back Cabrera after his suspension ended in time for the National League Championship Series, and won the World Series without him.
In any case, the Tigers and Rangers figure to be pragmatic. They’re trying to win championships. And they do not need to apologize for Peralta and Cruz once the two players serve their respective penalties.
GREINKE TO HIS CATCHER: YOU’RE GONE!
Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke is famously blunt, but even catcher A.J. Ellis was taken aback by an exchange he had with the pitcher during a Sunday afternoon game in San Diego in late June.
The Dodgers were struggling at the time, so Ellis enlisted Greinke, a student of the game, to play GM. Neither was playing that day, so Ellis told Greinke during batting practice, “Let’s figure out how to make the team better.”
Greinke replied, “Let me think about it.” Then, while sitting on the bench during the game, he informed Ellis of his solution.
“The first thing I’m doing is trading you and signing Brian McCann,” Greinke said, referring to the Atlanta Braves’ catcher, who is a free agent at the end of the season.
Ellis, who is earning $2 million, said that Greinke also has told him that he is pricing himself out of the Dodgers’ plans, as if such a thing is even possible. When I asked Greinke about that, he denied the charge.
“He’s not pricing himself out,” said Greinke of his teammate, who has two years of arbitration remaining. “He’s not a home-run hitter. Home-run hitters are the ones who price themselves out.”
Ellis indeed has only 21 career homers in 912 at-bats, but he doesn’t take offense at Greinke’s candid assessments. Indeed, the debate over Ellis’ value has become a running gag between the two.
“He’s probably the most refreshing teammate I’ve ever had,” Ellis said. “I’m enjoying every second with him.”
COME BACK, YADI
The Cardinals’ problems cannot solely be attributed to the absence of catcher Yadier Molina, who went on the disabled list July 31 with a sprained right knee – the team was in a funk well before Molina’s injury, and is just 29-31 since June 3.
The good news is, the Cardinals snapped a four-game losing streak Sunday, they’ve got Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn lined up to face the Pirates in St. Louis and they expect to activate Molina for the final game of the series.
Molina was the leading candidate for National League MVP before he went on the DL, and the loss of such an offensive and defensive cornerstone indeed can be crippling.
The 2006 Red Sox were 63-41 when catcher Jason Varitek went on the DL with cartilage damage in his left knee. The team went 10-23 without him and ultimately finished in third place.
AROUND THE HORN
•Some Braves officials say the team’s recent 14-game winning streak stemmed in part from manager Fredi Gonzalez’s decision to alter his lineup and bat Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman in the first three spots.
Gonzalez made the move July 27, the second game of the winning streak. Heyward, 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, doesn’t fit the prototypical leadoff mold. But Gonzalez, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), has shown that he is open to new ideas.
The Braves expect outfielder Reed Johnson to return soon from left knee tendinitis, but they would like to add one more bench bat – a legitimate power threat – before the Aug. 31 deadline for setting postseason rosters.
•Scouts continue to rave about the Mets’ young pitching, which does not end with right-handers Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler.
“I saw (Noah) Syndergaard a few weeks ago and he was very good, better than Wheeler for me,” one scout said. “(Rafael) Montero has thrown well in (Las) Vegas. (Jenrry) Mejia is pitching at the major league level.
“They also have lots of minor league starting arms like (Michael) Fullmer at High A and (Gabriel) Ynoa and (Steve) Matz at Low A. (Jonathan) Niese, (Dillon) Gee and (Jeremy) Hefner are functional back-end guys.”