Mike Trout a victim of MLB’s Labor Agreement

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Any fan who believes that athletes should be paid based on merit should be outraged over Mike Trout’s contract situation.

In a time where fans across the country complain about the A-Rods and Teixeiras getting paid way too much for too little production (something the latter openly admitted), there should be an equal amount of anger over a player getting screwed over despite providing superior play.   

And mark my words, Mike Trout absolutely provided superior play in 2012.

Many experts will argue that Trout was the best all-around player in MLB last season, leading the majors in runs, stolen bases, OPS+, and WAR en route to winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award and finishing second in the MVP voting.  He also single-handedly rescued Los Angeles’ season, as the Angels went from an 8-15 team and having the worst OPS in the AL in April to an 89-win squad with a top-three OPS at the end of the year.

Fangraphs estimates that, had he been paid according to market value, Trout’s 2012 season would have been worth approximately $45 million.

Yet Trout, who made $510,000 last season as a rookie, is set to get a raise that is worth all of $20 thousand dollars – and cannot really negotiate a bigger one without major concessions.

Trout is simply a victim of a longstanding rule of MLB’s collective bargaining agreement, which dictates that all players are tied to the organization for the first six years of their career and can only receive arbitration in the last three.

As a result, almost all MLBers get paid relative peanuts in their first three years in the big leagues, even if they put in MVP-quality performances as rookies.

This does not mean that Trout is completely out of luck, as he does have the option of offering his arbitration years in exchange for a raise earlier in his career.  Alex Rodriguez, whose not-quite-a-rookie season in 1996 is probably the closest comparison to Trout in the free agent era, did this very thing when he signed a four-year, $10.5 million extension that began in his third year of service time.  This move probably resulted in A-Rod getting less money than he would have gotten during the 1998-2000 seasons, but it did result in more long-term financial security at an earlier date.  (A-Rod, as we all know, eventually got paid big-time – twice.)

Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays is another example of a youngster choosing financial security over bigger money in arbitration.  The third pick of the 2006 MLB Draft, Longoria waited all of six days after his MLB debut to sign away his arbitration years in exchange for long-term security.  Longoria’s deal guaranteed him $17.5 million over his first six years and also included options for 2014-16 that could bring the total value of the contract to $44 million.  He has since signed a $100 million extension that will keep him in Tampa Bay until 2022.

It would not be a bad idea for Mike Trout to take a similar route, considering his 2014 salary is unlikely to be significantly different from what he is being paid this year.  He would likely be sacrificing money that he would otherwise receive in arbitration, but it would give him more financial security against an injury diminishing his effectiveness.

And if A-Rod and Longoria are any indication, Trout will still get the chance to really get paid.