By Jay Jaffe
Over the weekend, news broke that the Angels renewed the contract of Mike Trout at $510,000, a mere $20,000 above the major league minimum for a player with his service time. Even with the 21-year-old outfielder coming off an historic season in which he took home AL Rookie of the Year honors and finished second in the Most Valuable Player voting, the Angels were within their rights to make this move. Players with less than three years of service time simply don't have any leverage in negotiations, with the exception of a small handful of "Super Two" player who become eligible for arbitration a bit earlier than their peers. That's written into the Collective Bargaining agreement between the players' union and the owners, and it's been that way for a long time.
The unilateral move ruffled the feathers of fans as well as Trout's agent, Craig Landis. "In my opinion, this contract falls well short of a 'fair' contract, and I have voiced this to the Angels throughout the process," Landis told reporters via e-mail. Trout took the high road, steering clear of complaining about salary. "My time will come," he said.
By the standards of the average American, a salary north of half a million dollars a year is an exorbitant one, but it's nothing special for a major league player. Below are a handful of calculations regarding how quickly some of Trout's peers will earn his salary in 2013.
1.4 games: An estimate of the amount of time it would take for Trout to produce $510,000 worth of value in 2013, based on two assumptions: that Trout produces at the same level in terms of Baseball-Reference.com Wins Above Replacement across a 162-game season as he did last year after getting called up in late April in 2012 (12.2 WAR), and that each WAR is worth $4.67 million on the open market ($61,035,211 of value for the season). The first assumption is a shaky one due to the tendency of the most extreme performances to regress to the mean, but at a pace of 8.3 WAR over a full season, he'd still be worth his keep after a measly two games.
2.8 games: The amount of time it will take Alex Rodriguez to earn Trout's salary in 2013, based on his $29 million annual salary for the year, which breaks down to $179,012.35 per game. Of course, Rodriguez is on the disabled list, so he won't actually be playing any games until at least the second half of the season.
3.4 games: The amount of time it will take Angels' teammate Vernon Wells to earn Trout's salary in 2013, based on his $24,642,857 annual salary for the year, which breaks down to $152,116.40 per game. With Trout, Peter Bourjos and Josh Hamilton in place as the Angels' starting outfield, Wells will probably make most of that money while riding the pine.
3.9 games: The amount of time it will take Miguel Cabrera to earn Trout's salary in 2013, based on his $21 million annual salary for the year, which breaks down to $129,629.63 per game. Cabrera beat out Trout for the AL MVP award in 2012, though he was nowhere near as productive on a dollars-to-win basis. Using Baseball-Reference.com's measure of 6.9 WAR, every Cabrera win above replacement cost the Tigers $3.04 million last year. That's more than 67 times what it cost the Angels for every Trout win above replacement: $45,093, or $482,500 for 10.7 WAR.
5.2 games: The amount of time it will take teammate Albert Pujols to earn Trout's salary in 2013, based on his $16 million annual salary for the year, which breaks down to $98,765.43 per game. Pujols signed a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Angels in December 2011, but he earned just $12 million last year. Pujols' salary rises to $23 million in 2014, and increases by $1 million a year through 2021, when he'll make $30 million.
25.7 games: The amount of time it would take the average major leaguer to earn Trout's salary in 2013, based on the 2012 average salary of $3,213,479, or $19,836.29 per game. Of course, one can expect that average to rise slightly; last year's average represented a 3.8 percent increase over the year before, and over the last five years, salaries have risen approximately 2.8 percent annually.
110.2 games: The amount of time it will take 2012 NL Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper to earn Trout's 2013 salary, based on his $750,000 annual salary, part of a five-year, $9.9 million deal he signed after the Nationals chose him with the first pick of the 2011 draft. As part of that deal, Harper will also receive a $1.25 million installment of his signing bonus on July 1 — an amount that doesn't figure into that calculation. Trout, who was taken with the 25th pick of the 2009 draft, received a $1.215 million signing bonus, but he did not sign a major league contract at that time.
9.9 years: The amount of time it would take the average player in 1976, who earned $51,501, to make Trout's 2013 salary without receiving a raise. When arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in favor of the players in the landmark Messersmith-McNally case in December 1975, it opened the door to free agency for players with at least six full years of major league service after the 1976 season. Salaries rose 48 percent in 1977, and have continued to escalate ever since. 10+ years: The amount of time it would take outfielder Randall Grichuk, who was selected by the Angels with the pick immediately before Trout in the 2009 draft, to earn Trout's salary this year while playing for the team's Double-A affiliate. Grichuk's actual salary isn't publicly known, but Double-A players typically make between $5,000 and $12,000 a month depending on service time, according to an official in another organization who estimated that Grichuck would be making less than $10,000 a month at that level. Assuming he does make $10,000 a month over a five-month season, that's still just $50,000 for the year, less than one-tenth of what Trout will make.