Sunday, March 3, 2013

Angels Took Big Risk in Playing Salary Hardball With Trout

     By Ross Newhan

     The contract renewal process in baseball is comparable to the sequester.

      It's ugly--or it can be if the club and player can't reach a compromised agreement through negotiation.

     The process generally affects players with less than three years of service time and are not eligible for salary arbitration.

     And it can prompt bitter and lasting feelings from the player and his agent if they contend the club's renewal salary is unfair, which is how agent Craig Landis termed the Angels renewal of Mike Trout at $510,000.

     In fact, Landis termed it well short of fair.

    At $510,000, the American League's Rookie of the Year in 2012--author of one of the most brilliant all around debuts in baseball history--will make only $20,000 (about 4%) above the 2013 minimum of $490,000.

    I recognize that $510,000 is $510,000 and, as General Manager Jerry Dipoto pointed out, baseball is generally criticized for paying players too much instead of not enough.

   In this case, however, given Trout's rookie season, the fact that he is already at the center of the Angels' marketing program (there are five giveaways during the coming season built around Trout), the risk inherent in alienating a player at the heart of their future, and the money that owner Arte Moreno pulls out of his wallet when he otherwise seems done for that year (see: Vladimir Guerrero or Josh Hamilton), that $20,000 raise is akin to playing hardball with a core player who was at their mercy.

   Dipoto simply toed the service time line

   "...the 0-to-3 class drives the boat," he told writers covering the club. "Mike understands how the system is set up, and he understands the benefits that come to him later."

  It's a complicated, and often nasty, process.

  The Colorado Rockies, for example, recently renewed the contracts of 21 young players and three other, more experienced players--Jeff Baker, Carlos Gonzales and Ryan Spillborghs.

  The three are represented by the renowned Scott Boras, who has long argued against the renewal process and with whom the budget conscious Rockes had no interest in trying to bargain.

   Among the Angels,  Mark Trumbo, who has played for two years, signed for $540,00, the most of any Angels player with less than three years experience.

  If Dipoto pays Trout more than Trumbo, he faces criticism from Trumbo and his agent.

 Trumbo has had two big seasons in the power category but he is not the player Trout is, and I suspect he recognizes the historical elements of Trout's rookie season and would have accepted Trout either surpassing his salary or, at the least, drawing even, which, at the least again, would seem to have been a fairer step by the Angels with their $160 million payroll and would not have sunk the 0-to-3 boat.

  Mike DiGiovanna, my former baseball writing colleague at the L.A. Times, reports that the last 10 rookies of the year made an average of 21% over the minimum salary in the following year. It is natural to think that Trout's 4% raise could come back to haunt the Angels when he gains bargaining power through arbitration and, especially, when he becomes eligible for free agency.

   It is doubtful, however, that given his obvious joy at simply playing the game he would allow it to affect his performance in 2013, although multiple sources tell me he is not overly joyed at moving to left field, making room in center for Peter Bourjos.

  "You could easily put yourself in a bad mood about it, but that's not me," Trout said of the renewal. "I like to play baseball....(and) my time will come."

   It will indeed.              



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