What I’m hearing: USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale explains who could be next in line for a big pay day following Mike Trout huge extension.
TEMPE, Ariz. — It was like throwing a huge party, filling the room with balloons, appetizers and friends, only for the guest of honor never to arrive.
The Los Angeles Angels were ready to revel in Mike Trout’s new 10-year, $360 million contract extension Tuesday that will make him an Angel for life, but Trout never showed up.
They could only laugh.
He actually was scheduled to be out of the lineup Tuesday, but when word leaked out that he agreed in principle to an extension — which will pay him a total of $426.5 million through 2030 — the Angels advised him to completely stay away from the complex, two persons with direct knowledge of the contract negotiations told USA TODAY Sports. The persons spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the deal isn’t expected to be finalized until at least Thursday, and no press conference has been scheduled.
So leave it to Trout to get on his phone, FaceTime several of his teammates, and actually apologize for not coming to Tempe Diablo Stadium, forcing his teammates to do the talking.
“He might be a better human being than he is a baseball player,’’ said Angels outfielder Peter Bourjos, who has known Trout since they were rookies together in 2011, “which says a lot when you consider he might be the greatest player of all time.’’
The Angels never feared that Trout wanted to leave, knowing how much he loves the organization, and relishes the lifestyle of Southern California, but when it comes to contract negotiations, you just never know.
“I thought I’d be staying in St. Louis my whole career, too,’’ said Albert Pujols, who signed a 10-year, $240 million contract after the 2011 season. “I knew how much he liked it here, but you just don’t know. I honestly never had a conversation about it with him.
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“But I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s just a great person. I can’t wait to see him so I’m pretty sure I’m not paying for any more dinners for him.
“I think he can afford it.’’
Trout, 27, expects the good-natured kidding when he walks through the clubhouse doors Wednesday. He loves to jab his teammates anyways, behind closed doors, and is as competitive in the clubhouse playing ping-pong games, video games and golf as he is on the ballfield.
And now, he’s going to be around longer than all of them.
Well, perhaps expect for Pujols.
Pujols has only three years left on his playing contract, but then there’s a 10-year, $10 million personal services contract, guaranteeing a job in the organization one year past Trout.
“I told him, you better still listen to me,’’ Pujols laughed, “because I’ll be around longer than you.’’
Really, all that Trout asks now is that the Angels win. He has been surrounded by some of the biggest stars in the game, but they have yet to win, earning just one playoff berth since his arrival. Yet, if nothing else, he figures that as long as he’s around, the Angels will never be tempted to rebuild.
“You locked up the best player in the game,’’ Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons said, “so that’s a big first step to take. You can build off that, so that’s a good base to the house, basically.’’
The Angels, who have finished a combined 65 games out of first place the past three years, insists that Trout’s contract is a commitment to winning. Gone are the days Angels GM Billy Eppler will field calls listening to his peers to inquire whether Trout is available. Gone is any speculation the Angels would trade Trout to jump-start a massive rebuild. Gone are reporters asking Trout whether or not he wants to stay with the Angels. And gone are players like Bryce Harper openly campaigning for Trout to join him in Philadelphia, drawing the fury of the Angels, who filed a complaint with the Commissioner’s office.
Michael Trout is an Angel now. He’s an Angel for the next 12 years. And he’ll be an Angel in Cooperstown when he’s inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“That’s the first thing you think of when you say Anaheim Angels, California Angels, Los Angele Angels,’’ Simmons said, trying to remember exactly what they’re called these days, “you think of Mike Trout. For the Angels, he’s massive.’’
Trout will be remembered long after his playing days end as the face of the organization, just like Derek Jeter in New York, David Ortiz in Boston, George Brett in Kansas City.
Then again, considering the numbers he has produced, finishing first or second six times in the American League MVP race, maybe he’ll be the first one to beat Father Time, and play forever.
“Look at the numbers, this is one of the best players we’ve ever seen,’’ Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun says. “They made Mike Trout a Halo for life. But knowing him, they might have to play him to an extension after this because he’ll still figure out a way to put up numbers.’’
Really, Trout’s entire career has been something out of Hollywood, so why not? Here’s a young, innocent kid from New Jersey, who shared a hotel room at the Homestead Suites in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with current teammate Tyler Skaggs, and now is richer than most of the Hollywood movie stars he has never met.
He’s as pure and innocent as they come, with an unbridled enthusiasm for the game that can’t be matched. It was never about the money. If he wanted to test free agency, he might have gotten $500 million. This amounts to a $2.75 million-a-year raise, with a guarantee that makes him the highest-paid player in baseball history.
And certainly, the Angels found the right man who never had any interest in leaving, almost feeling indebted to the Angels for drafting him in the first place.
“I know Mike, he’s very loyal,’’ said Skaggs, “kind of loyal to a fault. I really realized who he was. This couldn’t happen to a better person.’’
Who just so happens to be the best player they ever laid their eyes on.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale