MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
To potential news now of the biggest contract in baseball history. Now, if you're having a flashback moment, that might be because not even three weeks ago, we reported that star outfielder Bryce Harper was signing a $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Alas, Bryce Harper's record deal may not stand long because today we learned that LA Angels star Mike Trout is finalizing a deal to stay with that team for another 12 years and to earn $430 million over that time. To talk about what may become the latest largest contract in baseball history, we are joined by Jonah Keri of the website The Athletic. Welcome.
JONAH KERI: Thank you for having me.
KELLY: What makes Mike Trout worth $430 million?
KERI: Well, the short version is if you're a baseball historian, you're probably familiar with a gentleman named Willie Mays. Willie Mays is one of the two or three greatest players of all time, and Mike Trout is essentially Willie Mays. When you look at their statistics, for the first seven full years of their careers, pretty much identical - offensively, defensively, base running. That's how great he is. And Trout is also quite young relatively speaking to be so accomplished. He's just in his late 20s right now, should have many more years of productivity. So you're talking about the greatest player of his era. Right now, he's got the same numbers as one of the greatest players of all time. And he's young, so there's room to project much more. That's why he's making the money that he's going to make.
KELLY: Yeah. I was reading Sports Illustrated had a profile of him last year, and they called him the best individual asset baseball has - for years, its undisputed best player; sounds like you would agree.
KERI: No doubt. He's actually won several MVP awards, but you could argue that he should have been the most valuable player six of the seven years that he's played in the league. That is really, really hard to do.
KELLY: However, I'll push back at you and ask this - can any player be worth that much, particularly one who, by the end of this 12-year contract, is going to be pushing 40?
KERI: Well, this is where people might get angry at me, but I would argue that Mike Trout is underpaid at $430 million.
KELLY: OK. Make the case.
KERI: Well, there you go. Professional athletics, listen; it's not the same as fighting fires or teaching school, certainly, but if you look at supply and demand, how many people on Earth can do what Mike Trout can do? One. Mike Trout is the only guy.
KELLY: Let me channel my inner skeptic here, though, because no matter how great you are, you can't win the World Series by yourself. Does paying so much money to one player maybe take away from possibility to sign other valuable players to fill out the roster?
KERI: It gives you an idea of the immense cash cow that is baseball. So if a team says, woe is us, we can't spend money, we have an expensive outfielder - that is hooey and applesauce. It ain't true. You can go out and get as many pitchers as you want, as many second baseman as you want. You could fill your roster with all kinds of superstar players to complement the Trout and still be left with a profit.
KELLY: Big picture - what is going on in baseball with, you know, the all-time record deal that Bryce Harper just signed getting overtaken within just weeks?
KERI: Yeah. It's kind of a coincidence. Harper and Trout came into the major leagues at roughly the same time, along with Manny Machado, by the way, who also signed a tremendously large contract this offseason. And so all these guys happen...
KELLY: A mere $300 million, as I remember.
KERI: Exactly. So when you've got players coming up on free agency, that's when they get paid. It's a little bit different than other sports where if you are in the NFL or the NBA, especially the NFL, you get paid a lot of money right off. In baseball, your salary is kind of suppressed for the first six years of your career. In some ways, you're even more underpaid to that point. So it's only when you get to cash in on free agency or near free agency that the big contracts come in. This year, you had Harper and Machado both coming out and Trout being two years away from free agency being the talk of baseball. Everybody said here's Harper. What's going to happen with Trout? We know what happened with Mike Trout. He's $430 million richer.
KELLY: Thank you, Jonah.
KERI: Thank you.
KELLY: Jonah Keri writes about baseball for the website The Athletic.
(SOUNDBITE OF J RICK'S "SHORT")
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