Yes, yes, yes, it’s a completely speculative piece and the question is hypothetical, but here him out…
Recently, I was asked what I think turns out to be a pretty interesting thought experiment: if Mike Trout was released by the Angels and became a free agent, but decided he did not want to sign long term with any other team and simply preferred to go year to year instead, where would the bidding war for a single year of Trout’s services end up?
This question gets at a lot of different points, many of them kind of fascinating. What percentage of a team’s total payroll can be allocated to one player while still leaving enough flexibility to put a contender around a superstar? Is a team better off allocating a majority of their available dollars to a few premium assets, then using low-cost filler to round out the roster, or by spreading their money around to multiple players in order to reduce the risk of one injury or a single bad year ruining their entire season? Should a team prefer an +8 WAR player over two +4 WAR players for the same cost?
These are essentially the questions that this thought experiment would force us to answer. By limiting the scope of the contract to just a single year, we remove most of the questions about aging curves, future inflation, expected television revenues, and how much sense it might make to borrow from the future to finance a playoff run in the short term. By limiting the contract length to just one year, the question becomes essentially about the valuation we might place on elite performance.
Cameron points out that there is a historical precedent. Remember the one year, $28 million contract that Roger Clemens signed a with the Yankees in 2007?
Anyway, lets get back to Cameron’s question.
As I replied to the reader who sent me this article, surely any one-year deal for Mike Trout is going to eclipse $35 million, right?
Would there be a team daring enough to pay $40 million? Or as crazy as it sounds, $50 million?
You look at what players like Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are making now, all with average annual salaries north of $25 million, and you have to consider the possibility that a young Mike Trout – with none of the longterm risks, none of those downside of career concerns, and then the enormity of his impact to your team – well… what is all of that worth for one single season?
The other day, Matt Cerrone at MetsBlog raised big concerns over investing 10% of your payroll on one player in a post about Jose Abreu. Let’s assume the Mets only had a $100 million dollar payroll. Would you be willing to allot 40% of your payroll for one year of Mike Trout in 2014?
Consider the fact that the Mets projected 2014 rotation and bullpen will come in at around $18 million dollars. Throw in another $20 for David Wright, and you have your rotation, bullpen, third base and left field totaling $78 million. That gives you $22 million to fill in the other 11 roster spots.
Behind the plate you have Travis d’Arnaud and a back up for less than one million. The rest of the infield could come in at less than $6 million if you get rid of Ike Davis and slot a platoon of Daniel Murphy and Josh Satin at first, Wilmer Flores at second, and Ruben Tejada and a backup at short.
You now have $7 million left for the rest of your outfield. Juan Lagares at $500K is your everyday center fielder. Your two backups outfielders can be Matt den Dekker and Eric Young Jr. for about $1.5 million, and that leaves $5 million to roll the dice on an outfielder like Corey Hart for one year.
In this scenario, the 2014 Mets would look as follows:
- Juan Lagares, CF
- Daniel Murphy, 1B
- David Wright, 3B
- Mike Trout, LF
- Corey Hart, RF
- Wilmer Flores, 2B
- Travis d’Arnaud, C
- Ruben Tejada, SS
- Bobby Parnell, RHP
- Josh Edgin, LHP
- Jeurys Familia, RHP
- Scott Rice, LHP
- Jacob deGrom, RHP
- Adam Kolarek, LHP
- Jeff Walters, RHP
You think that team could win a Wild Card or even the NL East division?
If nothing else, I did show that even if you were to devote 40% of your payroll on one player, you can still have a formidable lineup, and that’s using $100 million as your total budget. It can be done…
By the way… In a totally non-hypothetical sense, I would have Corey Hart on my radar anyway this offseason, if I were the Mets…
As for the results to the original question posed to the readers on FanGraphs…
The most common answer was $40 million and the average of all the entries was $38.8 million.