Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Phillies will make 'big play' for Mike Trout

Tim Kelly
January 18, 2019 - 7:29 am

Any report that the Philadelphia Phillies plan to show interest in seven-time All-Star Mike Trout if he reaches free-agency in two years isn’t something to be dismissed. While it’s easy to scoff and say “So will every team in the league,” the Phillies possess the financial wherewithal to lure the generational talent, and the closer we get to 2020, him becoming available at least becomes a possibility.  

So if Jon Heyman of Fancred’s report earlier this week about the Phillies being expected to show interest in Trout if he becomes available wasn’t enough, there’s more. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated echoed what Heyman and Jayson Stark of The Athletic have already said on how the prospects of Trout becoming available have affected the Phillies plans this offseason:

Philadelphia began this offseason keeping Trout in mind. According to a baseball source with direct knowledge of their shopping plans, the Phillies have enough spending money to sign both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, but would like to sign just one of them to leave room in the budget in case Trout reaches free agency in two years. In one dream scenario, the Phillies would field an all-MVP outfield in 2021: Trout, Harper and Andrew McCutchen.

Much has been made of the Phillies front office connections to Manny Machado, with president Andy MacPhail, general manager Matt Klentak and assistant general manager Ned Rice all having been in Baltimore when the Orioles made Machado the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. The connections on Trout don’t run that deeply, but Klentak was the Angels assistant general manager from 2012-2015. When he was introduced as the Phillies general manager, he joked about how it took quite the opportunity to get him to leave “Trout in his prime.” 

Of course, whether the Phillies front-office had a connection to Trout or not, it’s hard not to be enamored with the production that Trout has put up in his still young career. He already tops the average Hall of Fame center fielder in WAR7 and JAWS - he’s 27. Since 2012, he has a league-high 64.0 fWAR (H/T Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors). The next closest mark over that timespan comes from Josh Donaldson, who has a 36.8 fWAR since 2012.

When you add in Trout’s local ties - he’s from Millville, New Jersey and is a Philadelphia Eagles season ticket holder - potential interest from one of the sport’s deepest-pocketed teams is natural.

But has landing Trout in the near future become realistic enough to be planning for? It’s hard to tell, but it’s certainly become more realistic.

The “Bring Trout to Philly” conversation began around 2015. At that time, Trout was a superstar talent and a half decade away from free-agency. The Angels, even if they weren’t contending at that time, had no motivation to even consider a trade of Trout. And he wasn’t close to free-agency, having signed a six-year/$144.5 million contract prior to the 2015 season. However, Trout is two years away from becoming a free-agent now, and the Angels went 80-82 in an extremely crowded American League West in 2018. 

That doesn’t mean that Angels general manager Billy Eppler is considering moving Trout at this juncture. Quite the opposite, in fact.ESPN’s Buster Olney said in December that the Angels have “no interest” in trading Trout currently. The Angels offseason signings - Matt Harvey, Justin Bour, Jonathan Lucroy and Trevor Cahill - should allow them to at least make incremental improvements next season. 

Heyman wrote Tuesday that an extension with Trout is “unlikely” now. “Now” seemingly refers to right now, meaning in a year, as the two-time American League MVP gets closer to free-agency, he could be more receptive, especially if he feels the organization is trending in the right direction.

Although in a division that features two teams that reached the postseason in 2018 that weren’t the Angels, it still feels less than likely that Trout will reach the postseason for the first time since 2014 next season. If the Angels approach Trout next offseason about an extension and his representatives suggest that Trout wants to test free-agency - even if that leaves a return to Los Angeles on the table - they seemingly would be forced to consider trade offers. He’s simply too valuable to risk losing in free-agency. 

Trout does possess a full no-trade clause, so if he becomes hell-bent on reaching free-agency, he could prevent any trade the Angels may agree to. He could also waive his no-trade clause, but in doing so refuse to agree to any extension up-front, which may reduce the amount of serious suitors for his services. (The guess here is that some team would still trade for him with the hopes of him falling in love with their city prior to reaching free-agency.)

It’s fair to be skeptical of whether Trout would force his way to free-agency, though. Sure, there’s a reason agents negotiate full no-trade clauses for superstars - it gives them the leverage to control where they play in the future. But if any major market team - the Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, New York Mets - complete a trade for Trout, have a team around him that could theoretically contend and offer him a record-breaking extension, would he still feel the need to test free-agency? 

Still, Trout reaching free-agency appears to be his best path to ending up in red pinstripes. If landing Trout comes down to the Phillies putting together the most enticing trade package for the Angels, the Phillies may not be in a great place. All-Star right-hander Aaron Nola would presumably be untouchable. It’s unclear if Rhys Hoskins could be had in a trade of this magnitude, but even if he could, he projects as a DH in the American League and it’s hard to imagine him headlining a trade for Trout. The Phillies reportedly at least considered including No. 1 overall prospect Sixto Sanchez in a few trades this offseason, but there’s a reason for that. Elbow inflammation limited the 20-year-old, who has been compared to Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, to 46.2 innings in 2018.

A year from now, the future should be clearer for all parties. The Phillies, we believe, will have signed one of Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, neither of which would appear to preclude them from chasing Trout. We’ll have a clearer idea of Trout’s future in Los Angeles, and if he’s going to leave the Angels, whether it will be via a trade or free-agency.

In the meantime, the Phillies could pass up the opportunity to sign both Harper and Machado, both 26-year-old Hall of Fame caliber talents, though as MacPhail said in his season-ending press conference, next year’s free-agent class could be even better. Nolan Arenado, Xander Bogaerts and Anthony Rendon can all become free-agents after the 2019 season.

A chance to trade for Trout in his prime or sign him in free-agency may never materialize. There’s also the risk that if the Phillies signed Trout in his late 20s they would spend much of what’s likely to be a a decade-long pact paying him for the production he put up in his 20s, but getting a lesser return. It would be ironic because the Angels haven’t been able to put a contending team around Trout largely in part because they’ve done exactly that with Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. But that scenario apparently hasn’t scared the Phillies enough that they don’t want to keep the option to lure Trout open.