The best players in baseball are signing big extensions years before their contracts are up, and Mike Trout says it's because players want to 'stay away' from free agency

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  • Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout said MLB players want to avoid free agency.
  • Trout was one of several big-name players to ink rich, long-term extensions with their teams this offseason, a stark contrast to the free agent market, which has been stagnant the last two years.
  • Trout wouldn’t go as far as to say MLB has a “problem,” saying only that players would rather get extensions done early instead of lingering on the free agent market.

More and more, the best players in baseball are signing long-term extensions before they hit free agency.

According to Los Angeles Angels centerfielder Mike Trout, it may be a result of baseball’s notorious “hot stove” season suddenly going cold.

Over the past two offseasons, MLB teams have watched their spending more closely, leaving free agents lingering on the open market.

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In stark contrast, over the past two months there have been several big extensions for top players. No extension was bigger than Trout’s 12-year, $US426 million extension with the Angels in March, locking up baseball’s best player two years before he hit free agency.

While speaking to Business Insider to promote his partnership with BodyArmor, Trout said he believes players are now avoiding free agency.

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“I think you see it nowadays with all these extensions,” Trout told Business Insider. “People want to stay away from free agency.”

Trout said free agency was “definitely in the back of my mind” when he decided to sign his extension with the Angels.

He noted that star players like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper went un-signed until February. Machado eventually signed a 10-year, $US300 million deal with the San Diego Padres, while Harper signed a 13-year, $US330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, the biggest in league history until Trout’s extension.

“They missed a little bit of spring training. I just think it was a tough few months for them. I don’t think anybody wanted to go through what they were going through,” Trout said, calling the situation “weird.”

Meanwhile, several of baseball’s biggest names have signed rich extensions with their teams since February.

  • Nolan Arenado agreed to an eight-year, $US260 million contract extension with the Colorado Rockies.
  • Paul Goldschmidt agreed to a five-year, $US130 million contract extension with the St. Louis Cardinals.
  • Blake Snell agreed to a five-year, $US50 million contract extension with the Tampa Bay Rays.
  • Jacob deGrom agreed to a five-year, $US137 million contract extension with the New York Mets.
  • Ronald Acuna agreed to an eight-year, $US100 million contract extension with the Atlanta Braves.
  • Chris Sale agreed to a five-year, $US145 million contract extension with the Boston Red Sox.
  • Ozzie Albies agreed to a seven-year, $US35 million contract extension with the Atlanta Braves

There are plenty of other players who signed extensions. FiveThirtyEight’s Travis Sawchik last Friday cited data from that showed 27 players had agreed to extensions worth a total of 132 years and over $US2 billion, a flurry of activity baseball hasn’t ever seen. This was before some recent extensions.

“It’s good for baseball,” Trout said of the extensions. “I think guys are getting what they deserve, and that’s how it should be.”

As the free agent market has stagnated, some in the baseball world tossed around the word “collusion.” Former agent and now Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen last year suggested owners were colluding.

This season, Alex Rodriguez flat-out said owners were “working closely together, obviously, and keeping these salaries down.”

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Trout wouldn’t go as far as saying MLB has a “problem,” but said teams should want to pay elite players like Machado and Harper.

“I don’t wanna say a ‘problem’ … I just think it’s not right. Like I said, with Harper and Machado … [teams] should wanna bid on a guy like that.”

According to Sawchik, arbitration may also be part of the problem. Only recently have players won more arbitration cases than the teams. The long-term extensions may be a way for teams to avoid arbitration by signing young players to long-term deals that give them a big pay day earlier.

Mike TroutElsa/Getty Images

Trout was previously set to hit free agency in 2021, poised to be the biggest free agent perhaps in league history. Harper was already actively recruiting Trout to the Phillies, who are near Trout’s hometown, Millville, New Jersey.

It is possible Trout could have gotten even more money as a free agent, but he ultimately decided to stay with the Angels for life, securing nearly half-a-billion in the process.

“I’m just happy, relieved that it’s all done,” he said.

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