Mike Trout, the Los Angeles Angels record-setting outfielder, made more money for fantasy baseball team owners last season than he earned himself.
Trout, whose combination of speed and strength helped him win the American League Rookie of the Year award, had a base salary of $482,500 in 2012 when he was called up from the minor leagues one month into the season and hit .326 with 30 home runs and 83 runs batted in. He led Major League Baseball with 49 stolen bases and 129 runs scored.
An afterthought in many fantasy drafts a year ago, Trout was the unanimous choice for the rookie honor and was runner-up for the AL Most Valuable Player award. He delivered perhaps the best value in the history of fantasy baseball, winning millions for the fans who drafted him, said Greg Ambrosius, the general manager of Consumer Fantasy Games at Stats LLC.
“I don’t remember anyone in baseball going from unknown to the No. 1 player the next year, and I’ve been doing this for 24 years,” said Ambrosius, a former president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. “It was a huge impact for the industry.”
The baseball season began last night when the Houston Astros beat the Texas Rangers 8-2. Today, the Angels open at the Cincinnati Reds as one of 12 opening games.
Trout hasn’t profited from his success as much as the fans who drafted him in their fantasy leagues, where contestants select major-league players for imaginary teams, then compete by comparing statistics during the season. Trout’s contract was renewed last month for $510,000 -- $20,000 over the minimum.
In comparison, Vernon Wells, the outfielder the Angels traded to the New York Yankees last month, has a $21 million salary this season, according to baseballreference.com. Wells batted .218 and .230 the past two seasons and probably will become a backup when injured Yankees return to the lineup.
Players with less than three years of major league service can try to negotiate a new contract or have their deals renewed at a salary determined by their club. His agent, Craig Landis, said Trout’s 2013 salary wasn’t the result of a negotiated compromise and that he asked “only that the Angels compensate Mike fairly for his historic 2012 season.” Landis said in a statement the contract “falls well short” of a fair deal.
Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto said he doesn’t think the contract situation will affect Trout’s future with the team or dissuade him from eventually signing a long-term extension.
“Mike’s a great kid, he’s wired the right way and we have every faith in his desire to be a great player,” Dipoto told reporters last month. “He’s going to go out there and he’s going to bust his tail.”
Trout said through his agent that he didn’t want to comment on the contract issue. He said his time -- and probably more money -- will come if he continues to pile up record-setting numbers. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds (1.91 meters, 104 kilograms), he was the first rookie in baseball history to record 30 homers and 40 steals in a season.
Trout, who was drafted 25th overall in 2009 out of Millville, New Jersey, Senior High School, got a $1.22 million bonus when he signed with the Angels four years ago, according to Baseball-Reference.com. He will be atop a lineup this year that includes Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, both former MVPs. The Angels enter this season with 7-1 odds of winning the World Series, tied with the Washington Nationals as the second-favorite behind the Detroit Tigers.
While the Angels missed the playoffs last season, Trout was the difference for many winning teams in the hundreds of thousands of fantasy baseball leagues organized by friends and co-workers, or online by companies such as ESPN, Yahoo and CBS Sports. He was on the highest percentage of winning teams -- more than 20 percent -- at Ambrosius’s National Fantasy Baseball Championship website, which has more than 5,000 fantasy squads this season and has paid out in excess of $15 million in prize money since 2004.
Ambrosius’s league has a $1,500 buy-in for participants in its “Main Event,” which features a $100,000 top prize. Ambrosius said that while balanced teams typically win, Trout enabled fantasy owners to win millions of dollars in prize money in 2012.
There were 33 million fantasy sports participants in the U.S. last year, about 10 percent of the country’s population, more than double in 2007, according to the industry association. Major League Baseball even offers its own fantasy games through MLB.com.
Trout’s record-setting season enabled him to have the biggest impact on fantasy teams of any major league player, and that was only accentuated by his draft-day value. Since he started the 2012 season in the minors, on average he was selected 280th in Ambrosious’s 15-team leagues.
“If you get first-round value from a 20th-round pick, that’s a big step toward winning a highly competitive league,” Joe Sheehan, a fantasy baseball contributor for Sports Illustrated, said of Trout in a telephone interview.
This season, Trout or Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers’ third baseman who was the first player in 45 years to lead his league in home runs, RBI and batting average, are being taken first or second in the majority of drafts.
“The skill set is there,” Ambrosius said. “There should be no reason he can’t do well. ‘‘He’s in a good lineup and he almost looks like a No. 3 hitter. He’s led off for them and he can run, but this is a power hitter. This is a kid who’s 21 and looks like a fullback or a linebacker.”