ALTHOUGH they doled out the largest contract in franchise history in the last 18 months, re-signing World Series MVP Cole Hamels, the Phillies have spent their second straight offseason shying away from trying to outspend their competition to improve their roster.
"The prices that are out there . . . I don't think it matches up with the level of talent," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said earlier this month. "Someone's going to pay . . . We're just not targeting those, because we don't think it's the right bang for the buck."
Amaro cannot comment on players on other rosters, unless he wanted to violate tampering rules. But if the Phillies GM were cornered and asked what one player in baseball would provide the best "bang for the buck," while also curing much of what ails his team, Amaro would be able to spout out the name in less than 5 seconds.
The best player in baseball is Mike Trout. Factor in that Trout made $500,000 in 2013 and isn't eligible for arbitration until next winter and he's clearly the best bang for buck in the game, too.
A hybrid of Mickey Mantle and Bo Jackson, the kid from Millville, N.J., crashed onto the baseball world like a meteorite two springs ago. But Trout, who approaches a baseball game like a linebacker sizing up a tiny halfback, hasn't slowed since his dynamic rookie year.
Trout was the Daily News' Sportsperson of the Year in 2012, when he won American League Rookie of the Year honors, finished second in the MVP balloting, and ranked first in all of baseball in runs scored (129) and stolen bases (49). Trout hit .326 with a .399 OBP, .963 OPS, 30 home runs and 83 RBI in 139 games as a rookie.
In 2013, he might have been better. Trout steered clear of a sophomore slump with the following gaudy numbers: he hit .323 (fourth in MLB) with a .432 OBP (third), a .988 OPS (third) and 109 runs (second) to go alongside 27 home runs and 33 stolen bases, all while playing Gold Glove-worthy defense in the outfield, where he started 108 of his 148 games in centerfield.
Baltimore's Chris Davis hit a lot more home runs and Detroit's Miguel Cabrera was a more productive hitter, but no player in baseball was a better all-round talent than Trout for the second straight season. He was the full package, a five-tool player who also brings a Chase Utley-like intensity to the field every day.
Even after winning the AL MVP Award for the second straight year, finishing one spot ahead of Trout, Cabrera handed out the highest of praises to the 22-year-old Angels outfielder.
"By far, he's the best player in the league," Cabrera said of Trout. "He's got everything. Being in the race with that guy, at that age, is unbelievable."
Trout is the first player in baseball history to hit at least .300 with at least 20 home runs, 30 stolen bases and 100 runs scored in back-to-back seasons before age 23. He joins a list of players who finished second in MVP balloting in consecutive seasons that includes Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Sandy Koufax.
Trout probably will finish first eventually, so long as his Angels team returns to the playoffs, as writers have long valued a team's performance in their MVP voting.
Like the Phillies, the Angels are burdened with more than a couple of heavy contracts from oft-injured, aging veterans. But at least Los Angeles doesn't have to worry about watching the best player in the game leave anytime soon: Trout cannot become a free agent until after the 2017 season.