Analysis: Are the Angels wasting Mike Trout’s prime? – San Bernardino County Sun
Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout catches a drive by Seattle Mariners’ Abraham Almonte (not pictured) in the fifth inning of a Major League baseball game on Opening Night at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in Anaheim, Calif., on Monday, March 31, 2014. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/SCNG, file)
As the Angels prepare to begin spring training this week, they do so with a virtual clock ticking in the background. At least, that’s how many fans and impartial observers around the country view the franchise.
They see a team that is letting its opportunity slip away.
The Angels, say the critics, are “wasting Mike Trout.” It’s almost reached hashtag status.
Yes, Trout is the best player in baseball, a generational talent who is halfway to the Hall of Fame. And, yes, the Angels have been in the playoffs just once in his first five seasons, and they were swept.
And, yes, it’s true that they have been largely quiet over the past couple winters, staying out of the fray as the big names are changing teams, through trades or free agency.
So, are the Angels really #WastingTrout?
From here, the answer is no.
Not yet anyway.
While it’s indisputable that the Angels have failed to win a playoff game with Trout, here are some additional – not alternative – facts.
In 2014, the Angels had the best record in the majors in the regular season. They were swept in three games by the Kansas City Royals, but they lost the first two games of the series in extra innings, with the Royals making a handful of spectacular defensive plays to grab the victories.
In 2012, Trout’s rookie year, the Angels were eliminated after Game 159. In 2015, they were eliminated after Game 162.
In the other two seasons, 2013 and 2016, the Angels had losing records. Last year, though, the Angels were outscored by 10 runs all season, suggesting they played better than their 74-88 record.
Their .523 winning percentage in Trout’s five seasons ranks fifth in the league. In short, while it’s true the Angels have not won a playoff game with Trout, they have been mostly competitive.
So much for the past five years. What about the future? How well positioned are the Angels to get to the playoffs, or win the World Series, while they still have Trout in his prime?
For starters, Trout is 25 and his contract runs for four more seasons.
Putting aside the fact that the Angels could re-sign Trout and keep him for longer, four years is a long time in baseball.
Kris Bryant, who just helped the Chicago Cubs to a drought-ending World Series title, was in college four years ago.
The 2013 Cubs, who lost 96 games, had Anthony Rizzo in the majors. Jorge Soler was in Class-A and Javier Baez was in Double-A. Every other significant player from the 2016 championship team arrived less than four years before the parade.
It’s fair to mention that Bryant is not the kind of player you can count on drafting. The Cubs took him with the No. 2 pick in 2013. The Angels pick 10th in 2017.
But No. 10 picks can turn around a franchise too.
Look at the San Francisco Giants. From 2005-2008, the Giants averaged 88 losses. They were riding out the final years of Barry Bonds’ career, having stripped their farm system in an effort to put good teams around their super star as they were moving into a new ballpark at the start of the decade.
The Giants had been annual contenders, from 1997-04, but then the bill came due for neglecting the farm system. They spent the next four seasons with an aging big league roster, positions routinely filled by “band-aids” that didn’t figure to be long-term answers.
The turnaround began with the 10th pick in the 2006 draft, when the Giants took a kid named Tim Lincecum. With the 10th pick in the 2007 draft, they took Madison Bumgarner. With the fifth pick in 2008, they took Buster Posey.
In 2010, just 4-1/2 years after drafting Lincecum, the Giants won the first of three World Series titles in five years.
Matt Cain, Pablo Sandoval and Brian Wilson were the only key players on that 2010 World Series team who were in the organization before the Giants drafted Lincecum.
Can the Angels make that kind of turnaround?
On the bright side, they have a good head start, because they already have Trout, who is a much better building block than Rizzo or Cain or Sandoval. They’re also not as bad now as the Cubs and Giants were.
Still, they do have work to do. If they are to fill a championship team around Trout in the next four years, they will need to connect in the draft, not just in the first round, but in finding some impact players in later rounds.
They will need to make the right decisions on the prospects they trade and the ones they keep. They will need to spend wisely in free agency, avoiding another crippling Josh Hamilton-type deal.
So far, General Manager Billy Eppler seems to be walking a thin line, trying to improve the team in the short-term while risking very little – either in cash or prospects – that affects the longer-term.
In two years, the only prospect Eppler has traded who looks remotely like an impact major leaguer is pitcher Sean Newcomb, and for him they got Andrelton Simmons, who at the time was 26 and signed for five years. So he was also part of the long-term. In one season, he produced a 3.1 WAR, according to FanGraphs. That was third on the team, behind Trout and Kole Calhoun.
Financially, the biggest risk Eppler took on was the $53 million owed to Simmons. The second-biggest check he’s written is $26million to buy Calhoun out of arbitration, and that’s likely to wind up saving the Angels money against what Calhoun would have made in arbitration. The biggest free agent deal Eppler has signed is just $15 million, for two years of Luis Valbuena.
At the end of the 2017 season, the Angels will be wiping about $68 million off their books. This is the final guaranteed year for Hamilton ($23 million from the Angels), Huston Street ($9 million), Cameron Maybin ($9 million), Ricky Nolasco ($8 million from the Angels), Yunel Escobar ($7 million), Danny Espinosa ($5.425 million), Ben Revere ($4 million), Cliff Pennington ($2.25 million) and Andrew Bailey ($1 million).
Going into the final three years of Trout’s deal the Angels will have financial flexibility to get him some help.
It’s still going to be difficult. No amount of money can buy a consistent winner, because free agents are almost always short-term fixes. If the Angels are to become championship contenders, they won’t have much margin for error and will need to make a lot of correct decisions.
But they have time to make them.