Mike Trout may well hit 20 home runs in his last 20 games of 2022 at the rate he's been going. The Los Angeles Angels shouldn't need to be told to enjoy it while it lasts.
Instead, what they may really need to hear is that these next 20 games should also be Trout's last in an Angels uniform.
Trout himself has much to show for his 12 years with the Angels. The 31-year-old is a surefire future Hall of Famer whose credentials include 10 All-Star selections, three American League MVPs, a pair of contracts totaling over $500 million and enough statistical accolades to fill his own section on Baseball Reference's Stathead tool.
In that, one of the top entries would be Trout's recent home run barrage between Sep. 4 and 12. Though he fell short of tying the all-time record of eight games in a row, homering in seven straight games is still darned impressive.
Of course, the problem here is not how much Trout has to show for his time with the Angels, but how little the team has to show for it. His dozen years in Anaheim have coincided with just one playoff appearance and, as of now, seven losing seasons. At 61-81, the Angels need just one more loss to make it eight.
Per his announcement in August, Angels owner Arte Moreno has apparently determined that this problem need not be his anymore. He's looking to sell the team, which naturally puts many aspects of its future up in the air.
The Trout aspect, however, need not be a conundrum. The Angels should try to sell high on him in a trade this winter, for their sake and especially for his.
The Injuries Are Only Hurting Trout's Playing Time
As superhuman as Trout has looked for the bulk of his Angels tenure, the injuries he's sustained in the last six seasons give it away that he's merely an exceptional human.
There was the thumb surgery in 2017 and the foot surgery in 2019, followed by a calf strain that cost him all but 36 games in 2021. He more recently missed over a month of this season with a rib injury that the Angels found out was actually part of a rare back condition.
Yet it ought to be a part of Trout's legend that none of these injuries have been evident when he's been able to play. He's hit at .298/.429/.630 with a 185 OPS+ since 2017, with 162-game averages of 50 home runs and 17 stolen bases.
What he's doing this year is especially remarkable, as his 35 home runs rank second to Aaron Judge's 57 among American Leaguers even though he's taken only 420 plate appearances.
Add in a .367 on-base percentage and what defensive runs saved rates as above average defense in center field, and you get the main components of Trout's 5.3 rWAR. Far from his twice-achieved peak of 10.5, but still elite among AL hitters if put on a 162-game scale:
- Aaron Judge, NYY: 10.3 WAR/162
- Mike Trout, LAA: 8.6 WAR/162
- Andrés Giménez, CLE: 7.7 WAR/162
- Yordan Álvarez, HOU: 7.6 WAR/162
- Julio Rodríguez, SEA: 7.1 WAR/162
Despite his injuries and the shortened season of 2020, Trout's 81.4 career rWAR still ranks ahead of Hall of Fame center fielders such as Joe DiMaggio (79.2) and Duke Snider (65.9), and he may well pass Ken Griffey Jr. (83.8) by the end of 2022.
So, yeah. Trout really is still extraordinary. It shouldn't be necessary to spell it out, and yet it feels like it is. Not just on account of how much time he's lost to injuries, but also how tragically irrelevant the unending blah-ness of the Angels has rendered his exploits.
About this, it's high time something was done.
This Winter Might Be the Angels' Last Best Chance to Sell High
Even setting aside the fact that Moreno has put a "For Sale" sign on the Angels, Trout would be a logical trade candidate for the 2022-23 offseason to multiple extents.
Starting with how...
The Clock Is Ticking on His Prime
Though Trout's injuries have strictly limited his availability to this point, it's just a matter of time before his ability also begins to fade.
His back condition is a big enough red flag. Trout may be making good on his declaration that the initial panic over the diagnosis was "a little exaggeration," yet Angels trainer Mike Frostad's warning that the star will have to manage the condition "through the rest of his career" still reverberates.
Trout's age likewise invites skepticism. When he turned 31 on Aug. 7, he might well have been officially declared a middle-aged baseballer. There's no scarier cautionary tale about the road ahead than Griffey, who basically devolved into a replacement-level player after his age-30 season in 2000.
To this point, Trout has indeed made a bargain of his nearly $200 million in career earnings. But that's the past. The notion that he can likewise make a bargain of the nearly $300 million he's owed through his age-38 season in 2030 is frankly far-fetched.
There's thus sense in the Angels moving Trout before he and his contract become truly immovable, especially considering that...
The Organization Is Broken
Mainly because of Trout and (speaking of immovable players) Anthony Rendon, the Angels have no less than $70 million in guaranteed dollars on their books from now until 2026. For a team whose payrolls have maxed out in the $180 million range, that's a heavy weight.
The team's farm system, meanwhile, is just awful. B/R's Joel Reuter ranked it as the worst in baseball after the draft in June, and it likewise landed at the bottom for MLB.com even after the team added young talent at the Aug. 2 trade deadline.
When a team is this utterly screwed, it's time to rebuild. And this may still be the case under new ownership, because...
Their Next Owner Might Not Be a Miracle Worker
With regard to the inevitable sale of the Angels, the best-case scenario is a situation akin to Steve Cohen's purchase of the New York Mets. He's been throwing his weight around basically ever since he took control of the Mets in Nov. 2020. Uncoincidentally, the Mets are now World Series contenders in 2022.
But is a get-good-quick situation the most realistic scenario for the Angels? Perhaps not.
Moreno's decision came so late that he may be hard-pressed to close a sale before Opening Day of 2023. There also just aren't many prospective buyers out there with pockets as deep as Cohen's. To wit, Forbes puts the net worth of the reportedly interested Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong ($7.2 billion) more than $10 billion below Cohen's ($17.5 billion).
Rather than a Cohen-style rebuild, the Angels may be in for more of a traditional rebuild under their next owner. As in, one that would require substantial time.
Though Trout could hypothetically make like Miguel Cabrera on the Detroit Tigers and serve out his remaining contract in Anaheim while his stardom fades into nothing, let's just say...
Trout Deserves Better
When news of Moreno's decision to sell the Angels came down, Trout skillfully straddled the line between civility and uncertainty with his public remarks.
“I’m still trying to process it,” he told reporters. “I found out when you guys found out. Looking back, I’ve been here my whole career. Had some great times with Arte. He took care of me, my family. I appreciate all he has done for me. I guess he’s moving on.”
Trout's fondness for Moreno is about what you'd expect given that A) he's the only owner he's ever played for and B) said owner has signed him to not one, but two historic contracts.
And yet, Trout has at times been vocal with his frustration with all the losing. Though he's never seemed like the type who would request a trade, there's long been just cause for him to do so. And with the Angels simultaneously in a death spiral and up for sale, there's even more cause for him to want out now.
Rather than effectively dare Trout to demand a trade, Moreno and the Angels should see the writing on the wall and be the ones to get the ball rolling. If he'd rather stay put, he can either say so or ultimately exercise his no-trade clause.
Otherwise, a trade would be a door to an amicable split and an opportunity to win that simply won't exist in Anaheim anytime soon.
Let's Speculate on Possible Homes for Trout
As for what a Trout trade might look like, relevant precedents include the 2017 blockbuster that sent Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees and the 2021 blockbuster in which the St. Louis Cardinals landed Nolan Arenado.
As the former was basically a straight-up salary dump, the Angels would be better served putting their own spin on the latter to get both much-needed salary relief and young talent.
Because of their status as fringe contenders, the Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox might be long shots despite their big budgets and common needs in center field. The Philadelphia Phillies are a better fit, and Trout's fondness for the city's football team probably wouldn't hurt their cause.
Yet with the Phillies' payroll already at an all-time high of $228.7 million, the more practical Eastern landing spots for Trout are perhaps in New York. That's where the Yankees (Judge) and Mets (Brandon Nimmo) stand to lose their primary center fielders to free agency. Other pending free agents project to further heighten each club's payroll flexibility.
It's harder to fathom Trout going elsewhere in Southern California, especially to the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers. But to the San Diego Padres? Maybe. Their payroll situation isn't much better than that of the Phillies, but a foursome of Trout, Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. is the kind of thing that general manager A.J. Preller would fancy.
Granted, this whole thing is a "maybe." There should be no mistaking that all we're doing is indulging a little fantasy about what the Angels should do. If Moreno doesn't want to trade Trout even while he has one foot out the door, well, that's his prerogative.
All we're saying is that Trout is still too good for the purgatory that the Angels have been and will continue to keep him in if they do nothing. The best time for him to leave was yesterday. The next-best time is soon.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.