When Will the Angels Face Harsh Reality They May Need to Trade Mike Trout?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 31, 2018

Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout in action during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, June 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

It wasn't long ago that it would have been unthinkable for the Washington Nationals to put Bryce Harper on the trading block. But all of a sudden, that idea is now extremely thinkable.

Thus, a thought experiment: When might the Los Angeles Angels be in the same position with Mike Trout?

Certainly not imminently. There's been zero buzz about the Angels trading Trout ahead of this year's non-waiver trade deadline. That presumably has to do with how they're not rebuilding and with how he's achieving peak Mike Trout.

The seven-time All-Star and two-time American League MVP is hitting .310/.462/.621 with 29 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Per Baseball Reference, he leads everyone in wins above replacement by a considerable margin:

  • 1. Mike Trout: 7.9 WAR
  • 2. Jose Ramirez: 6.8 WAR
  • 3. Mookie Betts: 6.6 WAR

With 62 career WAR to his name, Trout is all but certain to surpass Ty Cobb (63.4) for the most WAR ever through a player's age-26 season by the end of the year. When we look back years from now, it should be just another chapter in the story of Trout becoming the greatest player in Major League Baseball history.

The Angels are slated to play a part in Trout's story for at least the next two years. The six-year, $144.5 million contract extension he signed in March 2014 runs through 2020.

After that, the Angels have no guarantee that he won't test the free-agent waters.

"I don't know the answer," Trout said in June about the possibility of signing on beyond 2020, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. "I want to get to the playoffs. That's my mindset. I can't predict the future. So I just take it one game at a time now and see what happens."

The longer Trout continues to not have an answer, the more likely a trade becomes.

This isn't the first time the idea has materialized. A possible Trout trade was a hot topic back in 2016. Although he was en route to his second MVP at the time, the Angels were an injury-riddled mess of a team that was on its way to a 74-88 record.

Instead, the Angels held on to Trout and committed to building a better team around him. Thanks to key additions such as slugging outfielder Justin Upton and two-way marvel Shohei Ohtani, the effort hasn't been a total failure.

Nor, however, has it been a rousing success. The Angels fell short of .500 last year. If they hold to their .388 winning percentage since May 11, they'll end up right there again this year.

The Angels will be hard-pressed to spend their way out of mediocrity. Their payroll is at $174.4 million. Per Baseball Reference, they're projected to spend $168.7 million in 2019 and $197.1 million in 2020. The $33.3 million they'll pay Trout in 2019 and 2020 is a good deal, but it's offset by the $87 million they'll owe what's left of Albert Pujols between 2019 and 2021.

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 08:  Mike Trout #27 and Albert Pujols #5 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim looks on during the MLB game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Angel Stadium on July 8, 2018 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images)
Masterpress/Getty Images

Likewise, the Angels' farm system may not be the solution. It's better than it used to be, but it still only ranks as Bleacher Report's No. 20 system following the 2018 draft. Its best player is uber-athletic outfielder Jo Adell, and he's just 19 and has advanced only as far as High-A.

Meanwhile, there's the Mike Scioscia factor. He's been managing the Angels since 2000, but the 10-year contract he signed in 2009 is up at the end of this season. If the Angels go in a new direction with a new manager this winter, perhaps they'll also commit to a rebuild.

For that, Step No. 1 might be cashing in Trout's tremendous trade value.

Despite being the highest-paid player in MLB, he still checks in at No. 4 among the most valuable trade chips, according to Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs. In theory, the Angels could dump his remaining contract and get multiple elite prospects back for him if they were to put him on the block this offseason.

In reality, it might not be that simple.

Although this winter's free-agent class has lost some of its shine, it's still going to offer Harper, Manny Machado, Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, A.J. Pollock, Nelson Cruz, Eduardo Escobar, Josh Donaldson, Brian Dozier, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Zach Britton and, if they opt out of their current deals, Clayton Kershaw and David Price.

Amid that much readily available talent, some teams may just as soon spend loads of money rather than enter into a bidding war for Trout that'll cost them loads of money and loads of prospects.

Besides, the Angels might give contending another shot no matter who's in the manager's chair for 2019.

They'd be betting on better things being in store for a lineup built on Trout, Ohtani, Upton, Andrelton Simmons, a reborn Kole Calhoun and a hopefully healthy Zack Cozart. Provided that Ohtani's balky elbow holds up, a rotation with him, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs and Jaime Barria could do some damage.

If the Angels do go that route, however, it'll be a case of trying the same thing and expecting different results. Because the Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics figure to still be relevant, the American League West probably isn't going to give them any more leeway than they've had in 2018.

If things were to go south again in 2019, the Angels might not have much choice but to put Trout on the market either that summer or the ensuing winter. On the chance they hold on to him for one last push in 2020, him sharing a lineup with a past-40 Pujols and past-30 versions of Upton, Simmons and Cozart could ultimately necessitate a midsummer trade.

All told, it's hard to place a bet on exactly when the Angels will determine that they need to trade Trout. But barring a series of miracles, that time sure seems to be coming.


Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference. Payroll and contract data courtesy of Spotrac.


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