It’s no secret that over the past eighteen months, the baseball world has bombarded Angels fans with the most worrisome thought imaginable: that it might be appropriate to trade the most valuable player in several generations. In fact, the idea was kicked off by our very own Goose Gaskins here at Halos Heaven last offseason.
The organization’s lack of postseason success in 2014, controversy-mired disappointing 2015, and injury-riddled 2016 now has them bracing for a perfect storm, to the point where even casual observers in other major markets are thinking “how long until that Trout guy comes to my team?”. You can bet that if the Angels even have a so-so year, there will be amplified talk of tearing it all down, even when ownership and front office have clearly stated the contrary. Trading Mike Trout would be tantamount to taking on a host of unnecessary risks, on top of rewarding a nonsensical ad nauseam argument.
Perhaps the strongest argument against a Trout trade is that it doesn’t need to be made now. Trout is a once-in-a-lifetime superstar entering his prime with an affordable four years left on his contract. Since the advent of the second wild card, more teams have been buying than selling at the trade deadline, creating an imbalance that benefits sellers in the form of increased prospects. That is to say, given the recent returns for Adam Eaton and Chris Sale, imagine what Trout would fetch! It would gut a promising top-5 farm system along with several everyday MLB players, or a team would have to detract so much from its big league team that it would not be worth it to land the big fish that is Trout. Billy Eppler and the front office realize that they can build around him now and revisit these talks several years down the line, knowing full well that the realistic return fetched will stay the same.
But even if the Angels got the return they desired, they could never get equal value for a player as valuable as Trout. Projecting prospects is such a fickle business because of the sheer amount of unknowns (in several years, will this player be healthy, stronger, have a new delivery/stance, different approach/load/launch angle, etc.). There’s no guarantee that the Angels, an organization that has neither the history nor reputation for developing prospects, would be able to translate talent to MLB results.
Don’t believe me? Here are MLB Pipeline’s top 10 prospects from five years ago.
In theory, these players should have been able to reach their ceilings by now, but this is not the case. The ten players on this list have combined for two 3+ WAR seasons, with Gerrit Cole and Wil Myers recording one each. Meanwhile Mike Trout, who entered the league in August 2011, has 47-48 WAR in that time frame. Without favorable historical precedent in trading superstars (see Babe Ruth, Miguel Cabrera, Josh Donaldson), it would boggle the mind to pull the trigger on a move that doesn’t necessitate urgency.
Those who believe Trout’s value is only tied to his on-field brilliance are sorely mistaken. I know this is a cliché, but it speaks volumes to his importance: Trout is Angels baseball and Angels baseball is Trout. Even if the return turns out to be a fair one, such a move would further alienate the fan base. As much as I appreciate Simmons’ flair for the impossible and Kole Calhoun’s gritty hustle, the reason I watch Angels games is Trout. The reason I buy an Angels jersey is Trout. Willingly trading a player of his specialty and rarity would be blasphemy.
And sure, others will be quick to point out that the Cubs and Astros are on the way up after successful rebuilds, but what about other teams? For every successful rebuild, there’s a Twins and a pre-Preller Padres, teams toiling in mediocrity despite having torn it all down.
Let me be clear: the Angels are indeed obligated to win with the best player in his generation and are not obligated to trade him. Those who follow the Angels closely know that this is a “transition year” of sorts, given the questionable health of the rotation. The fact remains, having Trout equates to a competitive advantage where the Angels can have Trout and be average at all other positions and make the postseason. He has been surrounded with significantly more talent this offseason, and that’s not to mention improved payroll flexibility and return of starting pitchers Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano next offseason.
Save all those lopsided trade proposals two years from now, because Trout isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And it wouldn’t be wise to deal him either, because Mike Trout and winning is not a binary choice. Winning with Trout is better than winning without Trout.
That’s a truism that goes without saying.