The Angels locked up Mike Trout with a record contract — here’s what they need to build a winner around him
In a jaw-dropping moment, news broke Tuesday that the Angels were in the process of with franchise centerpiece Mike Trout. The Angels already had the best player in baseball with a chance to see him become the best player in history.
Now it’s time to actually build something around him.
In seven full seasons, Trout has two MVPs, four runner-up finishes in the MVP and a fourth-place finish (in a season where injury limited him to 114 games). It’s not an exaggeration to say he’s put together one of the best careers in history through age 26, as his top statistical comparisons are Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey Jr., Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron. Yeah, seriously.
Still, the franchise with Trout hasn’t found success. From 2002-09, the Angels made the playoffs six times. Since then, they have gone one for nine in making the playoffs and that one time (2014) they were swept. Some will misguidedly place blame on Trout as if this is basketball. More knowledgeable fans realize this is baseball and Trout doesn’t pitch and can only bat once every nine times in the order. There’s only so much one player can do, which is why the Angels need more around him.
If they can somehow make the two-way thing work, Shohei Ohtani is another star to build around and gives the rotation an ace come 2020. The Angels’ two top pitching prospects, Jose Suarez and Griffin Canning, look to be in Triple-A this season while it’s still possible to see Tyler Skaggs (27 years old) and Jaime Barria (22) pitch themselves into rotation fixtures.
Still, with Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill sitting in their top two rotation spots this season and not much money clogging up the books long-term, why not see what it’ll take to grab Dallas Keuchel, who is just sitting there for the taking in free agency?
Since I just mentioned money, let’s point out there’s a misconception about the Angels’ books. Albert Pujols‘ much-maligned deal only has three years left. Past 2020, there’s only Pujols, Trout and Justin Upton. Past 2021, it’s just Trout and Upton. Past 2022, it’s just Trout. Sure, the Angels might want to find a way to re-up with Ohtani in the next few years, but their actual long-term commitments aren’t ridiculous anymore. Even this year, they aren’t really close to the luxury tax threshold ($171.4M before Trout’s deal, with the tax line being at $206M).
Now that we mention that, looking ahead to next offseason, Gerrit Cole, Chris Sale, Justin Verlander and Madison Bumgarner are free agents. What about grabbing UCLA alum Cole, assuming they don’t get Keuchel. A possible 2020 rotation:
Should the youngsters pan out, that’s pretty good potential. The playoffs would certainly be doable.
On the position-player side, Trout’s got Upton and Andrelton Simmons as quality teammates. It’s possible Zack Cozart has a bounce-back year. Consensus top-five prospect Jo Adell could be ready to join the outfield come 2020.
From there, the front office needs to find bargains in free agency and trades to round out the roster. Winners are built both with big-ticket acquisitions and with a little luck in the filling out part. It’s the curse-breaking Red Sox getting David Ortiz on the cheap, the Cubs stealing Jake Arrieta (and Pedro Strop!) from the Orioles and the Astros getting a career year from Marwin Gonzalez.
And, of course, they need to draft well. That’s one of the big reasons they fell behind for a bit. Their first-rounders for a few years after Trout were busts.
There’s definitely a road to contention here. Trout’s been wasted for years thanks to past Angels’ front offices not drafting well and making lots of poor deals. That same front office gifted the current one Trout. Now the Angels have him for the rest of his career and need to build a winner around him. Trout’s already a legend. How big a legend he becomes nationwide depends on his teammates moving forward.