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The Los Angeles Angels have made the playoffs once during the Mike Trout era. That would be 2014, when they were swept in three games in their American League Division Series with the Kansas City Royals.
Other than that, the best player on the planet hasn’t tasted postseason baseball. If the Angels don’t do something drastic this offseason and vault onto the October stage, their futility could cost them dearly.
It could cost them Trout.
Trout’s contract runs through 2020. After that, he can test free agency. Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado may set records in free agency this winter and could even eclipse the $400 million mark. If Trout is allowed to hit the open market, those records won’t last long.
We’re talking about a 27-year-old who’s made seven All-Star appearances from 2012 to 2018, won two American League MVP Awards and compiled 64.0 WAR by FanGraphs’ calculation, easily the highest total over that stretch.
Trout isn’t the most colorful or emotionally demonstrative player, but he’s baseball’s alpha dog by virtually any statistical measure. A $500 million pact is within his reach. In an informal survey of general managers, scouts, agents and insiders conducted by Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan, one person floated $600 million as a possibility for Trout.
The Halos are aware of this. They want to make Trout “a lifetime Angel,” as Fancred’s Jon Heyman reported in September. To do that, they need to build a winner posthaste.
First and foremost, Los Angeles needs to shore up a starting rotation that finished 19th with a 4.34 ERA and lost two-way star Shohei Ohtani to Tommy John surgery and erstwhile ace Garrett Richards to Tommy John and free agency.
The Angels could back up the Brink’s truck for free agents such as left-handers Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel. The latter would be an especially interesting get, since Los Angeles would wrest him away from the division rival Houston Astros.
Then again, it has the sixth-highest committed payroll for 2019, per Spotrac, “thanks” in part to Albert Pujols’ albatross contract.
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Alternately, the Angels could go the trade route, though they’ve finally begun to rebuild a once barren farm system and should carefully guard outfielder and top prospect Jo Adell.
Los Angeles also should buttress a bullpen that finished 13th with a 3.92 ERA and blew 26 saves, tied for fifth-most in baseball. Again, the Angels could open their wallet for a top-tier name such as Craig Kimbrel or David Robertson, but only if they’re prepared to stretch their budget.
The team needs help behind the plate and could target free agents such as Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos or, if it’s willing to mortgage the farm, Miami Marlins backstop J.T. Realmuto.
Then there’s the matter of Brad Ausmus, who was hired in late October to replace manager Mike Scioscia, the only skipper Trout has ever known.
And don’t forget the Astros remain the toast of the AL West and that the Oakland Athletics are trying to build on a surprise 97-win season. The Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers may be headed for rebuilds, but if the Angels want to be more than a third-place also-ran, they can’t sit on their hands.
Asked if he’d bolt for greener pastures if the Angels didn’t taste the postseason in 2018 or 2019, Trout was noncommittal.
“I don’t know the answer,” he said, 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.”
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It’s easy to speculate on the squads that would line up for Trout if and when he hits the market. The Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers would be obvious landing spots, but every team with competitive ambitions and two nickels to rub together would be involved.
The Angels obviously want to keep him. Unless they go huge this offseason, though, that may be a pipe dream.
Los Angeles has made the playoffs once during the Trout era. Would it fare better in a post-Trout era?
That’s a question the Angels don’t want to consider, but it’s one they might have to.