Los Angeles Angels continue to waste the best years of Mike Trout
By Mitch Quesada
In the first round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft, 21 teams passed on the opportunity to select an outfielder named Mike Trout, a graduate of a small high school in New Jersey called Millville Senior High.
The Washington Nationals passed on Trout twice in the first round of that draft and so did the Arizona Diamondbacks. Heck, the Los Angeles Angels selected Randal Grichuk before stealing Trout with the No. 25 overall pick.
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In the defense of general managers across the Bigs, some very productive players were selected in 2009 ahead of Trout — Stephen Strasburg, Dustin Ackley, Mike Minor, Mike Leake, A.J. Pollock, and Shelby Miller, respectively.
But none have ever grown to become the player Trout has become; the face of a franchise, the face of Major League Baseball, and the face of a new generation of young baseball players.
Respectful, humble, and relatively soft-spoken, Trout has become as likeable off the field as he is on it. And his success on the field is the only thing that has made the Angels relevant since his Big League debut in the middle of the 2011 season at the tender age of 19.
Trout hasn’t looked back since.
Unfortunately, the Angels haven’t done a very good job looking forward.
The best all-around player in The Show hasn’t been able to carry a team that is deadlocked in hundreds of millions of dollars tied to fading players with a farm system that is as barren and thin as a Kentucky ranch in the middle of a drought.
The Halos have made the playoffs only one time in four seasons with Trout as their regular center fielder and were swept, meaning the League’s greatest player has as many victories in October as I do.
Now, that heart-wrenching sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals in 2014 was as much Trout’s fault as anyone else’s. He went 1-for-12 in the series — his only hit being a solo homer — so the career .304 hitter with an MVP and trio of runner-ups under his belt is a career .083 postseason hitter.
But with the direction the Angels are headed, that number could stay there for at least a few more years.
New general manager Billy Eppler made a number of under-the-radar moves this offseason which look to be paying off this spring.
It’s so-far, so-good for Yunel Escobar (who will take over a hot corner which was anything but last year), Daniel Nava (who hopes to fill the left field black hole that has existed for the Angels for longer than just last year) and Geovany Soto, who looks comfortable behind the plate with a platoon of Angels pitchers.
The Angels will owe these three players a combined $11.175 million in 2016.
The same team will owe Josh Hamilton $24 million to play against them this season, and then $24 million more in 2017.
And that’s the core of where the Angels are wasting the prime years of Mike Trout.
They tied too much money into players like Albert Pujols, who is owed $25 million in 2016, with a $1 million/per year increase until they owe him $30 million in 2021. And for the next few seasons, it looks like the Halos will be paying The Machine that type of money to be their designated hitter, since his legs have officially given out and he’s only getting older.
C.J. Wilson is owed $20 million this season before his 5-year, $77.5 million contract ends and he may not be healthy enough for Opening Day, let alone the rest of the season.
Jered Weaver is owed $20 million this year and neck issues have limited him this spring and his age is catching up to him — his velocity is at a career-low and his 12 losses, 4.64 ERA and 90 strikeouts were all career-lows in 2015.
To boot, Eppler traded one of the staples of the team, veteran Erick Aybar and the last of their top prospects for Andrelton Simmons, a man whose defense is genius but whose bat runs on par with Aybar and Johnny Giavotella.
In short, the Halos traded the last of an already depleted farm system for a better defensive version of Aybar.
And so the Angels will be left hoping the last of their homegrown players, like C.J. Cron and Kole Calhoun, can help Trout carry the team as what used to be the core of the Angels offense and pitching will likely not be there past this season.
What’s worse is that the Angels are in the middle of an AL Western division that is one of the most competitive in all of baseball.
The Houston Astros’ trend of historically bad seasons in the late 2000s and early 2010s has finally paid off as their yearly top picks created a juiced farm system that matured into Big League players. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Dallas Keuchel have taken the team and turned it into a true contender. Last year, they added Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers as veterans who helped the team maintain first place in the division for almost the entire season.
That is, until the Texas Rangers got hot and won it in the final week. And Texas will only get better with the return of Yu Darvish to the rotation this year.
The Seattle Mariners have looked good on paper for a few years now and never performed to expectation, but it’s still hard to sleep on a team with Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Felix Hernandez.
Even the Oakland Athletics, who’s 94 losses last year were their most since 1997, should do better this year now that they are back to healthy and have a chip on their shoulder.
The Angels may not even make a Wild Card spot in 2016, let alone win the division, which would mean another year where the game’s best player is on his couch watching teams who relied on their farm and not big free agent signings, win postseason games.
Teams like the Astros, the Royals, the New York Mets, and the Chicago Cubs. Sure, all those teams made splashes in free agency, but their cores are players whom they drafted as rough prospects and were polished into Big League superstars.
“I’m here to win,” Trout told Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports last month. “That’s the biggest thing — win games. My personal goal is to win.”
The Angels will do that. They’ll win games, they just won’t win enough games, especially not once they get to October, assuming they do at least once or twice before Trout’s contract expires in 2020.
At this point, all that’s left to wonder is how long Trout can keep his historic numbers up and if he stays in Southern California after his contract ends. He’ll be 29-years-old, a veteran of the game and if his numbers stay relatively consistent, he will have offers from teams that can provide more for him than the Angels ever could.
You see, the Angels selected Trout with the No. 25 pick of the 2009 Draft, a spot they earned after a trade with the New York Yankees.
If the Angels continue to waste Trout as they have been doing these past few seasons, he may end up there after all.