With the season on the brink and the farm system suddenly productive, the LA Angels have a Shakespearean decision to make: To trade, or not to trade? Are they playing for today, or tomorrow?
In case you haven’t noticed — and judging from the anger on LA Angels message boards all over, you definitely have — the Angels’ season has hit the skids. On pace to miss the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons, and with Mike Trout‘s 2020 free agency looming in the not-so-distant future as a deadline for legitimacy, the Angels spent a busy off-season loading up for this season.
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Thus far, it hasn’t worked, and this is a pattern common to the Arte Moreno ownership era. The Angels have consistently tried to acquire big money names in an attempt to leap into contention and steal headlines from their big blue neighbors up the I-5. It worked the first time Moreno did it, making an enormous splash in the winter of 2003-04 by signing Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar, and Jose Guillen (who would have a very nice 2004 with the Angels before being traded for Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis). Those signings bolstered a talented roster that had won the World Series just two years previous, and it launched the Angels on to a spree of five division titles in six seasons.
Arte Moreno has been trying, and failing, to buy his way back into contention ever since.
The good news is, the next contending Angels team is right around the corner: The organization actually have talent in the farm system, something the Angels haven’t had in a long, long time. Jo Adell, the best Angel prospect since Trout, is fresh off the Minor League Futures Game, where he doubled, scored, and drove in a run. Primed for a late 2019 debut in Anaheim, Adell is the reason Kole Calhoun won’t be getting an extension (though Calhoun’s basically played his way out of one, recent en fuego status notwithstanding).
David Fletcher, who had been hitting .350/.394/.559 at Triple-A Salt Lake, will likely stay with the big team permanently now that Zack Cozart‘s done for the season, and he’ll be the reason Ian Kinsler won’t be an Angel next year. Beyond all that, there’s Jahmai Jones, whose athleticism continues to dazzle, and Griffin Canning, who has leapt up the prospect charts with a dominating 45 innings of sub-2.00 ERA at Double-A Mobile before being promoted.
First baseman Matt Thaiss seems to finally have found some power to go with his batting eye, and Taylor Ward has finally hit like the 1st round pick he once was now that he’s been shifted from catcher to third — the Angels are starving for offense at both positions. Beyond those guys, Jose Miguel Fernandez has a long history of offensive production stretching back to his Cuba days, and surprise multi-positional Luis Rengifo has been hitting a ton since being acquired from Tampa Bay this past off-season in the C.J. Cron trade. Both those guys can be the off-the-bench bat the Angels have not had this season (I’m looking at you, Luis Valbuena).
The next great Angels team will feature Trout and Adell in the outfield, with Andrelton Simmons flanked by Fletcher and Jones and Thaiss, with Canning joining Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs and Jaime Barria in the rotation, and with the amazing Shohei Ohtani playing both sides of the ball. That team will be featured at Angel stadium beginning March of 2020.
That team is, obviously, not THIS team, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be dismantled ahead of time. There’s still plenty of time for Arte Moreno to push Billy Eppler and Mike Scioscia to Win Now Mode, and sign a free agent to block a prospect, or trade a prospect for veterans and rentals. Moreno has to resist — or more accurately, Eppler has to get Moreno to resist — the temptation to win now.
This does mean allowing the 2018 season to fade away. As frustrating as that is, both the organization and us fans have to face hard realities: Playoff teams aren’t chock full of guys hitting .220, or own one of the worst bullpens in the league. Rather than trading away more of the future to feed the present, it’s time to look to the future, spend more time on the health of the pitching staff, and not panic over Mike Trout’s contract.