Just a Bit Outside: Why the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Should Trade the Best Player in the Major Leagues

by Sam Stockton | 5/22/16 6:20pm

The Angels aren’t terrible. No one is going to mistake them for the streaking Chicago Cubs, but they aren’t the woefully bad Atlanta Braves either. To put things into perspective, going into May 16, the Cubs run differential was +109, and the Braves had scored 109 runs. To be sure, the season was still young, and both teams’ fortunes could easily change. But at this point, those two franchises represent the poles of the MLB. The Angels are somewhere in between. For the Braves, who as of May 16 had yet to win 10 games (the last team in the League that still hadn’t done so), there is reason for optimism. Atlanta boasts a farm system that ESPN’s Keith Law recently rated baseball’s best. They may be laughable now, but Atlanta has studs like shortstop Dansby Swanson or pitcher Sean Newcomb waiting in the wings. Compare that to the Angels. On Law’s list, the Angels were proclaimed to have the dead worst farm system in baseball, going as far as saying that it was the worst he’d ever seen since he began evaluating farm systems.

At the big league level, things aren’t much better. In 2012, the Angels made a splash by signing Albert Pujols to a 10-year $240 million contract. As it stands now, he is guaranteed the remaining $165 million through 2021. Pujols is coming off a season in which he hit just .244, the worst average of his career. This season, Pujols has been flirting with the Mendoza.

To say that Pujols’ contract is bad is an understatement of epic proportions. The Angels’ best pitcher, Garrett Richards, has been lost for the season to a probable Tommy John surgery. Andrew Heaney, who was in the process of developing into a solid starter for the Halos, may need the same operation. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, whom the Braves acquired this offseason, is expected to be out until at least July. Put simply, the future is not exactly bright in Anaheim.

What the Angels do have is the best player in baseball in Mike Trout. Sure, the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper had an unbelievable 2015 season and is as talented as anyone in the League. Sure, the Baltimore Orioles’ Manny Machado deserves to be placed in this conversation far more prominently than most analysts tend to do. Sure, the Cubs’ Kris Bryant may be a year or two away from a Harper-esque emergence onto baseball’s center stage. Despite all this, the fact remains that Trout is not only the best player today but is on track to be considered one of the best players ever. Trout is 24 and despite the Angels’ collective mediocrity is on track for another banner season. He’s moved from hitting lead-off to batting third and has continued to produce the same kind of numbers that earned him the 2014 American League MVP. Since coming to the big leagues full time in 2012, he has never had a Wins Above Replacement outside the top two among position players, including finishing first in the league in 2012 and 2013 (although he currently sits at number six in 2016, behind two position players).

As good as Trout is (and he is really good), the Angels’ best option for their future is to trade him. To be clear, I am not saying that I anticipate that the Angels will trade him. They would never move on from Trout, who is signed through 2020, without serious consideration, and I doubt that consideration will come any time before the coming offseason, if it ever does. What I am saying is that the best move for the Angels right now is to unload their best player and re-tool their entire organization.

Before dismissing this plan as insane, consider an example from the NFL. In 1989, Jimmy Johnson, head coach of the then-lowly Dallas Cowboys, decided to trade Herschel Walker, the man many considered to be the Cowboys’ only good player, to Minnesota. In return, Johnson and the Cowboys received four players and eight draft picks that ultimately included backbones of their team like Emmitt Smith and Darren Woodson. Three Vince Lombardi Trophies (from 1992, 1993 and 1995) stand in mute witness at the Cowboys’ headquarters to the ultimate success of that trade. The point is that trading your best player can bring in the kind of assets that can become the cornerstones of a dynasty.

If Trout were to become available, you can be sure that all 29 other teams would at least consider trying to acquire him. No matter who ended up with Trout, it would take a huge offer to acquire his services with a combination of top-tier prospects and established big league starters. Maybe trading Trout could be a tool to unload Pujols’s albatross of a contract.

Any legitimate offer for Trout would put the Angels on the Cowboys’ path to success. It may not end in a dynasty, but the Angels have the unique opportunity to turn their ghastly farm system into an elite one in a way the draft never could and acquire multiple above average starters. Trout on his own, despite being a generational talent, will never be able to win a championship. Several serviceable starters, along with several top-level prospects, would turn the Angels into a legitimate contender for a long time.

It wouldn’t be crazy for the Angels to trade the best player in baseball. It would set them up for a future that the best player in baseball could never realize for them alone.