A Big Fish In a Small Pond
By Max Toth
Mike Trout turned 29 a little over a month ago. I remember seeing that and being surprised that he was that old. Actually, 29 isn’t ‘old’ for a baseball player and it’s likely that Trout will keep up his legendary pace well into his mid-30's. He might even expand on it like Barry Bonds, who smashed home run records at age 35 after discovering the benefits of hot yoga and daily protein shakes. (Okay…..)
But the point is, Trout isn’t getting any younger and although he has recorded legendary individual stats and won virtually every award the MLB has to offer, baseball’s best modern player has never won a World Series, a league championship, or even a single playoff game.
How the heck is that even possible?
Before we dive into the Angels tragic mismanagement of greatness, let’s look at some other superstars who never won it all and how their playoff failures compare to Trout.
The first name that will likely come to mind for most is Ken Griffey Jr. "The Kid" has often been seen as Trout’s closest comparison, and not just for their ringless fingers. Griffey’s ability to hit for average while still showcasing otherworldly power, along with his incredible speed and fielding abilities, almost perfectly parallel Trout. However, Griffey’s reasons for never hoisting a Commissioner's trophy differ from Trout’s. Despite playing on some loaded mid-90s Seattle Mariners teams, Griffey struggled to put together post-season success outside of a magical 1995 divisional series win against the Yankees, primarily due to his inability to stay healthy and on the field.
Another legend who never won it all may be a surprise to some. Despite playing 24 superb years in the early days of the MLB, Ty Cobb never won a championship. That makes him the only member of the "First Five" (the initial class inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, which included Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Matthewson and Walter Johnson) to never win it all. But Cobb's playoff futility had less to do with injuries and bad teams than plain old bad luck, since the "Georgia Peach" actually made the World Series three times throughout his career but just couldn't quite seal the deal.
However, with apologies to Griffey Jr. and Cobb, poor old Mike Trout is in a class of his own.
So, how has it happened?
Well, it mostly comes down to the ineptitude of the Angels front office. To the "Halo Gang's" credit they’ve been willing to take their swings but, unfortunately, they’ve missed a lot more often then they’ve connected. The Angels signed some terrible contracts in the past decade, including a 5-year $106 million deal for a washed-up Justin Upton, a 5-year $125 million agreement for a washed-up Josh Hamilton and a gigantic 10-year $254 million deal for a (you got it) washed-up Albert Pujols.
Do you see a pattern here?
The Angels have mostly gone for big names and former stars, sacrificing millions of dollars on players who have ended up hurting the team both on the field and in their wallets. What the Angels should've done is take the lead from teams like the Astros, Yankees and 2018 Red Sox - find your stars in the draft or international signings, develop them down on the farm and then, once they're ready to compete, bring in big money talent to surround them.
Think about it.
Who was the best player on the 2018 Boston Red Sox, almost certainly the best team from the 2010's?
Mookie Betts, who they selected in the fifth round of the 2011 MLB draft.
Probably ace pitcher Chris Sale, who the Bosox traded for a year prior.
When you sink your teeth into it, it turns out that virtually every important player on Boston's 2018 championship club had either come up through the Red Sox farm system or had been acquired by the team in the previous few seasons. The same rings true for the Astro and Yankee squads I mentioned - perennial contenders who built their foundations in an intelligent manner.
Unfortunately nobody let the Angels in on the plan, as they have consistently signed over-the-hill big names to even bigger contracts while their farm system has been one of the worst in baseball each and every year. If the definition of insanity truly is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, the Angels should be locked in a psychiatric ward.
Now obviously they haven’t done everything wrong. After all, the Angels did choose Trout with the 25th overall pick in the 2009 draft and they have paired him with a few solid players, such as defensive superstar Andrelton Simmons and promising two-way stud Shohei Ohtani. This off-season especially, things seemed to be looking up in L.A. First, they signed former World Series champion Joe Maddon as manager and two months later they landed one of free agency's biggest prizes in superstar third basemen and Washington Nationals World Series champ Anthony Rendon. But despite going into the season with hopes of at least making the playoffs, the Angels have floundered yet again. Unlike most years however, this Angels team hasn’t even been able to tread water at .500, as they currently sit at 25-31 with four games left against the Padres and Dodgers - two of baseball's best teams. So it's just a matter of time before the Angels pack their gloves away again and watch the post-season from the poolside of their sunny California backyards. Rendon has been great this year and is probably outplaying Trout; although it should be stated that a down year for Trout is a career year for almost any other player. But, as usual, the Angels pitching struggles have placed them outside of play-off contention once again.
So what can Trout do?
Can he take his talents to (fill in the blank) and join an established contender like many other squandered superstars?
Unlikely, because Mike Trout signed a 12-year contract extension with the Angels two winters ago. It’s unclear what kind of dirt the Angels have on Trout, because the only conceivable way they could have gotten him to agree to such a long contract after all of their failures is to have blackmailed the poor guy. It’s also unlikely a trade would happen. The fact is, Trout is so talented that almost any deal for him would undoubtedly wind up with the Angels getting robbed blind. So unless the Yankees build a time machine and offer a young Mickey Mantle for Trout, a blockbuster trade just isn't in the cards.
Mike Trout will almost certainly go down in history as baseball’s most valuable player according to WAR, (Wins Above Replacement) which measures how many wins someone generates over the average player. But despite being a certain first ballot Hall-of-Famer it's beginning to look more and more like his Cooperstown plaque won’t contain the phrase of "World Series Champion" and unless a miracle occurs, a sad fact seems set in stone.
Mike Trout will continue to be a very big fish in an extremely small pond. (See what I did there?)