Mike Trout is signed to a six-year, $144.5 million contract. That's probably a bargain for the Los Angeles Angels. He will hit free agency just in time for his age 29 season. The Angels are going to have to give him another big payday if they want to keep him in Los Angeles (well, Orange County) for his whole career. Plenty has been written about that already, though; we could rehash it here, but that's not fun. Instead, let's assume Angels owner Arte Moreno has lost his mind and believes he can build a better contender if he trades Trout. What would it take for the Angels to actually pull the trigger and trade him?
There's nothing on this planet that can compensate for giving up Trout, you cry. To that, I say...You're probably right. But let's explore anyway.
First, it's important to understand where Mike Trout is coming from in terms of production, what he is expected to do going forward, and what that means in terms of winning ballgames. This is less about money, and more about whether there is some combination of players out there that would allow the Angels to be more successful if Trout was traded or not. Let's start with what we know.
- Trout won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2012 and finished second in MVP voting behind Miguel Cabrera.
- He finished second in MVP voting behind Cabrera again in 2013.
- In just 410 games, Trout has accumulated 25.1 bWAR (as of June 28th).
- Despite having less than three full years in the league, Trout is 80th on the career active WAR list.
- Trout's average annual contract is $24.08 million.
These few facts alone may have you questioning my sanity in even writing an article that explores an option such as trading Mike Trout. But I'm doing it. And there's nothing you can do to stop me!
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When Trout was called up in 2011, he sparked the Angels to an 86-76 record in the American League West. This came after the club looked destined to have a losing season. While Trout was able to propel them above .500, he was not able to help the club pass the Rangers. They ultimately finished 10 games behind the Rangers that season. His impact was instantly obvious, but they haven't managed to make the playoffs since his call-up.
The inability of the Angels to sneak into a postseason setting in which there are now two Wild Cards from each league is likely an indictment on the front office more than any one player; it certainly is not an indictment on Trout. But, considering Trout's long-term cost against his long-term production, is there a way for the Angels to make themselves perennial contenders by trading their superstar?
To pull something like this off, the Angels would need a return of at least 8 WAR per season for the next six years - probably beyond. To date, Trout has managed a 10.8 bWAR season in 2012 and an 8.9 bWAR season in 2013. This season, he's on pace for another year close to 9 bWAR. The law of diminishing returns means that at some point, Trout's production will decrease. Perhaps he will begin seeing yearly WAR totals of seven or six or five. But that has not been the case yet. So, for argument's sake, let's assume that any trade the Angels made would have to net them players that return at very least an average of 8 WAR per season for the next six seasons. Without taking playing time from other productive players, that is.
First, we must assume a team is willing to literally bet the farm on getting Trout for the next six years while being willing to pay $144.5 million. Virtually every team in baseball would be willing to make that deal in terms of just Trout's contract (not losing their farm) save for a couple of the lowest payroll clubs in the league. Now, speaking of the farm, the Angels' best bet to get back more than what they give in a hypothetical Trout trade would be for them to land top-level, as-close-to-Major-League-ready prospects as they can along with some proven bats. So, let's start with the farm systems.
In October, Baseball America did a fascinating analysis of the farm systems in baseball. They put their own special spin on the rankings, though. The rankings were designed to show the best farm systems that were poised to deliver results now. You can click over to see their methodology, but essentially they assigned point values for categories like having the best positional prospect, best pitching prospect, etc. So, without further ado, here is their list:
|1||Red Sox||122.2||11(t)||Blue Jays||90.3||21||Marlins||65.7|
The Boston Red Sox seem like nice trade partners without even looking deeper. They certainly wouldn't be afraid of taking on a contract like Trout's (and imagine the damage he could do at Fenway!). We can rule out the Astros and the Padres strictly on their payroll constraints. The Rangers are a possibility, but in a real world scenario, it's unlikely a trade this big would happen in the division. The Cubs have some money and are pushing the edges of the "rebuilding" timeline, so Trout could put them over the top. The Cardinals, the Diamondbacks, and the Braves are all viable choices.
But we have to remember, the ultimate goal is to get near or actual Major League-ready players. And they have to be able to compensate for the loss of Trout. More than compensate, actually. For those reasons, and to keep this from being a 10,000-word article, we're going to assume the trade happens between the Angels and the Red Sox.*
*I looked at the possibilities with the other teams mentioned, but considering the players in each club's farm system and the position options within the Angels, the Red Sox truly do fit best for this hypothetical, crazy, never-going-to-happen trade.
Let's get to it then. Here's the take from Baseball America about how Boston reached the top spot in this analysis:
Boston has the top major-league ready talent in the game, by this accounting method, plus ample depth beyond Bogaerts and Co. in the form of RHP Antony Ranaudo (16 EL), 3B Garin Cecchini (14 EL), RHP Brandon Workman (19 EL), 2B Mookie Betts (7 CAR) and SS Deven Marrero (13 CAR). That's how the system built an 11-point advantage on No. 2.
Xander Bogaerts would have to play third base for the Angels in any trade scenario. Los Angeles wouldn't replace Erick Aybar (a 2.7 bWAR player to date) with Bogaerts who has not yet accumulated 1.0 bWAR this season. However, Bogaerts is far-and-away better statistically than David Freese. Freese is sitting on a -0.5 bWAR this season while making a little over $5 million. Bogaerts is playing for league minimum.
Jackie Bradley Jr. is having a decent enough season. If you look at who he'd be replacing in the Angels' depth chart, you're not going to feel too confident. He'd be taking Mike Trout's spot. Bradley's 0.7 bWAR compared to Trout's 4.8 bWAR this season looks pretty bad, but let's stick with it since Trout will be gone anyway in this scenario.
Mookie Betts is probably the most intriguing part of the Red Sox farm system and prospect list. If we are going off of simple projections, Fangraphs' Steamer (R) - which projects a player's stats for the rest of the season - has Betts playing 16 games (probably low and not factoring such an early call-up), and accumulating 0.3 fWAR in that time). We're mixing WAR here, but that's what we're going to have to do in the case of prospect projections. Betts could assume his natural position at second base with the Angels while shifting Howie Kendrick to first base. Pujols would drop to DH.
Allen Webster, Henry Owens, and Blake Swihart are all wild cards in this mix. Webster posted a -1.1 bWAR in 2013 with the Red Sox. He is now back pitching at Triple-A. Both Owens and Swihart have yet to crack the Majors. That being said, Baseball America is still high on all three. They each rank in the top-100 of all prospects.
One final consideration is that of Brandon Workman. He is in his second Major League season, but he technically has less than one year of service time. So, he'll be under team control for a while. This season, Workman has already accumulated 0.9 bWAR in nine games. He has split time in the bullpen and the rotation, but he's been getting more action as a starter this year.
Now, on to the details of the trade. Since we already assume the Angels would never go for this trade, we can damn sure assume the Red Sox wouldn't either. They would be giving up basically their entire farm for Mike Trout. If there was any player worth doing so for, it'd be him, but no team would make this move.
The Red Sox would get Mike Trout. The Angels would get Bogaerts, Bradley Jr., Betts, Webster, Owens, Swihart, and Workman. Now, how does that translate in terms of production for the Angels?
Some caveats to the data: For before production on players who had been in the league longer than one year, I averaged their last five seasons to get a bWAR total. For the after figure on similar players, I averaged their deterioration per season and subtracted that from the previous five-year bWAR average (for each season over the next six since that's how long Mike Trout's contract is) and averaged the per-season total bWAR. For prospects ranked in the top-100 according to Baseball America, I assumed an average bWAR of 3.0 per season (generous, I know). If the player being examined had less than two full years in the league and was not a prospect in the top-100, I averaged their bWAR per season and rounded to the nearest whole number. So, in essence, I'm making it up as I go.
Let's explain all the positional adjustments that will be necessary with this trade. I'm not factoring in any player releases or trades (which could positively impact this overall). That would simply complicated things too much. In our scenario here, Albert Pujols will move to DH to make room for Howie Kendrick. Mookie Betts will take Kendrick's old spot at second base. David Freese is out in this scenario, replaced with Xander Bogaerts. Erick Aybar stays in his spot. Josh Hamilton stays in his as well. Mike Trout will be mashing balls out of Fenway while Jackie Bradley Jr. take his spot in center. Kole Calhoun can keep his right field position. Two pitchers will be dropped from the starting rotation, replaced by a couple prospects. Shoemaker is out, and Workman is in. Santiago is also out, replaced by Henry Owens. Finally, C.J. Cron no longer gets to DH since we already said Pujols was moving there.
With my crazy calculation, positional adjustments, and this ridiculous trade in mind, here are the yearly bWAR results. I have broken it down by my estimate of yearly bWAR before this hypothetical trade, and the yearly estimates after.
|Position||Player Before||Player After||bWAR Before||bWAR After|
|1B||Albert Pujols||Howie Kendrick||2.24||2.8|
|2B||Howie Kendrick||Mookie Betts||3.28||3|
|3B||David Freese||Xander Bogaerts||1.16||3|
|SS||Erick Aybar||Erick Aybar||2.1||2.1|
|LF||Josh Hamilton||Josh Hamilton||3.63||3.63|
|CF||Mike Trout||Jackie Bradley Jr.||8||2|
|RF||Kole Calhoun||Kole Calhoun||2||2|
|P||Matt Shoemaker||Brandon Workman||1||3|
|P||Hector Santiago||Henry Owens||1||3|
|DH||C.J. Cron||Albert Pujols||1||2.24|
I didn't expect to be able to pull off a positive result even with my generous WAR offerings on these predictions, but I did it. By trading the best player in baseball, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim can expect—wait for it—approximately one extra win per season if they steal the entire farm system of the Boston Red Sox! That's totally worth pissing off the entire fan base and risking the uncertainty of prospect production, right?
We knew from the outset that this would be a far-fetched idea, but I wanted to use the scenario to illustrate just how good Trout is. There is probably not another player in baseball that could be traded away for the best prospect core in baseball (like all the best prospects, not just one) with the team trading the player away not seeing a significant improvement in wins going forward.
There were a lot of moving parts in this trade suggestion. I took a lot of liberties. I took so many liberties with this that I probably shouldn't even be allowed to be an analyst here at Beyond the Box Score (shhh, don't tell them). But in the end, it was a fun look at Trout's value and his production since being called up in 2011.
. . .