Mike Trout is the quintessential MLB ‘franchise player’. Despite only being only 27 years old, he has already worked his way up the Angels career-bWAR list, leading second-place Chuck Finley by nearly 13 wins. Trout’s seven full seasons in an Angles uniform has already yielded 64.2 wins, and he is in no way expected to slow down his torrid pace.
Last week, the Angels announced that the two parties had agreed to an historic deal that guaranteed the star center fielder mega-money and positioned him to stay an Angel through the 2031 season. The 12-year, $430 million guaranteed contract is a record-setting deal in both dollars and years and a commitment that both parties want to win together.
Trout has been the best player in baseball for nearly half-a-decade at this point, yet Los Angeles has yet to roster a supporting cast that can showcase Trout’s talent on baseball’s biggest stage. Over the course of his seven-plus-year career, the four-time MVP has only played in three playoff games, a disappointing 2014 ALDS sweep at the hands of the eventual AL pennant champion Royals. That year’s playoff run looked more like a fluke than a sustainable period of success at the time, and the following years’ frustration, futility, and failure confirmed that.
Prior to Trout’s meteoric ascension to the big leagues, the Angels had a period of eight years that delivered six playoff appearances, five AL West pennants, and a World Series Championship in 2002. It was the height of the franchise, though by the time the 19-year-old Trout made his major league debut, the team was on the downswing.
Coming off an 80-82 season, where LA finished ten games out of first place, the Angels called up the 19-year-old phenom late in the season. Trout had a minimal impact in the forty MLB games in which he played that first season, posting an 87 wRC+ over 135 plate appearances. 2012 was a different story however, as Trout hit for power (he slugged 30 home runs), average (he hit .326 average with a near .400 OBP), and demonstrated great speed (he swiped 49 bases and only got caught five time).
Trout was the unanimous Rookie of the Year winner, and finished as the runner-up AL MVP to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera (a vote that created many heated discussions between old-school RBI-loving classic fans versus the new-age stat-savvy fans).
Although it was a great year for Trout, and one that put him on the MLB map as a star, things did not improve for the Angels. LA again finished ten games out of first place. In an increasingly competitive division, Trout’s Angels missed the playoffs despite winning 86 games in 2012, and 89 games in 2013.
As Trout continued to amaze on the field, Angels’ General Manager Jerry Dipoto struggled to build an annually contending MLB roster that could keep pace with the rest of the American League. In the process of trying to build a contender, the farm system was made bare, which, complemented by a lack of farm player development making the leap behind Trout, led to the team being ranked in the lowest rungs of organizational talent rankings and farm systems for several years.
Dipoto resigned after the 2015 season, and the Angels recruited Yankees number two Billy Eppler as their next GM. Eppler inherited a team that was neither ready to win now, nor in a position of farm-strength. Between 2014 and 2017 Baseball America ranked the Angels farm system worst in the sport three times.
Eppler had his work cut out for him, but his tutelage under Yankees’ master negotiator Brian Cashman served him well, as the Angels are now ranked 14th in talent per BA’s 2018 rankings.
The major problem the Angels have suffered from is never really going all-in on a rebuild, while also not being good enough to make any noise in the division. With identical 80-82 seasons in 2017 and 2018, the team has been mired in mediocrity, despite employing an annual ten-win player. Essentially, the Angels would be terrible without Trout.
This brings us back to Trout’s extension and the Angels future outlook. Taking a look at the Angels current roster, there is some great potential for the future both on the MLB squad and in the minors.
2019 will likely be a transition year for LA, as the Angels have half of a Shohei Ohtani (who cannot pitch due to his recovery from Tommy John Surgery), Andrelton Simmons, Zack Cozart, and Justin Upton. Although Cozart and Upton are nice pieces for 2019 and 2020, both players are in the 30s and are not likely key pieces for the Angels’ next window to win (Cozart’s contract expires in 2020 though Upton is inked through 2022).
Additionally in the rotation, LA has 27-year-olds Andrew Heaney signed through 2022 and Tyler Skaggs (signed through 2021). The bottom line is, to look at the five-year window, where they’ll be getting the best out of Trout, they’re going to need help from the farm and from free agency.
Taking a look at the Angels farm system, seven of their top ten prospects will be in either Double-A or Triple-A. It’s a good sign that LA will know in the next year whether they are likely to be MLB additions or not. Tenth overall pick in 2017 Jo Adell earned two promotions last year after dominating both Rookie-level leagues. It is likely he’ll get promoted to Triple-A this season, meaning if the Angels need an additional outfielder, he could make his MLB debut.
Righty Griffin Canning is another farmhand who is also likely to make his MLB debut in 2019. In addition to a mid-90s fastball that touches 98 mph, he also has two strong secondary offerings including both a slider and a curveball. The expectation is that he will be a mid-rotation starter as soon as this year.
Billy Eppler sent veteran Ian Kinsler packing to Boston in exchange for reliever Ty Buttrey. This season, Buttrey will again don a big leagues uni for the Angels, as he looks to solidify his spot as a strong receiver. Last season in 16 ⅓ innings, Buttrey struck out 20 batters and walked five.
Any team that has the best player is baseball is well-positioned for short-or-medium-term success. LA has regularly posted a $160 million payroll, and they have some large contracts coming off the books in the next few years including Cozart’s $12 million in 2020 and Pujols massive (compared to his near-negative production) $30 million in 2021.
The Angels appear to have drafted well in recent seasons, so as the players on the farm continue to develop and eventually get promoted to the big leagues over the next two years, LA should be positioned to make a handful of free-agent contracts and position themselves to take on the Astros in the American League West and showcase their franchise player in October.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano