Mike Trout is under contract through 2020, yet his free agency feels imminent. That dissonance reflects the state of the Los Angeles Angels as they totter toward the finish line of another failure of a season, the latest in a long-running series.
Two years of a Trout-esque talent in his prime would be The Window for most teams, a stretch of unmitigated prosperity – or, at worst, a period of inextinguishable optimism – that would eventually be remembered as a halcyon time in that organization’s history. The Boston Red Sox won just one pennant with Ted Williams, but they always had hope. They had Ted Williams.
But with Shohei Ohtani’s elbow pooched, their rotation in disrepair, a paucity of impact talent in the upper levels of their minor-league system, and a general penchant for disappointment, it’s hard to feel hopeful for the Angels. In fact, it’s disconcertingly easy to envision them squandering two more sensational seasons from Trout, who’s played in one postseason series since debuting with Los Angeles in 2011. Even with a fully healthy Ohtani, the Angels, as currently constituted, would struggle to dethrone the Houston Astros in the American League West in 2019. And barring a free-agency bonanza – a strategy that has yielded nothing but headaches for Los Angeles in recent years – the Angels are probably no better than hoping for a wild-card berth in the next two seasons.
To its credit, the Angels’ front office appears to recognize that its short-term outlook is bleak (or at least considerably bleaker than it should be given that it employs the two most talented players on the planet). Already, it seems, the Angels are looking to the future. But, as general manager Billy Eppler declared last week, that future won’t revolve around any trade involving Trout. (In Eppler’s defense, negotiating an equitable deal would be functionally impossible; Trout is simply too good for any team to stomach what would be a fair acquisition cost.)
Instead, the Angels are expected to broach a lifetime contract extension with Trout this offseason, according to Jon Heyman of FanCred Sports – and though the club has been guilty in recent years of throwing good money after bad, no deal involving Trout could fit that description. Keeping Trout for the long haul would not only set the organization up for success beyond the foreseeable future, but it would also considerably relieve the pressure to win in the near term. If they can lock up Trout, the Angels can take the prudent approach with Ohtani. He can have his surgery tomorrow. He can take his sweet time recovering. Trout will still be there. They can still rule the world together.
And this is a contract that even the Angels couldn’t screw up. Ironically, after dishing out so many misbegotten deals over the years – overpaying the likes of Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, and Josh Hamilton – the Angels will end up underpaying Trout should he agree to an extension. It’s impossible not to. He is simply too good to receive a contract commensurate to his value.
|2019||27||9.1||$8.4 M||$76.4 M|
|2020||28||9.1||$8.8 M||$80.3 M|
|2021||29||9.1||$9.3 M||$84.3 M|
|2022||30||9.1||$9.7 M||$88.5 M|
|2023||31||8.6||$9.7 M||$83.6 M|
|2024||32||8.1||$9.7 M||$78.8 M|
|2025||33||7.6||$9.7 M||$73.9 M|
|2026||34||7.1||$9.7 M||$69.0 M|
|2027||35||6.6||$9.7 M||$64.2 M|
|2028||36||6.1||$9.7 M||$59.3 M|
|2029||37||5.6||$9.7 M||$54.5 M|
|2030||38||4.8||$9.7 M||$47.2 M|
|2031||39||4.1||$9.7 M||$39.9 M|
|2032||40||3.3||$9.7 M||$32.6 M|
(Figures courtesy: FanGraphs’ contract estimator)
- Value: $8.4M/WAR with 5.0 percent inflation (for first three years);
- Aging curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)
If Trout continues performing like the inner-circle Hall of Famer he is and also ages accordingly, the two-time MVP could provide nearly a billion dollars in value (after crudely accounting for inflation) for the remainder of his career. A billion dollars! The Angels could sign Trout to a 14-year, $500-million extension today, which would keep him in Anaheim through his age-40 season (assuming the new contract covers the 2019 and 2020 campaigns), and receive more than that amount in surplus value. He’s a bargain at any cost, in other words, even if he doesn’t realize the lofty projections above. He just turned 27 in July and already boasts more career WAR than Vladimir Guerrero, Willie Stargell, Hank Greenberg, and Joey Votto. He has been on the disabled list twice in seven full seasons in the big leagues. And offensively, at least, he’s somehow still getting better.
Of course, whether Trout wants to take the Angels’ money, be it now or in 18 months, remains to be seen. For virtually his entire career, the Angels have failed to provide him with a sufficiently competent supporting cast, and as Heyman notes, “Trout’s biggest concern seems to be to play for a winner.” Free agency would likely represent a safer path to October baseball. And another losing season in 2019, it figures, would only further compel Trout to test the open market.
In other words, the Angels don’t have any more time to waste.
Are A’s better off playing wild-card game on the road?
Locals know to bring a jacket when attending a ballgame at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, irrespective of season. Situated in one of the milder regions of Northern California, vulnerable to winds howling in off the San Francisco Bay, the Coliseum can make a July matinee reminiscent, elements-wise, of an October game anywhere else.
The ballpark’s climate isn’t so kind to hitters, either.
“Fly balls die in Oakland,” as the great Eno Sarris, then of FanGraphs, observed in 2016.
Perhaps, then, the Athletics‘ recent surge – which has pulled them within 1 1/2 games of the New York Yankees, who are currently poised to host Oakland in the American League wild-card game – could have some less-than-ideal consequences. Maybe, given the way their team is constructed, the A’s would be best-served playing that one-game playoff on the road, in the Bronx.
Collectively, the Athletics hit a higher percentage of balls in the air than any other team. This approach has worked out famously: only the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers are averaging more extra bases per-at bat than the Athletics, who also rank third in the majors in home runs. Not surprisingly, the A’s score more runs per game, on average, than all but four teams, and their park-adjusted metrics (109 wRC+) are even more impressive.
At home, however, even though the Athletics hit the ball with comparable authority to when they’re on the road, their fly balls don’t yield the same kind of results. The Athletics are merely OK offensively there, and decidedly less potent than they are outside the confines of the Coliseum.
|Split||xwOBA||wOBA||Diff||wRC+ (MLB rank)|
Only the New York Mets – who also play in an inhospitable ballpark for hitters – have a larger negative disparity than the A’s between their offensive performance at home versus on the road this season. (Only eight teams fare better on the road than at home, offensively.)
|Results||Away wOBA||Home wOBA||Diff|
The Athletics may need to score a lot of runs to win the wild-card game, too. With left-hander Sean Manaea done for the year, their options to start that game – assuming manager Bob Melvin decides to go with a conventional starter – are Edwin Jackson, Mike Fiers, Trevor Cahill, Daniel Mengden, and Brett Anderson. All five, in fairness, have exceeded expectations this year; all five represent less-than-attractive options against the Yankees regardless of venue, putting increased pressure on Oakland’s offense.
Playing at home, in a much more spacious ballpark, would give Oakland’s starter a greater margin for error, and conceivably create more opportunities for the Athletics’ elite defense – they lead the majors in defensive efficiency – to make game-changing plays. The Yankees strike out a lot, though, meaning the impact of Oakland’s defense is already somewhat compromised.
The Athletics have been better at home than on the road this year, but with their World Series hopes hinging on a one-game playoff against another offensive juggernaut, an environment in which they can fight fire with fire may be optimal.
O Captain! My Captain!
It was only a matter of time before David Wright conceded what his body had been telling him for so long – chiefly, that he can’t play baseball anymore. When the 35-year-old third baseman effectively announced his retirement last week (he avoided using that word, but we all know what he meant), having been felled by a chronic spinal condition, he hadn’t appeared in a big-league game in 839 days. In that time, he underwent three surgeries and worked tirelessly to get back on the field, even as his chances of mounting a successful comeback dwindled. Ultimately, his efforts proved futile. As agonizing as it was for the New York Mets icon to call it quits, perhaps the announcement offered him a modicum of relief, too.
Before his body betrayed him, Wright seemed ticketed for Cooperstown. He may get there still. Selected with the 38th overall pick in the 2001 draft, Wright established himself as one of baseball’s premier players at 22, in his first full season in the big leagues. He excelled in every facet of the game. From 2005 through 2013, he accrued more WAR than every player in the majors except Pujols, Chase Utley, and Miguel Cabrera, hitting .302/.384/.505 (138 wRC+) while averaging 23 home runs, 36 home runs, and 20 stolen bases per season. Wright did the seemingly impossible, too, in making the Mets respectable.
And hopefully, when he takes the field in Queens on Sept. 29 for presumably the final time in his career, the atmosphere at Citi Field will be more celebratory than funereal. The Mets and their fans have much to be somber about, but having David Wright back on the field, if only for one more afternoon, doesn’t qualify.
Francisco ‘The Tool Boy’ Mejia
Francisco Mejia, the highly touted catching prospect acquired by the San Diego Padres in July, smacked a walk-off grand slam Sunday at Petco Park. In doing so, he became just the second rookie in Padres history to record a walk-off grand slam. It was an impressive blast. You can see it for yourself here:
More importantly, though, Mejia’s heroics gave veteran catcher A.J. Ellis an opportunity to share with the world my new favorite way of describing a roundly and uniquely gifted player.
“Man, he’s really tooled up,” Ellis told MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell.
Surely, you’ve heard players referred to as “toolsy” before. Maybe you’ve even heard one described as a “toolshed,” connoting an even greater level of prodigiousness. But “tooled up”? That’s elite. An 80-grade expression. We are forever in your debt, A.J. Ellis. It’s so good that it transcends context, I feel. Like, you’re at a rock concert and the guitarist is shredding solos and nailing difficult harmonies? Dude is tooled up. The old guy at the gym who clowns a bunch of 20-somethings in squash and then puts in, like, 90 minutes on the elliptical? Tooled up. Your data scientist roommate who also knows how to cook and play the ukelele? Tooled. Up.
Yelich does it again
Here’s an exhaustive list of the National League position players with more fWAR than Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich, who hit for the cycle for the second time this season Monday night:
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore’s senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)