At just 25 years old, Mike Trout is arguably the best player in baseball, a once-in-a-generation talent, and a five-tool superstar. The Los Angeles Angels are lucky enough to have him on their team, and you would think that the organization would find a way to use his absurd skill set to their advantage.
It hasn’t happened that way. In fact, the Angels have done quite the opposite; they’ve somehow, some way wasted his other-worldly talent.
In Mike Trout’s five years in Major League’s baseball, he’s averaged 34 home runs, 99 RBI and 28 steals per 162 games. Additionally, he’s hit over .300 and made some amazing outfield catches over his first five seasons. Trout’s versatility and multitude of talents make him one of the best, if not the best player in all of baseball. He’s also stayed extraordinarily healthy throughout his career; in four full seasons in the majors, Trout has missed a grand total of 14 games, almost all of which can be chalked up to routine off days. Trout made his debut on July 8, 2011 but didn’t reach the show for good until April 28, 2012. If you don’t follow baseball, try to take a guess what the Angels’ record has been since that date. I’ll give you some time.
Okay, you have your guesses ready? Awesome. Prepare to be amazed. The Angels’ record since April 28, 2012 is:
Yes, since the best player on the planet has joined their team, the Los Angeles Angels have won 52.5% of their games. Many teams would kill to have a generational talent such as Trout, and most of those teams would find some way to have sustained success with Trout on the roster and playing every day. But no, these Angels are not one of those teams.
Instead, the Angels’ organization has completely botched the composition of almost the entirety of the rest of the roster. Through trades, flawed free agent acquisitions, and front office shakeups, the Los Angeles Angels have somehow become the most inefficiently-run organization in all of baseball, which isn’t exactly something to be proud of. To understand why they’re blowing it with Trout, we need to understand the scope of some of those moves and how they have hamstrung the organization for years to come.
The team’s first ill-fated free agency maneuver was signing Albert Pujols, then the best hitter in baseball, in the winter of 2011. The Angels inked Pujols to a ten-year, $300 million deal; at the time, Pujols was going into his age-32 season, which is around the time hitters’ skills begin to decline. Sure enough, that’s what has happened with the first baseman. While he has still averaged nearly 30 home runs per season in Los Angeles, his batting average in five years with the Angels his dipped to .263 (as opposed to a .328 figure with the Cardinals in the first 11 years of his career). That’s hardly worth a $300 million price tag. What’s worse is that Pujols no longer plays first base, which means that the Angels are paying someone $30 million per year to be a designated hitter. That’s not a worthwhile investment, to say the least.
But Pujols is hardly the only bad decision the Angels’ front office has made over the past five years. In that same offseason, newly-minted General Manager Jerry Dipoto signed pitcher C.J. Wilson to a five-year, $77.5 million deal. The problem is that Wilson was never that great a pitcher to begin with, as he only really had two great seasons before heading to L.A. That didn’t warrant the team giving him that much money at that point in time, but that’s the decision Dipoto and the front office made. Worst of all, the deal was heavily backloaded; Wilson is making a cool $20 million this year. Want to know how many starts he’s made this season? Zero. He underwent season-ending, reconstructive shoulder surgery in July. The Angels are paying him $20 million this season to rehab from injury, try to make a comeback in baseball, but most significantly of all, not pitch.
And then we come to Josh Hamilton.
Hamilton was one of the best players in all of baseball when the Angles plucked him from the Texas Rangers before the 2013 season. However, he had been known for a history of drug problems and alcohol abuse that caused several teams to stay away from him. Those problems were somewhat taken care of with the Rangers, where his support system of advisors and mentors helped him stay (mostly) clean. Unfortunately, that support system didn’t quite follow Hamilton to the West Coast. And the Angels organization didn’t exactly support him, either.
As you probably remember, Hamilton self-reported a third relapse, consisting of cocaine and alcohol abuse, to Major League Baseball in February of last year. While it’s terrible that Hamilton suffered yet another relapse, it was honorable that Hamilton was honest about his infraction. But that apparently wasn’t good enough for the Angels and owner Arte Moreno. After an arbitrator ruled that Hamilton would not be suspended by MLB for his conduct, Moreno took to the press to publicly denounce his star player and say that the team was looking to take action against him because of his lack of “accountability”. Okay, Arte, here’s some advice: if you don’t want to deal with his potential issues, which are a sensitive subject, don’t sign Josh Hamilton in the first place. Avoidance would have been a very easy way to deal with Hamilton’s problems, and instead of avoiding him, Moreno and Dipoto thought it would be a good idea to sign him. They know this could become a problem and pretended to be shocked when it did. That’s their fault. Hopefully, Hamilton can keep his problems in check and live happily, sober, and clean for the rest of his life. But the Angels messed up badly with Josh Hamilton, and there’s no escaping that fact.
And finally, there was the ultimate front office shakeup last season. A clash of wills between Dipoto and manager Mike Scioscia led to Dipoto’s resignation as the team’s GM in early July. While we’ve established that Dipoto was (and still is) a pretty terrible General Manager, Scioscia is not blameless in this situation, either. Under his tutelage, the Halos haven’t won a postseason series, much less a playoff game, since 2009. Since that year, the team has made the playoffs just once and has had four seasons between 80 and 89 wins. With the exception of this season, one that has Los Angeles on pace for just 67 wins, the Angels have been one of the most perennially mediocre teams in the game.
And it shows in the team’s farm system, too. Actually, calling the Angels’ conglomerate of minor league affiliates and players a farm system is disrespectful to the other 29 legitimate farm systems in baseball. I kid you not, these are real words from Keith Law, ESPN’s resident prospect expert, on the Angels’ minor league system. From January:
I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen. They traded their top two prospects in the Andrelton Simmons deal and had no one remotely close to top-100 status. They need a big draft this year to start to restock the system or we’re going to start talking about whether it’s time to trade Mike Trout.
And Law isn’t just saying that: the Angels legitimately have no good prospects in their system. One would’ve thought that the team would have tried to seriously restock their farm system at the deadline, a la the New York Yankees, but, as Law smartly points out, that would have entailed trading Trout. So the Angels have no good prospects and no trade chips they could use to go out and get solid prospects. The team and new GM Billy Eppler stayed quiet at the deadline, making no trades. I would criticize Eppler for this, but there was legitimately nothing he could’ve done besides dealing Trout, who is a once-in-a-generation talent. There’s really no use in getting rid of him. I actually feel bad for Eppler; it’s like he took over for someone in the middle of a Monopoly game and was given no properties and no money to work with. He’s bankrupt.
This is what Mike Trout has to look forward to. The team he plays for has no future and no present. He’s the best player in the game, and no one is caring to watch him or his team play. That’s sad, especially when you consider that the Angels have him under contract until 2020.
And if Trout isn’t traded before then, he’ll be languishing in the wallows of Anaheim, as the team that employs him wastes the best years of his career.