By: Leigh Steinberg
ORIGINAL POST on Forbes.com
MLB Owners, Executives, Coaches, and Scouts spend their whole careers hoping and dreaming that just once they could discover and sign the perfect baseball player. If they could just find that one prospect with the perfect winning disposition, five tools, a transcendent athlete to build a team around for a generation--their job would be complete. The Angels struck gold and found their messiah in Mike Trout, who has been first or second in MVP voting the first five years of his career, and he is only 25. His unflagging cheerfulness and zest for the game are everything that makes us love baseball.
Because of bad decisions in drafting, trading and player development, Trout seems destined to play for a team with little hope of improving, whose only hope may be to trade him and rebuild with multiple players and prospects. Even though Mike is the ultimate loyal gamer, how fair is it to him to leave him languishing for a career without the hope of winning?
As a lifelong Angel fan who went to his first game and caught his first ball back in 1961, nothing could be more painful than to write these words. Imagining the Angels without Mike Trout, losing the everyday ability to see the best player in baseball is depressing. The fan base would erupt in outrage. Yet it is difficult to see any path of improvement for a team that went 74-88 in the American League West without a massive infusion of talent. The Angels had that sad record even with their leadoff hitter Yunel Escobar hitting .304, Cole Calhoun having his best offensive year, Trout winning the MVP, and 36 year old Albert Pujols having a resurgent year in which he drove in 119 runs, it is hard to see that core improving and they are hardly the problem.
Their pitching staff was non-productive. They have Tyler Skaggs who had Tommy John surgery in 2014, Andrew Heaney, and Nick Tropeano who had Tommy John surgery in 2016, and Garrett Richards who tore his knee tendon in 2014. Jared Weaver has come into the last days of his career. Finding four pitchers to comprise a steady rotation will be challenging.
The Angels are the victims of disastrous long-term contracts, especially Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson. In 2016 they had $48 million in dead money paid to players who were not there to contribute. In 2017, they start with $26 million in dead money. Albert Pujols, who was very productive this year, is now 36. His contract has 5 years and $165 million in guaranteed money remaining.
The Angels farm system was described by Keith Law of ESPN as "the worst system in baseball and the worst system he has ever seen." Bleacher Report agreed calling it "the worst farm system in the League." In 2012 they forfeited their first and second round draft picks. In 2013 they did not have a first round draft pick. Since 2010 they have only drafted and developed two starters on their current roster--Kole Calhoun and C.J. Cron. They simply do not have major league ready pitchers or position players in their farm system to bring up. And they don't have desirable prospects to package in trades.
Artie Moreno spent his early years with the Angels as the most fan friendly aggressive owner in the League. There were no limits to his willingness to spend to enhance the team. So many of the free agents failed, the trades yielded meager results, and it is hard to fault him for feeling disillusioned and burned. But without another massive financial commitment there is not much hope for the future. This off-season free agent market is not loaded with starting pitching talent. The best pitchers move through trades. Pitchers arms are always subject to making long-term contracts look foolish. So how does the team improve?
The Angels have one invaluable asset with the potential to deliver enough in trade value to reinvigorate the franchise--Mike Trout.