It is an annual cry from well-meaning baseball fans: Mike Trout needs to be liberated from the Angels. The cry has been heard again in recent days, with the Angels crashing into last place in the American League West.
If Trout were desperate for liberation, he would not be here. He likes the Angels, from the owner to his teammates. He believes he can win here. He approached free agency twice, and each time he signed a contract extension in Anaheim.
What if Shohei Ohtani does not feel the same way?
With the Angels teetering toward another lost season, and with Ohtani emerging as baseball’s must-see attraction, that question looms larger by the day. At the end of this season, Ohtani will be two years from free agency: the time when Trout made his most recent commitment to the Angels, and the time when the Angels could get maximum trade value for Ohtani if he were not prepared to make a similar commitment.
The Angels are caught in a vicious cycle: an owner respectfully unwilling to tank, a bottom-tier minor league system, a wave of unproductive drafts, and consistently poor pitching that undermines a pretty good lineup. In the last few years, the attempted fix has been short-term contracts to fill out the rotation.
If that were to work, that still would leave a hole or two for the following season. It has not worked for the Angels, with the worst earned-run average in the major leagues, four starters on expiring contracts, and a first-round draft pick who might or might not be able to replace one of those four starters.
The Angels also lead the majors in errors. And, for the “at least they can hit” crowd, well, the hitting is not very good this year.
The Angels and Dodgers each had eight players with at least 100 plate appearances entering Tuesday. The Dodgers had seven players who rated above league average, all but surging infielder Gavin Lux. The Angels had three: Ohtani, first baseman Jared Walsh and Trout, likely to remain on the injured list into July.