From the moment the news broke that Angels RHP Garrett Richards needed Tommy John surgery, the baseball world has been abuzz with Mike Trout trade talk.* It’s easy to understand why. The Angels are bad. How bad? They remind me a little of the 2015 Reds. Going into the season the talk was that the Angels could contend if everything went right – a sentiment similar to what most of us said a year ago about our beloved ball club. Well, like the 2015 Reds, things haven’t gone right and, again, like the 2015 Reds, the Angels are falling apart fast. In fact, the Angels look so bad that it’s unfathomable how they won 85 games last season. They have the 6th worst offense in baseball and are the worst base running team in the game. Their pitching has been middle-of-the-pack, but losing Richards (and Andrew Heaney) – far and away their best pitcher – was a big blow. Their rotation right now is Hector Santiago, the ghost of Jeff Weaver, some guy named Nick Tropeano, and two TBAs.
(*This blog post was written hours before Andrelton Simmons was put on the DL with a fractured thumb, an injury that could keep him out the entire year. Fire, meet fuel. Fuel, meet fire.)
As bad as the big league team has been, the bigger problem is that there is no help on the way. The farm system is capital “B” barren with ESPN’s Keith Law writing that, “this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” The Angels desperately need a talent infusion. Unfortunately, it appears the front office isn’t going to do that until (at least) they shed the bloated contracts of CJ Wilson and Weaver after the 2016 season. But they still have to pay Josh Hamilton nearly $30 million to not play for them in 2017 and then there’s the Albert Pujols albatross that they’ll be paying until time immemorial. In short, it looks like the only way to bring in talent is to shop the one piece of talent they have: Michael Nelson Trout.
Half of the talking heads say the Angels should trade Trout. The other half vehemently disagrees. Of course, it’s pure conjecture. The Angels have gone out of their way to tell anyone and everyone that they are not trading Trout…but that doesn’t mean we can’t do a little bit o’ conjecturing ourselves! So put on your pleated khakis and polo shirt, it’s time to play GM.
Is Mike Trout Worth Trading For?
Yes. That was easy. Next question.
Mike Trout is so good that we don’t realize how good he is. Last year a friend had the gall to suggest that Trout was as good as Mickey Mantle. I hemmed and I hawed and then, after spending a day or two lusting over Trout’s baseball-reference page, I realized that my friend was wrong. Mike Trout is not as good as Mickey Mantle. He’s better. Trout is Mantle if Mantle hadn’t blown out his knee in the 1951 World Series. Check out this list of the best players in baseball through their age 24 season. Trout is 3rd, behind Ty Cobb and The Mick. Pretty good, right? But here’s the catch: This year is Trout’s age 24 season. He’s got nearly five full months to add to his WAR total. He’ll easily pass Mantle and there’s a good chance he’ll pass Cobb.
And just for fun, I pulled up a list of the best players through their age 25 season. Trout is already 7th. (And he’s still in the top 25 for best players through their age 26 season.)
Even better, Trout is under team control through 2020. He is only getting paid $16 million this season but that jumps to $20 million in 2017 and then $34 million each year from 2018-2020. In this day and age, $34 million for Mike Trout is, frankly, a bargain. But it’s still a pretty hefty price for one player – especially if you are, say, a small market team on the Ohio River. (No, not you Pittsburgh. Go away.) More on that later.
Who should the Reds trade?
The Angels aren’t picky; they need everything – and they need a lot of it. The majority of the scuttlebutt focuses on the Dodgers, Red Sox, Rangers, and (gulp) Cubs as possible trade partners because each of those teams has both high-end talent and depth. But so do the Reds. In fact, the Reds have arguably the best overall collection of young arms in all of baseball. MiLB.com ranked them as the 4th best going into the season and just about every arm has exceeded expectations so far. You know which team desperately needs young arms? That’s right. The Angels were dead last in that prospect pitchers list. And while the Reds might not have as many blue chip offensive prospects as pitching prospects, they have enough to talk.
The hard part is finding a good comparison to use as a baseline. Established superstars who are young and under team control just don’t get traded – primarily because they are, well, young superstars under team control. I think the best comp is Miguel Cabrera who was traded after his age 24 season for Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin – two consensus top 10 prospects. But as good as Miguel Cabrera was in 2007 (and he was very good – he shows up at 52nd in that list of best players through their age 24 season) he wasn’t Mike Trout good. Not even close. Nor was he under team control for four more seasons.
I think you’re looking at a minimum of three top tier prospects just to get the Angels to answer the phone. Chances are the Angels would ask for a handful of second and third tier guys as well. So, hypothetically, a Reds offer could look something like: Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett, Jessie Winker, Nick Travieso, and Tyler Stephenson. That’s Baseball America’s 1, 3, 5, 6, and 8 prospects. (MLB.com has them as 2, 4, 1, 7, and 9 respectively.) We might not be able to match up with the top, top tier that the Dodgers could offer, but we can match them on depth.
That is a haul – but it doesn’t deplete the system. The Reds still have Cody Reed, Jose Peraza, Rookie Davis, and several other quality prospects. Plus there will be the massive number of players acquired via the upcoming draft and international free agent period. The Reds could add another player or two to the above proposal and still be okay. You know what, LA? We’ll throw in Yorman Rodriguez. And JJ Hoover. You’re welcome. No, really. We insist. Take Hoover. All we ask is for a couple of Disneyland passes, a gift card to In & Out, and, you know, Mike Trout.
Or maybe the Angels want established MLB players + prospects. If you were a GM for another team, which young Reds big leaguer would be the most tantalizing? My guess is that we’d all say Raisel Iglesias, even with the DL stint. (Eugenio Suarez is a distant 2nd with…um…Brandon Finnegan 3rd? I really don’t know. Layne Somsen?) So, trade option #2 is Iglesias, Suarez, Robert Stephenson,Travieso, and Tyler Stephenson. (I’ll throw in Yorman on that one too. And JJ Hoover, too. I’m a nice guy.)
Personally, I think the Angels should use Trout as a way to get out from under Pujols’ contract. Of course, that would kill any chance of the Reds being involved.
Should the Reds trade for Mike Trout?
A 1-2 punch of Mike Trout and Joey Votto is the stuff that dreams are made of. No, really. I’ve had those dreams. Mike, Joey, and I are all best friends and we spend our days eating ice cream, playing Risk, and talking about what we want to do when we grow up. We even have a nickname: The Three Fishes – Trout, Carp, and the elusive Vottofish. It’s stupid, but that’s what best friends are for, right? Right?
A little before he’s attacked by a T-Rex in Jurassic Park, Dr. Ian Malcolm smolderingly criticizes the amusement park, telling Dr. Hammond that, “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Time to stop the proverbial velociraptor genome sequencing and think about if we should be trading for Trout.
We’ve been burned by this whole trading-for-a-star-outfielder thing before. 16 years ago the greatest player on the planet (and #9 on that best player list before the age of 24, by the way) was traded to Cincinnati. That didn’t turn out so well. The 2000s should have been the greatest decade in the Queen City since the 1970s, but baseball is a strange game. Having the best player doesn’t guarantee you anything. (Case in point: Bryce Harper is the other player mentioned as “best” in baseball today. The Cubs pitched around him last weekend and swept the Nationals.) Barry Bonds never won a World Series. Neither did Ted Williams or Ty Cobb. And sadly, neither did Ken Griffey Jr. If we’ve learned anything the last 16 years, it’s that depth is incredibly important when putting together a baseball team. You have to have good pitching, good hitting, good defense, and depth. Trading a ton of talent for one player is an extremely risky move. Oh, and it’s kind of silly to compare 24 year old Mike Trout (who has played four full seasons in the majors) with 30 year old Ken Griffey (who had played 11).
Plus there’s the contract issue. If we traded for Mike Trout and kept Joey Votto we would be paying two guys approximately $60 million. That would be more than half of the 2015 payroll, which, by the way, is the largest payroll in franchise history. It’s hard to fathom a way the front office could add a piece like Trout without shedding money elsewhere. Where’s that money coming from? Brandon Phillips won’t be happy until he’s rejected trades to every team in baseball. (Which is his right as a 10/5 guy. Sigh.) No one apparently wants Jay Bruce, at least not yet. Homer Bailey is coming off of Tommy John surgery. And Joey has a no-trade and has mentioned multiple times that he has absolutely no interest in waiving it. There’s the mythical television contract that is “supposedly happening very soon” but am I the only one who fully expects the TV bubble to burst just when it’s time for the Reds to sign on the dotted line?
“Okay,” you say, “but what if the front office does add payroll. Would you do it?”
Yes. Yes I would. And that kind of caught me by surprise. When I started this little blog post assignment I thought it was kind of pointless. The Angels aren’t trading Mike Trout. And you don’t trade five top prospects (and Yorman and The Hoov) or two budding star players and three top prospects (and Yorman and The Hoov ) for one guy, right? (Side note: Yorman and the Hoov sounds like an awesome buddy cop TV show.)
But it’s Mike Trout! Mike Freaking Trout! And he could be ours! I started looking at our prospect depth (which is really, really strong) and the upcoming draft/international free agency pool. And then I imagined Trout patrolling centerfield. And how in a couple of years our prospect depth would be ready to contribute and we could add them to a strong nucleus. And then I thought about how BP and Bruce’s contracts would be off our payroll in the next year or two which would give us a little flexibility. And then I started thinking about ticker tape parades and how I would have to get a second job in order to buy all of the 2018 World Series Champions paraphernalia that I was going to have to buy. And then I started thinking about The Three Fishes and how Mike would always try to take all of Asia and Joey would just hunker down in Australia and…well, I may or may not have purchased a custom ordered Trout Reds jersey-tee.