This is bigger than Yu Darvish.
You might have wondered if the Dodgers were trying their hardest to win the World Series, but you never had to wonder whether they were trying to win. The Dodgers were bound for October, with or without Darvish.
When the July 31 trade deadline came and the Angels were afloat in the wild-card race, they made one move: dumping one of their most reliable relievers for no good reason, and nothing good in return.
With one bold move on Thursday, the Angels announced they were back.
Back to relevance. Back to winning. Back to a commitment to excellence.
No longer will the Angels allow themselves to be held hostage by the ghost of Josh Hamilton. When they agreed to acquire Justin Upton from the Detroit Tigers on Thursday, they finally removed the“vacancy” sign from left field, three years after they exiled Hamilton to Texas.
They could have had Upton two winters ago, or Yoenis Cespedes, Dexter Fowler, Alex Gordon or Jason Heyward. They passed on them all, trying to pass off Craig Gentry and Daniel Nava as a legitimate major league platoon. They still had to pay Hamilton, after all.
The Angels’ left fielders have hit 27 home runs in the three years of the post-Hamilton era, seven this season. Upton has hit 28 home runs this season, 11 in August.
The Angels’ second basemen had a .589 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage), the lowest for any American League club at any position, aside from shortstop for the Kansas City Royals (Alcides Escobar). After two years and zero offense there in the post-Howie Kendrick era, the Angels doubled down on this year and traded for Brandon Phillips on Thursday as well.
Trout has drawn 11 walks in his last eight games, and not just because of his plate discipline. For most of the season, no Angels hitters besides Trout and Andrelton Simmons ranked above league average. They rank last in the AL in OPS. Frankly, with their starting pitching in tatters for most of the season, it’s a miracle they are in contention.
But they awoke Thursday — the last day before organizational rosters are frozen for postseason eligibility — and found themselves one game out of the second AL wild-card spot, two games behind the New York Yankees for the top wild-card spot.
The disabled list is clearing. Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs are back in the starting rotation, with ace Garrett Richards expected to follow any day now. C.J. Cron hit two home runs on Tuesday. Albert Pujols hit two home runs on Wednesday.
The players deserved some help, and owner Arte Moreno gave it to them.
Moreno doesn’t come around the ballpark as often as he used to, and he doesn’t have much to say publicly, leaving fans to wonder whether he remains engaged and interested in his team. He takes pride in running the team as a successful business, with no debt. He could sell the team for 10 times what he paid for it.
On Thursday, he showed he still is in it to win it. The Angels’ lone World Series appearance, remember, came the year before he bought the team.
This is the last year of the Hamilton contract. Moreno will pay about $35 million to left fielders this year — $26 million to Hamilton, the rest to Upton and Cameron Maybin.
It isn’t that the Angels’ payroll is taking a huge jump this year. It’s not. The Angels let the Houston Astros take Maybin on a waiver claim, and the $1.5 million the Angels save there will cover much of the $3.7 million Upton is owed for the rest of this season. The Tigers will pay some of that too. And the Angels’ commitment to the 36-year-old Phillips is less than $1 million; he’s a free agent come fall.
No, the plaudits for Moreno come because Upton has four years and $88.5 million left on his contract after this season. He could opt out, but Moreno assumed that risk — and, really, there’s not much to lose here.
The Angels know they get a month of Upton for a few million bucks, without losing either of their two legitimate prospects in the trade. They just might get four more years of a premium power hitter at a market rate.
Upton, who turned 30 last week, has hit at least 25 home runs five years running. They ought to hope he does not opt out. If he does, they won’t get a draft pick.
The Angels cannot dream of getting anywhere near that production of anyone in their farm system by 2020.
That is the last year of Trout’s contract. The Angels don’t have time for a tank job if they want to persuade him to stay. They need to show him they can win, with him, and soon.
And, as of Thursday, they are two big bats closer to doing something they never have done since baseball’s best player joined the Angels in 2011: winning a postseason game.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin