The year that could define the history of a franchise is 2020. That is the last year of Mike Trout’s contract. The Angels never have won a postseason game with him, and it would be the cruelest possible look if the best player in baseball decided he needed to sign elsewhere in free agency for the best shot at October glory.
This season’s playoffs went on without the Angels yet again, but since then, they have signed perhaps the best power hitter available, Justin Upton, the best of the liberated Atlanta Braves prospects, Kevin Maitan, and now the grand prize: on Friday, the most fascinating player on the planet.
Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese pitcher and hitter, shocked the baseball world by deciding to sign with the Angels.
Since the Angels won the 2002 World Series, there have been two similar defining moments for the franchise: in 2004, when Vladimir Guerrero fell into their laps in free agency; and in 2009, when Mike Trout fell to them with the 25th pick of the draft.
Guerrero won a most valuable player award. Trout won two.
The Angels never got to the World Series with either player. So this is a day for the Angels to celebrate, yes, but also to be mindful of one of general manager Billy Eppler’s favorite words: opportunistic.
The Angels need to take advantage of the Ohtani surprise. They were the last team eliminated from the American League playoff race last year. They will have a full season from Upton, who provides better protection for Trout than Albert Pujols these days, and from Ohtani, who ought to combine with Garrett Richards for what could become one of the elite pitching duos in the league.
As of Friday — and before the Ohtani announcement — Fangraphs projected the Angels as a wild-card team in 2018, with 84 wins.
Don’t stop now. The margin for error is not large, but the opportunity to revitalize a franchise and its franchise player might never be better.
The Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians are very good. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are pretty good. Really, is there any other team in the AL that scares? This is the time.
The Angels have a vacancy at second base, uncertainty at third base and too many pitchers with either little history of success, or a history of injuries, or both. They’re not far away. Go get Wade Davis. Go bring Mike Moustakas home. Go sign Zack Cozart to team with Andrelton Simmons for a breathtaking defense. Heck, go get Yu Darvish.
They don’t have to do all those things. They’re all just ideas. But think big.
The eyes of baseball will fall on Anaheim next year. If the Angels put on a good show, they could set themselves up for success for years to come.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin