The Angels returned to work Tuesday night feeling somewhat deflated but undeterred.
A season that began with high expectations and promise — remember that 13-3 start? — deteriorated to the point that the Angels traded two everyday players, second baseman Ian Kinsler and catcher Martin Maldonado, for prospects this past week, an indication the front office is playing more for the future than the present.
It’s only human nature for the Angels, who expected to contend for the playoffs after acquiring Kinsler and Zack Cozart and retaining Justin Upton last winter, to feel a letdown.
But the show, and the season, must go on. There are two months left for the Angels (54-54), who remained 9½ games behind Seattle for the second American League wild-card spot.
“You go to battle with these guys every day — it hurts a little bit to look over your shoulder and not see them anymore,” shortstop Andrelton Simmons said before Tuesday night’s 10-6 loss at Tampa Bay. “But you just have to go out there and play and do the best you can, put good at-bats together every time and try to win. The goal doesn’t change.”
Mike Trout acknowledged that when teams trade impending free agents to contenders for prospects this time of year — Maldonado went to Houston and Kinsler to Boston — it creates an impression they’re raising the white flag.
“But we can’t look at it that way,” said Trout, who hit a 427-foot solo shot to center for his 30th home run. “People from the outside can speculate about deals like these, but the guys in here, we want to win, and we’re gonna fight until that last game.”
The Angels are not in tear-down-and-rebuild mode. General manager Billy Eppler got several trade inquiries on relievers Blake Parker, Jose Alvarez and Justin Anderson, but all three were Angels when Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline passed.
“We want to increase our win total,” Eppler said, “year in and year out.”
Eppler took exception to those who attached a “fire sale” label to the team’s trade-deadline transactions.
“My definition of a fire sale is when you put everything out on the lawn and people just walk by and start grabbing things,” Eppler said. “That’s not even close to what happened here.”
Manager Mike Scioscia said rookie infielder David Fletcher, who has played mostly third base in recent weeks, will replace Kinsler as the second baseman. Luis Valbuena, Jefry Marte and Kaleb Cowart, who was recalled from triple-A Salt Lake on Tuesday, will “mix and match” at third base.
The Angels opted against promoting triple-A third baseman Taylor Ward, a 2015 first-round pick who is batting .352 with a .993 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 14 homers and 57 RBIs across 91 games for double-A Mobile and Salt Lake. Ward, a converted catcher, is in his first season at third.
“He’s in a really good place right now,” Eppler said. “He was raking in double-A, and he’s raking in triple-A. The game is going to present you with a variety of plays, and the randomness of those plays is hard to replicate in practice. So him playing third base every day in Salt Lake right now is what we felt was best.”
Rookies Jose Briceno and Francisco Arcia are handling catching duties while veteran backup Rene Rivera recovers from a knee injury. Arcia set a major-league record with 10 RBIs in his first two games.
“He was one of the best second basemen I’ve ever played with when it came to turning double plays,” Simmons said. “He was very professional. It was a pleasure playing with him.”
Simmons, who tweaked his back on a swing Friday night, did not start Tuesday. He is expected to be back in the starting lineup Wednesday with a new double-play partner and the same motivation.
“You have to play for yourself, you have to put up good numbers and try to win,” Simmons said.
“You don’t fold after a good player gets traded,” he added.