Angels are in desperate times but determined to resist desperate measures, like trading Mike Trout
The “fire Mike Scioscia” campaign has already begun on social media, as if the Angels’ dismissing their manager would magically heal Andrelton Simmons’ thumb and the elbows of Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs.
Another option that has actually been floated in the mainstream media: trade Mike Trout, one of the best players in baseball, for a haul of talent that could replenish the big league roster and a depleted farm system.
General Manager Billy Eppler wisely shot down that speculation when, in the wake of Richards’ season-ending elbow injury, he said there was “no chance” he would trade Trout, adding, “You do not move superstar players.”
Their cleanup hitter, Albert Pujols, is a shadow of the slugger who terrorized the National League for 11 years. He can still pop the ball out of the park, but he enters Tuesday’s opener of a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals with a .190 average, .269 on-base percentage and .362 slugging percentage.
Pujols is also 36, he’s been reduced to a designated hitter, and there are five years and $140 million left on his contract — after this season.
The Angels have three reliable hitters: Trout, third baseman Yunel Escobar and right fielder Kole Calhoun. First baseman C.J. Cron has shown power potential but not the consistency to provide it in the big leagues.
Owner Arte Moreno’s reluctance to incur a payroll luxury tax prevented Eppler from signing a premier free-agent left fielder last winter, leaving the Angels with a less-than-desirable platoon of Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry, who hasn’t played since April 25 because of a back injury.
Second baseman Johnny Giavotella is a gamer who gets the most out of his abilities, but Robinson Cano, he is not. Carlos Perez is a fine young defensive catcher with limited offensive upside.
Oh, and the Angels are paying Josh Hamilton, Moreno’s $125-million vanity free-agent signing/disaster, $46 million through next season to play for Texas. Hamilton, on the Rangers’ 60-day disabled list with a knee injury, is the Angels’ third-biggest investment behind Pujols and Trout.
Scioscia is right when he says there is more offense than this struggling group has shown so far, but does anyone really believe this is a championship-caliber lineup?
The Angels rotation is in tatters, the 2016 season turning into a farewell to arms. Richards, their ace, and possibly Heaney are headed for ligament-replacement surgery. Skaggs has been slow to return from elbow surgery. C.J. Wilson is on the shelf until at least June with shoulder inflammation.
About the only bright spot has been a bullpen that, buoyed by the young arms of Mike Morin, Cam Bedrosian and Greg Mahle, ranks fourth in the American League with a 2.68 earned-run average and third with a .206 batting average against. But even that is accompanied by a downside: closer Huston Street is on the DL with an oblique strain.
It’s a fine mess the Angels have gotten themselves into, and there is no quick or easy fix. A dearth of quality prospects makes it almost impossible to trade for an impact pitcher or fill holes on the big league roster from within.
Next winter’s free-agent class is one of the worst in recent history, especially for starting pitchers. Stephen Strasburg topped the list until he agreed to a seven-year, $175-million extension with Washington on Monday. That leaves Andrew Cashner and little else.
The Angels (13-18) have lost seven of nine and were five games off the American League West lead on Monday. Eppler, citing the resiliency the Angels showed in crawling back into contention last September, is not ready to give up and begin a fire sale. “We’re going to fight,” he said.
But if the Angels continue to slide as June and July approach, Eppler should take advantage of a seller’s market and begin trading big leaguers for prospects.
“I’m not even going to go there,” Eppler said Monday, when asked what he would do if the Angels were out of contention at the All-Star break. “I refuse to give up on this year. . . . We’ll get some pitching back, guys will return and recover, and we will compete.”
Some $40 million will come off the books with the expected departures of Jered Weaver and Wilson after this season, but the Angels still have about $90 million committed to four players plus Hamilton in 2017.
Moreno, whose misguided spending helped cause the current predicament — the Angels also lost two first-round picks for signing Pujols and Hamilton — may have no choice but to take a luxury tax hit if the Angels are to sign high-end free-agents next winter.
“We have some money clearing off at the end of this year, and we’ll allocate that with an eye toward our club year in and year out, and with an eye toward continuing to build,” Eppler said.
With any luck, Richards, Heaney and Skaggs will all be healthy by the end of 2017. Combined with some shrewd trades, free-agent signings and a few high draft picks, the Angels could be in a position to contend by 2018 or 2019.
If not? Only then should they consider trading Trout, whose six-year, $144.5-million contract expires after 2020. The Angels could net a bundle of young big leaguers and prospects for the star center fielder.
Perhaps, as a condition of a deal, they could ask the team acquiring Trout to take the final two or three years of Pujols’ 10-year, $240-million contract.
But those decisions are years away, and Eppler, the first-year GM who signed a four-year deal last fall, will have plenty of time to figure them out.
A more immediate concern for Eppler and the injury ravaged Angels: finding starting pitchers for Wednesday and Saturday night.
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