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Angels

Mailbag: Mike Trout’s MVP case, Kole Calhoun’s future and more Angels answers

Angels slugger Mike Trout bats against the Oakland Athletics on Sept. 5.
Has Angels slugger Mike Trout done enough to win his third American League MVP honor?
(Getty Images)

Welcome to the final week of the Angels’ 2019 season. Six games remain. There is a chance this club loses 90 games for the first time since Terry Collins was forced out late in 1999 and the Joe Maddon-led group went 19-10 on the way to a 70-92 record.

Nothing in 2019 went the way the Angels had hoped it might.

Except for, maybe, Mike Trout chasing a third most valuable player award.

Let’s take a look at what is on fans’ minds heading into another October-less Angels offseason.

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Thanks for all the questions. And thanks for following along this season.

No. The Angels would be losing their biggest draw — both in terms of business and in attracting free agents — and they would have gone on to be known as the franchise that let Hall of Famer Mike Trout get away. They went through that with Nolan Ryan. There are other ways to acquire talent.

The second part of the question is interesting.

MVPs and champions

A look at the American and National League MVPs and champions since 2009.

Year AL MVP NL MVP AL champ NL champ
Year2018 AL MVPMookie Betts (Red Sox) NL MVPChristian Yelich (Brewers) AL champRed Sox NL champDodgers
Year2017 AL MVPJose Altuve (Astros) NL MVPGiancarlo Stanton (Marlins) AL champAstros NL champDodgers
Year2016 AL MVPMike Trout (Angels) NL MVPKris Bryant (Cubs) AL champIndians NL champCubs
Year2015 AL MVPJosh Donaldson (Blue Jays) NL MVPBryce Harper (Nationals) AL champRoyals NL champMets
Year2014 AL MVPMike Trout (Angels) NL MVPClayton Kershaw (Dodgers) AL champRoyals NL champGiants
Year2013 AL MVPMiguel Cabrera (Tigers) NL MVPAndrew McCutchen (Pirates) AL champRed Sox NL champCardinals
Year2012 AL MVPMiguel Cabrera (Tigers) NL MVPBuster Posey (Giants) AL champTigers NL champGiants
Year2011 AL MVPJustin Verlandet (Tigers) NL MVPRyan Braun (Brewers) AL champRangers NL champCardinals
Year2010 AL MVPJosh Hamilton (Rangers) NL MVPJoey Votto (Reds) AL champRangers NL champGiants
Year2009 AL MVPJoe Mauer (Twins) NL MVPAlbert Pujols (Cardinals) AL champYankees NL champPhillies

There have been only five instances in the last decade where the MVP award winner came from a pennant-winning team. The only clean sweep came in 2012.

Note to those in the “Trout doesn’t play for a winning team so he can’t be MVP” camp: Trout won the award in 2016 despite playing for a team that finished in fourth place in the division with an 80-82 record.

If they’re able to hit their top wish-list targets, a strong starting rotation should finally help the Angels clear the biggest hurdle they’ve faced during GM Billy Eppler’s tenure. Promoting top prospect Jo Adell at some point next year, getting a healthy Justin Upton back and shoring up the weakest part of the roster will improve the Angels’ chances of competing for a postseason berth as soon as 2020.

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But the Astros aren’t going away soon. They still have marquee players under control through 2021: Justin Verlander, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr. and Zack Greinke. Bregman and Altuve are signed through 2024, and George Springer could very well receive an extension to join them. Their farm system took a tumble down the Baseball America rankings, but only because they shipped top prospects to Arizona for Greinke and because they promoted Yordan Alvarez. Alvarez, with his 1.103 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 77 RBIs, is the leading candidate to win the AL rookie of the year award.

Oh, and the pesky Athletics always find a way to contend.

So the Angels’ pursuit of ending their five-year-long postseason drought is an uphill battle. If I have to give you a year for when they will be “true contenders” … There are too many variables for 2020, so let’s say 2021.

Hey, look, that’s the last year Albert Pujols is under contract.

I can’t predict it. There are so many variables.

Kole Calhoun is entrenched in the Angels clubhouse. His presence means a lot to Trout, which is no small thing. His middle-of-the-order bat and Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field are valuable, too.

Losing Calhoun would be tough but not impossible to overcome. The Angels could rely on Brian Goodwin to be a full-time starter in right field while they wait for the debut of Adell, who ended his injury-shortened season at triple-A with a .264 average and .676 OPS in the 27 games after his promotion from double-A. Or they could decide Adell, who is playing in the prospect finishing school otherwise known as the Arizona Fall League, has made enough strides to legitimately compete for a starting MLB spot out of spring training.

At any rate, the $14-million option on Calhoun’s contract is steep, especially for a team that is prioritizing adding at least one front-line starting pitcher. The Angels have roughly $40 million coming off the books, and at least four players (Cam Bedrosian, Hansel Robles, Tommy La Stella and Goodwin) among the 12 eligible for arbitration are due nice raises. A top-tier pitcher such as pending free agent Gerrit Cole could easily command half of that (in terms of average annual salary).

If they decide Goodwin isn’t ready to handle full-time duty — Goodwin acquitted himself rather well filling in for Upton the first two months of season, posting a .291 average with an .811 OPS and passable defense — the Angels could manufacture a workaround. They could buy out Calhoun’s contract and negotiate a one-year deal for the $10.5 million he earned this year.

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Doing that may be hard, though, especially since Calhoun will turn 32 in a few weeks. It might behoove him to get a multi-year guarantee from another team — say, the Miami Marlins, who will have an outfield opening after aging veteran Curtis Granderson’s contract expires.

This is such a tired perception. Eppler has not tanked the franchise. He signed Shohei Ohtani, locked down (and earned the trust of) Trout, traded for Andrelton Simmons — one of the sport’s best shortstops — within months of taking the reins and has begun to shore up a farm system that was in tatters when he inherited it.

Are there contracts he negotiated that have not panned out? Yes, several.

Are there still strides that need to be made? Yes. That is why Moreno exercised Eppler’s option for 2020 rather than just extend his contract.

But Eppler has also been dealt massive blows. Injuries have wiped every ounce of potential that existed in the starting rotations he has put together since being named GM in October 2015. The Angels weren’t going to seriously contend for a wild card this year with the likes of Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill in the rotation, but Tyler Skaggs’ tragic death July 1 all but ensured that this 2019 group would have a tough time staying within a respectable distance of a .500 record.

Eppler deserves at least one more year to push this team to the next level. The topic of Eppler’s competence should be revisited after this critical offseason.

La Stella, a first-time All-Star whose season was derailed by a foul ball to the shin, will be given every opportunity to return as the team’s starting second baseman. His positional versatility will make sure that he remains in the lineup, alongside David Fletcher, Simmons and Pujols (who will share time with the backup first baseman, Jared Walsh, maybe?).

The Angels will have to move Luis Rengifo, Zack Cozart and Félix Peña off the 60-day injured list, so they will need at least three players dropped from the 40-man roster.

I’ll just list the names of players in biggest danger of being released, alphabetically within position groups: Pitchers Luis Garcia, Adalberto Mejia, Nick Tropeano; and infielders Justin Bour and Kaleb Cowart.

Tropeano is the only player on that list with a minor league option remaining for 2020.

I’ve heard nothing to suggest the entire coaching staff will not return for 2020. Outfielders love working with Jesus Feliciano; Doug White and Andrew Bailey have won over most of their pitchers; and the triumvirate of hitting coaches has done a nice job continuing to nurture Calhoun and has helped the entire offense maintain a healthy contact-first approach (the Angels have struck out 1,216 this year, third-fewest in baseball) while remaining middle-of-the-pack in just about every other category.

The unspoken question is whether or not Ausmus is sticking around. The answer is yes.

The Angels intend to deploy Ohtani the pitcher as they did in 2018, as part of a six-man rotation. But it’s hard to say right now if they’ll continue to use the “opener” strategy. That will depend on the acquisitions the Angels make to shore up their ailing starting staff, and what steps forward their back-of-the-rotation starters make. You can almost be certain the Angels will not use an opener in front of Griffin Canning (returning from elbow inflammation), Andrew Heaney (a veteran who will be entering his seventh season), Ohtani and whomever they are able to sign to lead the rotation. Jaime Barria is on that list, too, because he was never able to comfortably adapt to the idea of entering the game in the middle of a lineup.

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So, really, the only so-called “primary pitchers” who would need an opener are Peña, who had knee surgery to repair a torn ACL in August, and rookie José Suarez.

Ausmus won’t discount the idea, though. He has continued to praise the logic of using a reliever to face the first three to six hitters in a lineup because it allows the primary pitcher to face more hitters before seeing the top of a lineup a third time, which is commonly the point in the game pitchers begin to tire. If a starter begins at the top of the lineup, he faces 18 batters before turning the leadoff hitter returns for a third go. If a pitcher enters the game to face the No. 4 or No. 5 batter, he faces 23 or 24 batters before seeing the top of the lineup a third time.

I don’t have that power, but I am here to remind you there are only six games left. The Athletics come to town for two Tuesday and the Astros arrive for four on Thursday. A highlight: Cy Young award contender Cole is expected to start the season finale. That should be a treat.

Cue up your happiest playlist, keep Angels broadcaster Mark Langston in your thoughts and soak it all in. The last out of the season will be cathartic.


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