The Los Angeles Angels are wasting the prime years of one of the greatest baseball players ever, and it's even worse than you think. There are a slew of articles all across the internet that are trying to put a positive spin on things, mostly referencing Fangraphs newly posted 2017 projections which put the Angels at a surprising 85 wins despite the actual team looking worse than it did last offseason. As much as I love Fangraphs, they have been almost consistently wrong about the Angels. Fangraphs' own review of their projections since 2007 show that the variance in the Angels projected results compared to their actual results is one of the largest among all teams. Curiously, the Angels have done nothing but decline ever since the best player in baseball became the best player in baseball. There's a story to be told here, and it's not pretty so buckle up.
The bad news started early for the Angels in 2016 (as it often has in recent years) as they lost ace Garrett Richards to a torn elbow ligament in May. Things never really got better as the team stumbled to their fourth losing season in the last five. There were bright spots along the way, most notably the continued unbelievable, historic, unprecedented, (insert adjective here) performance of AL MVP and best player in baseball Mike Trout. Young starter Tyler Skaggs showed top of the rotation potential in the second half of the season, and Albert Pujols put together yet another stellar offensive season despite obvious signs of slowing down. Under different circumstances, what I've just described are the makings of a legitimate contender. Under the circumstances of the Angels' reality, however, all we see are the makings of a sinking ship that's already halfway submerged.
It's hard to put this picture together when you look back at the optimism around this team in 2012 after they handed then 3-time MVP Pujols a 10 year contract worth $240 million in free agency. In reality though, that's where the ship started to sink. After 8 consecutive All Star seasons and 10 straight seasons finishing in the top 5 of NL MVP voting in St. Louis, Pujols has failed to replicate any measure of that success for the Angels. The burden of this disastrous contract is only the first of a number of anchors dragging the Angels down into the depths of irrelevance.
The contracts that the Angels front office have given out to a number of players over the past several years have been nothing short of disastrous. Pujols is still owed more money between now and 2021 than Evan Longoria will earn throughout his entire career. And they're still paying Josh Hamilton to not play baseball for another team. And the ridiculously back-loaded 7 year deal they gave Mike Trout to keep him far far away from arbitration and free agency is just about to enter the ridiculous part, as he'll earn just $3 million less in 2017 alone than his total career earnings so far. And that number jumps up to $34 million for 2018, 2019, and 2020. All those "ands" start to make it clear just how screwed the Angels are once you look at the state of the rest of their team and their minor league system.
Because of the Angels' massive contractual obligations, they've been forced to take chance after chance on cheap role players to round out the roster around superstars Trout and Pujols. Johnny Giavotella. Daniel Nava. Craig Gentry. Andrew Heany. Jered Weaver. Matt Shoemaker. I could keep naming the subpar players that the Angels have run out over the past few years while masquerading as contenders, but it's starting to get depressing, and I have to save the real depression for the Angels' farm system.
If you took Old MacDonald's farm, gave all the animals smallpox, slaughtered all the smallpox-infected animals, and then dropped a nuclear weapon on the entire region, there would still be more life on Old MacDonald's farm than in the Angels'. What little signs of life they had left were shipped off to Atlanta last offseason in exchange for Andrelton Simmons, who while being one of the best defensive players in baseball, is also about as useful at the plate as Jay Bruce with a blindfold. Oh, and his contract is also scheduled to increased in each of the next three seasons. So...there's that.
If you put together all the Los Angeles Agony in the paragraphs above, it becomes apparent that the only real value the Angels have is in their major league lineup. The only realistic avenue to avoid a decade or more of 100+ loss seasons after Trout leaves in free agency is to do the unthinkable and accept what will probably be the biggest haul of talent and prospects ever received in a single trade by trading Mike Trout. Even then, there's a close to 100% chance that Mike Trout outperforms every single player they'd get in return, but if the alternative is being absolutely terrible for the next 4 years and then losing Trout in his prime in exchange for absolutely nothing...well maybe its time to think about it. And it's not as if there isn't value elsewhere; Kole Calhoun, Garrett Richards, Huston Street, Cameron Maybin, and Andrelton Simmons are all valuable commodities to some extend, and the sum of the returns from each of them would leave the Angels in a far better position long term than the one they find themselves in right now.
Mark Simon over at ESPN wrote that "The Angels are something between not terrible and reasonably decent. What they might become remains to be seen." I would agree with this if it had been written in 2010, when there was still hope in Los Angeles, before the years of terrible front office deals, before the previous best player in baseball became another overpaid slugger, and before the current best player in baseball wasted 5 consecutive MVP caliber seasons on a team that could only muster one feeble playoff appearance in return.
Even if we consider the best case scenario in which all the "big if" Angels pitchers manage to stay healthy and produce AND Pujols continues to produce as he has AND Kole Calhoun has a major rebound season AND Mike Trout continues to be the best player in baseball, the Angels still have to contend with the fact that the American League is an absolute meat grinder at the top right now. The 2016 AL Champion Cleveland Indians aren't going away anytime soon, and will likely get their best player Michael Brantley back this season to add to the team that absolutely dominated the rest of the American League last year. The Houston Astros have made big moves already this offseason, with more likely to come, on top of having some of the consensus best young players in the majors who are only going to get better. The Texas Rangers had the AL's best record in 2016 and aren't losing any key pieces of that team. In the East, the Boston Red Sox are arguably the best team in the majors despite an unusual down year from ace David Price, and the New York Yankees are the New York Yankees.
So for those out there who want to make a case that the Angels can be successful in 2017 or 2018 or beyond with this current team, I'd ask you to figure out what you define as success, because all I see in Anaheim is a sinking ship of a team with a waaaaaaaaay outside shot at a wild card spot and not much more. If the Angels want any modicum of real success in the near future, then it's time to sink the ship for good and start building a new one.