Two years ago, it was apparent to everyone in baseball that the Baltimore Orioles weren’t going to be able to retain franchise icon Manny Machado past the 2018 season, when he would become eligible for free-agency. The Orioles, regardless of how highly they thought of their former first-round pick, didn’t possess the financial might to retain him when he became eligible for free-agency. So while Baltimore did ultimately trade Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers this summer for a package headlined by by outfielding prospect Yusniel Diaz, it will always puzzle a majority of those around the sport that the Orioles didn’t trade Machado two years ago, when they could have received a franchise-altering trade return.
The Los Angeles Angels may be approaching a similar juncture with seven-time All-Star Mike Trout. No, Machado isn’t Trout, which isn’t a slight on Machado, but indicative of Trout being one of the greatest players in the last 50 years. The Angels also can compete with anyone financially. The six-year/$144.5 million contract that the Angels signed Trout to when he was 22 is indicative of that. But Trout can become a free-agent after 2020, and given that the Angels have made the playoffs just once in Trout’s illustrious career, it’s possible Trout will exit Anaheim when he’s eligible to do so. And the Angels can’t wait for that to happen.
So Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic says that the Angels plan to offer Trout an extension this offseason, before the second to last year of his current deal. Perhaps he’ll accept the contract offer and that will be that. From here (or anywhere), that seems especially unlikely. Even if Trout hopes to remain with the Angels past 2020, he has a no-trade clause already and can use the threat of his impending free-agency to force the Angels to put a better team around him.
But as Rosenthal noted in his piece, two years out isn’t too early to begin to understand what the likelihood of retaining Trout is. Even if it’s understood that Trout probably isn’t going to sign an extension this upcoming offseason, dialogue is still important. And if Trout’s agent Craig Landis is far apart in contract talks with the Angels this offseason – or it becomes clear that the Angels team success in 2019 and 2020 will be the sole factor that determines whether Trout remains with the Angels – conventional wisdom then suggests that the Angels would need to listen to offers for the future Hall of Famer.
Rosenthal says that the belief around the league is that Angels owner Arte Moreno has no interest in moving Trout. Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who is notoriously hard to work with, was in the same boat. The Orioles ended up worse with that mindset, as it didn’t reduce the likelihood Machado would eventually leave, just the trade return they ultimately got for him. The Angels would be wise not to follow that blueprint.
If the Angels do eventually make Trout available for trade, the Phillies will no doubt be interested. It’s easy enough to say 29 other teams will be interested in Trout, but the Phillies are one of just a few teams that has the financial might, financial flexibility and farm system that could potentially make them a match in a trade for Trout. The question will then become if acquiring Trout would actually put the Phillies closer to winning a championship.
This isn’t the NBA, where an all-time great assures that you’re a championship contender. Trout has only appeared in the playoffs once in his first seven years, and the Angels are going to miss the postseason again in 2018. Barry Bonds played in the World Series just once in his 22-year career. Ken Griffey Jr., Andre Dawson and Ernie Banks never played in a World Series.
If you add Trout onto the Phillies roster, they, of course, would be a much better team. The 27-year-old has an 8.6 fWAR in 2018, despite having missed a bulk of August with a wrist injury. But to acquire Trout, you wouldn’t simply be adding him onto the current Phillies organization. Top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez – who has drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez – would have to be part of a deal. Rhys Hoskins, who launched his 30th home run Sunday, would also have to. National League Cy Young Award candidate Aaron Nola isn’t going anywhere, but the Phillies would presumably have to clear out a bulk of their young talent to acquire Trout. A player as good as him hasn’t become available for trade in his prime maybe ever. There isn’t a blueprint for a trade like this, because one has never taken place.
For as high of a ceiling as Sanchez may have, he missed much of the season with elbow inflammation. And though Hoskins is the first Phillie since Ryan Howard to hit 30 home runs, he’s probably more geared to be in the American League where he could be a DH (although the Angels aren’t short on DH options). So it’s less about the roadblock of “would you trade so and so for Trout,” because in theory you would trade anyone in the sport for Trout. But this isn’t fantasy sports, that mindset isn’t how you build a championship contender.
To acquire Trout, the Phillies would have to give up a franchise-altering package of young talent. Part of the goal of trading for Trout would be for him to play with Hoskins and behind Sanchez, not in place of them. And not only would trading for Trout involve surrendering potential teammates, but presumably signing him to an extension in excess of $450 million (that’s probably on the lower end) after 2020. When one player makes that much money, it makes it harder to surround him with other talent in free-agency, which you would have to do if you traded a ton of talented young pieces, who could no longer be teammates of Trout or used in a trade to acquire teammates.
This offseason, both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, slightly younger than Trout, will be free-agents. Both will likely receive historic contracts, but ones that will pale in comparison to Trout’s next deal. All it would take to sign Harper would be money and surrendering a compensatory draft pick to the Washington Nationals. A Machado signing would only require money, because he was traded during the season. Neither are as good as Trout, but both are Hall of Fame caliber talents that could play with Nola, Hoskins and Sanchez. It’s fair to wonder if signing one of them – or attempting to acquire any of Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon or Xander Bogaerts in the coming years – wouldn’t be a better formula to winning a championship, even if Trout is the best player in the sport by a fair margin.
Make no mistake, with Shohei Ohtani’s uncertain future and a difficult division, Trout eventually leaving the Angels has become more likely (though probably not as certain as some think) than it seemed a couple years ago. And the Phillies are as natural of a suitor as any team, especially given Trout’s local ties. And while it’s certainly fair to be skeptical of how the Phillies would acquire Trout and build a championship team around him, any extension talks with the Angels this offseason certainly are worth the attention of the Phillies.
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