TEMPE, Ariz. – If there’s anything more dreary than labor it’s relations. But, here we are. And on we go.
Mike Trout may have lost some of his gee-whiz along the way, replacing it with a sense of belonging and that thing he does where he beats the crap out of every baseball game he plays in. Still, even with his standing as the finest player in the league, he often seems reluctant to drift too far from his prescribed lane. He rather puts his head down and does what he came to do, and if there’s some fun to be had he’ll jump in on that too, and at the end they count up the MVP votes.
That’s plenty. That’s fine. It’s actually pretty spectacular. And, then, with every new season he does seem to venture another few feet into the room. His voice carries a little further, whether he means it to or not. He’s 27 now, about into his eighth full season. So what he thinks counts and what he says resonates, because he’s Mike Trout and because he has a stake in the labor and the relations of all this and he could be among the next superstars up.
He’ll make $66.5 million over the next two seasons before any All-Star, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, American League MVP and, uh, World Series MVP bonuses, and then he can be free, into a market that’s not really sure how much it wants to pay Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, not even sure it wants to be involved. The Los Angeles Angels could attempt to ensure that doesn’t happen. Trout, having played in all of three postseason games in his life, could ensure it does.
Who knows, one of these years, maybe, Trout will come to camp and have more to talk about than the you-never-know scenarios of Angels relevance. Meantime, he said, “I don’t think I went a day this offseason without somebody saying, ‘Hey, when are you coming to Philly?’ I can’t predict the future. I don’t know.”
He would in that event at least know what he would be getting himself into, and it wouldn’t be an effort. The next time Mike Trout loafs to first base, or settles for two when a triple can be had, or watches a ball clang off the fence from the batter’s box, will be the first time. Which makes all those dark Octobers in Anaheim a little sadder.
“I’m an Eagles fan,” he said Monday morning, his first official day back at it. “I know how we are. When they’re going good you love ‘em. Fans appreciate hustle all the time. They like 100 percent effort. Even if you’re struggling, if you go out and show ‘em that you’re giving 100 percent they see that and respect that. And I don’t know how many times I heard, asking me, ‘Is Harper coming?’ I don’t know. It’s tough. It’s not a good direction for baseball when these guys aren’t signing.”
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So, yeah, labor and relations. And free agents. And accusations of collusion. And Rob Manfred says one thing, Tony Clark says another, everybody rolls around on the floor for a while, and maybe Manfred was right about needing some games and soon. Course, with a pitch clock. And half the league batting pitchers. But, that’s another day.
“Everybody sees it,” Trout said. “It’s obviously not good for baseball. You got two of the top guys not signed yet. With teams saying they want to rebuild, why not start with one of the top guys? Manny, Bryce, look at the pitchers out there. It’s pretty incredible. It’s disappointing for the players. It’s good they’re standing up for themselves, like Manny and Bryce.”
Many players would tell you it’s not so much about Machado and Harper as it is the upper middle and middle middle classes. Machado and Harper will be fine, if a little late. The rest are being squeezed out by minimum-salaried young men, long as the minimum-salaried aren’t too good, because you can’t squeeze out a capable veteran from the wrong end of a service-time smoke screen.
This will be someone else’s fight until it is his, assuming it is his after two more years as an Angel. By then there will be one more year of Albert Pujols and two more years of Justin Upton and that’s about it, as far as payroll goes. Owner Arte Moreno surely hopes to retain the best player to wear an Angels uniform, the best player of this generation, a man who one day will wear a bronze cap. Trout could choose the free-agent fight for himself, however, and might even be looking forward to it.
“Um, you know, each year since Billy [Eppler, the GM] has been here he’s bringing in guys to improve the team,” Trout said on the subject of what the Angels must prove to him in the short term. “And that’s all you can ask for. Obviously we weren’t where we wanted to be the last few years, but it’s like a puzzle, just trying to bring in guys that fit this team. We brought a bunch of veteran guys in and we’ll see where it goes. Like I said, I come here, I can only do what I can do. Bringing in new faces, it’s good.”
The rest – contract extensions, talks, eyelash flutters, whatever’s next – has not been decided. Maybe.
“Ah, I’m not going to talk about that,” Trout said. “Like I said, I come in and get ready for spring, get ready for the season. I don’t want to comment on that.”
Pressed one last time, he said, “I don’t want to comment on that. Like I said, I enjoy it here. I’m having fun. Obviously losing’s not fun. But, I enjoy playing this game. I leave it out on the field every night, every day. And, uh, we go from there.”
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