Are the Angels wasting the best years of Mike Trout's career?
TEMPE, Ariz. — Mike Trout stood with his arms folded, a couple days of razor neglect spreading along his jaw line. The sun rose over his right shoulder. Across the sky, a mid-morning moon still glowed pale. He was back in a baseball uniform.
"Yeah, no," he began, a charming habit with which he initiates many of his thoughts and, in this case, his fifth full major league season …
So, we'll begin there too.
Yeah, the Los Angeles Angels entered the winter vulnerable in places, very obvious places, and the market was kind enough to provide fairly reasonable options.
No, the Angels didn't go for those.
Yeah, the Angels outscored three teams in the American League last season.
No, that was not dire enough to alter their notion left field could be handled by a few affordable men who may just be capable again or be capable for the first time.
Yeah, Albert Pujols says he is optimistic he'll be healthy and strong come opening day in spite of offseason foot surgery, the evidence of which he happily showed in picture form on his cell phone Wednesday, the evidence of which was kind of gross.
No, there probably will not be a veteran power bat behind him in the lineup, so he could be on his own again.
Yeah, the farm system is rumored to be pretty unsatisfactory.
No, that didn't stop them from trading away the last of it for an exceptional shortstop.
Yeah, they still have Mike Trout.
No, he didn't bring any friends with him who could pitch 200 innings.
"Yeah, no," Trout said of what he hoped to get done over the next month, "just be more consistent. There's a lot of things you can improve your game on. "I'm here to win. That's the biggest thing – win games. My personal goal is to win."
He is 24 years old. He is 239 pounds (precisely what he was a year ago) of earnestness, of hopefulness, of sturdiness, of Angel-ness. There's a not unreasonable thought going around that the organization is squandering the best years of his career, though, to be fair, there would seem to be plenty of those remaining. We'll let you know when he actually reaches his athletic and statistical prime. Not his peak, his prime.
And it's not that the Angels are a poor team. They're certainly not. It's that they're just OK, and can't seem to slow the turnover in the front office, and therefore seem to lack a consistent and reliable organizational ethos. They still win plenty. Over 10 years, the Angels have won at least 89 games six times, had a top-three MVP five times, made the playoffs four times, won a postseason series once, and that's not bad until you get to the end. Regrettably, the end is the important part.
You know that old hypothetical question, "If you could pick one player to start a team …" and you already have that player, and actually did start a team with that player, and haven't won much of anything anyway, either the question is flawed or you are.
This is where you're allowed to wonder how a team improves when it's boxed on one side by the luxury-tax threshold and on the other by a thin list of prospects, and where the answer is both simple and not at the same time. Everybody has to get better. Not a ton better, but a tiny bit better, so that, for example, C.J. Cron becomes a guy a pitcher would rather not mess with behind Pujols, and Jered Weaver becomes better than average, and whatever comes of left field isn't a total black hole, and young starters Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs make their big-league bones under new pitching coach Charles Nagy, and a few good arms develop quickly in the bullpen.
Maybe that's a lot that has to go right. It's also not the complete list.
"Yeah, no," he said, "every team comes in here with a chance."
He is delightfully even-headed and relentlessly in tune with the one area of the Angels he can most influence, that being himself. He returned after a winter of hunting, fishing and meteorology to find his load here would be about as heavy. His answer to that was to take his turn in the batting cage, get in some running and advance another few hours on opening day. He said he'd like to steal more bases. Mike Scioscia, asked if he believed Trout could be a 30-30 player again, asked why not 40-40, and then everybody remembered Trout is 24 and pretty much will be what he wants to be.
Whether the rest of the Angels will follow is the question of 2016, and to that we say without hesitation …
We'll all find out together.