Angels’ Mike Trout enters opening day with rich new contract
The two-time AL MVP, freshly inked for $426.5 million and 12 years, and his Angels teammates open the season on the road Thursday against those slugging Oakland Athletics who surprised all of baseball by getting back to the playoffs in 2018 for the first time in four years.
Sure, Trout’s contract will be all the talk for months to come.
But the Angels also begin a new era under manager Brad Ausmus, the club’s first change at skipper since departed Mike Scioscia began his initial season of 2000.
“I’m just glad that I can focus on baseball, because that’s all I ever wanted out of this,” Trout said. “(The contract) is out of the way and we know we’re going to be here for a long time, so now it’s just about playing, winning and trying to win a championship.”
Los Angeles last won in 2002 as the AL wild card. The Angels have reached the playoffs just once since advancing to the 2009 AL championship series and losing in six games to the Yankees.
Trout’s outfield mate, left fielder Justin Upton, begins the season on the injured list with a toe injury.
Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch until 2020 but is working back from Tommy John surgery so he can be a designated hitter this season.
“I’m really confident about this team. We all know the talent we have in the lineup and the pitching staff, and what we can do if everybody stays healthy and plays to their full potential,” Trout said. “It’s an exciting time, and we know that we’ve got some talent coming through the system that makes it even more exciting.”
The A’s have their own motivations after already having played their opening day across the world: Building on last year. Oakland lost its first two games of the season to the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo.
“The second year is difficult and these guys know that they have to work even harder and commit even harder to stay where we are, but if you asked our guys last year if we could be in the position we are this year everybody would take it, so they’re embracing it,” manager Bob Melvin said.
Oakland boasts reigning majors home run leader Khris Davis, who had 48 home runs and a career-high 123 RBIs in the A’s 97-win season. They lost to New York in the wild card game.
Now, the A’s are determined to take that further — and make a deep postseason run.
“It kind of gave us that taste last year and gave us the confidence that we can compete with the top teams in the league,” Gold Glove first baseman Matt Olson said. “We just want to keep it rolling this year.”
Olson will be sidelined for what is expected to be about a month after undergoing surgery on his right hand last Friday. He was injured when he got hit by a foul tip in his final at-bat during last Thursday’s 5-4, 12-inning loss to the Mariners in Japan.
The Gold Glove first baseman played all 162 games last year in his first full major league season, hitting 29 homers and driving in 85 runs while batting .247. Along with Davis and third baseman Matt Chapman’s 24 homers, the A’s lineup cleared the fences 227 times in 2018 — third-most in baseball behind the Yankees (267) and Dodgers (235).
In Olson’s absence, the A’s will count on Kendrys Morales — acquired Wednesday in a trade with Toronto — and Mark Canha at first and new second baseman Jurickson Profar, who can play multiple positions.
“The good thing is that we do have some versatile guys and guys that can be even more productive with some consistent at-bats,” Melvin said. “There’s certain guys that you feel like are a little bit more replaceable than others. He’s a tough one, although we do have guys we like a lot. But the left-handed bat is a little bit of an issue.”