How big a star would Mike Trout be in another market?
If Mike Trout is going to be the face of baseball, it would help if he wasn’t turning invisible playing for the Angels.
Regardless of where you stand on Trout as American League MVP, we can all agree that it’s shame that some of his best years are going to waste with a team that does not look to contend anytime soon.
I’m not sure baseball necessarily needs one face, a new Derek Jeter; the game is bursting with young talent, from Kris Bryant to Corey Seager to Carlos Correa to Francisco Lindor.
I’m not even sure that Trout cares about being the face; he is unassuming, and reportedly will skip playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, a marketing event in which Jeter, his childhood hero, participated twice.
Still, something is odd about the best player in the game toiling in relative obscurity in Orange County while players such as Kris Bryant and Corey Seager – younger stars in more vibrant baseball environments – are poised to achieve greater fame.
Trout, 25, signed up for his current lot — he would have been entering his free-agent year if he had not agreed to a six-year, $144.5 million extension that will prevent him from becoming a free agent until after the 2020 season.
Why don’t the Angels just trade Trout, considering that they have reached the postseason only once in his five full seasons, and have yet to win a playoff game with him in their uniform?
The question is perfectly reasonable, but the last thing Angels owner Arte Moreno wants is to be the guy who parted with this generation’s Mickey Mantle.
Besides, try getting fair value for a player who — according to Fangraphs' version of Wins Above Replacement — is worth more than nine wins per year.
Such a move, executed properly, could rapidly accelerate the Angels’ return to prominence. But it would likely — and rightly — spark a fan revolt.
So, the Angels will keep baseball’s Mozart locked in a rehearsal room, at least as far as postseason play is concerned.
Imagine if Trout played for the Yankees, the team of Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. Or the Phillies, the team closest to his home in Millville, N.J. — and one that, due to the strength of its farm system, probably is closer to success than the Angels.
Pick a team, any high-profile team — the Nationals, the Red Sox, the Giants, the Cardinals, the Cubs. It’s fun to think about Trout with any of those clubs — unless, of course, you are an Angels fan who relishes watching him every day.
Yet, as long as Trout stays in Anaheim, he will not be fully appreciated by the general public as the modern Mantle. He will not even be as famous as a certain Mickey in his county, the one who resides at Disneyland, last name Mouse.
Trout’s contract includes full no-trade protection; if the Angels ever did want to trade him, he effectively could choose his next spot. But again, the Angels do not seem inclined to even consider the possibility, and Trout has not asked out.
So, Mozart plays on, in relative silence.
Trout soon might not even be the face of baseball in the Los Angeles market; Seager is at least a strong competitor for that distinction. Bryant, playing for the World Series champion Cubs in the bustling Chicago market, soon could be the face nationwide, if he isn’t already.
Good luck to Trout trying to find the equivalent of Anthony Rizzo for a west coast “Bryzzo”-style commercial. With all due respect, Albert Pujols isn’t that guy anymore, and Kole Calhoun isn’t near that level.
In sports, these things happen; great players occasionally get stuck on bad teams. And if the Angels start to rebound under general manager Billy Eppler, who took over a little more than a year ago, the team’s insistence on keeping Trout will be more than justified.
Indeed, this might only be a snapshot in time, a blip on Trout’s 20-year Hall of Fame career. Then again, if the Angels fail to get it together, fans nationwide might start a populist movement, demanding that Moreno liberate the true face of baseball once and for all.
Fix your team, Arte, or prepare for the marches on Angel Stadium, the pitchforks, the chants.
“Free Mike Trout! Free Mike Trout!”