Exactly ten years ago, the Angels took a major step in reshaping their franchise for the future. After signing Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar, and Jose Guillen, the Halos thrust themselves forward to five American League West Division Titles in six years (2004 through 2009). A coup of sorts, the signing of Vladdy and Colon alone gave the Angels the centerpieces they needed to continue building for the next generation of Angels players. And it worked. Now, the organization has a chance to build the same long-term success, and then some, by extending Mike Trout.
According to reports, Trout will likely sign a six-year extension that will cover his three arbitration years, and his first three years of free agency. This will be a major step for the Angels in building another long-term winner. Some have argued, however, that a six-year deal indicates a desire to explore the market later. I don’t blame him. If and when his extension expires, the state of the Angels’ organization could be a major factor in Trout staying or leaving. That is how important his time with the Angels is. In addition to 2014, they’ll have six more years to get themselves right again. That will give Trout a total of ten seasons (nine full) with the Angels. But in all honesty, I couldn’t ask for more. The Cardinals had King Albert for the first eleven years of his career. There was sadness and anger in St. Louis when he left. But when the best player in the game is on your team, what more do you want? Regardless, Trout and the Angels still have a job do. And extending Mike Trout is key.
When the Angels signed Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, it wasn’t just for their track record. They were also brought in to continue drawing fans, and to ensure national media exposure. Both players were franchise centerpieces at one point. They know how it goes. Even if both players never return to MVP form, both men can mentor Trout through his growing pains, if you can call it that. He’s already the game’s best player; is already stepping forward as the Angels’ centerpiece; and is intent on leading his team to the promised land. And that makes the timing of an extension all the more important.
This past offseason, the Angels acquired some young starting pitching (Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs). This was a major step for the future. The move replenished some of the young pitching they lost in the Dan Haren trade… literally. Skaggs was in that deal. So was lefty starting pitcher Patrick Corbin, who broke out with the Diamondbacks in 2013. And while Santiago may or may not be as good as Corbin, he at least can serve as a consolation prize for the young pitching the Angels traded away over the last few years. The additions of those two, with Garrett Richards also emerging, makes for a good young squad that can develop into a solid rotation behind Trout.
A few big surprises have also risen from the Angels’ depleted farm system, which was ranked at the bottom again in 2014. Kole Calhoun is an exciting sleeper pick for fantasy owners. J.B. Shuck has been sort of an outfielder’s version of David Eckstein. The Angels have one of those lineups that could be a Bill James case study: above average players or better at each position, revolving around Trout. And if Pujols and Hamilton have good seasons, then they of course can share the centerpiece spotlight. Having 11 players with OPS+ over 100 in 2013 (second in MLB), and almost all of them returning, the Angels’ offense will likely be dangerous again. And it might be for some time. That’s another good reason to continue building a young starting rotation.
Whether under contract or arbitration, a lot of players are under control for several years. With Trout at the center, that puts the Angels in a great position for the future. It will allow the front office to focus more on pitching, overall depth, and the farm system in the coming years. Fans will have to wait until 2016 to see a bulk of Angels free agents again. So there is plenty of room to continue building a foundation for long-term success again. Starting with the moves the front office has made this winter, the Angels are already moving in the right direction.
A Mike Trout extension could also help owner Arte Moreno with stadium negotiations. When it comes to issues like naming rights and stadium leases, the City of Anaheim has been difficult to deal with. Extending Trout could sway Anaheim city officials to put the afterburners on a new stadium deal. Nothing would be worse for the City of Anaheim than to have Mike Trout extended through 2020, and then force the Angels to skip town. Personally, I would blame the city and not Arte. Mike Trout is just as important for the City of Anaheim as he is to the Angels.
Much like Vladdy was, Trout is a player that only comes around once in a generation. I cannot fully stress how crucial Trout is for the Angels. But they have a chance to recapture the glory of the last decade, and perhaps take it a step further than they did. The time do that is now, and extending Trout will buy plenty of that.