ESPN's Keith Law released his ranking of every farm system in baseball, and the Los Angeles Angels ranked No. 30. It was not a soft No. 30.
I've been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I've ever seen.
C'mon, don't mince words, man, give it to us straight.
They need a big draft this year to start to restock the system or we're going to start talking about whether it's time to trade Mike Trout.
So, there's time. Assuming the Angels contend this year like they're planning, we won't even tap dance around conversations about trading Mike Trout for at least a year, if not two, if not ever. The last thing we should expect is for Angels fans to have to oh no no no Halos Heaven what are you doing?
If the Angels want long-term success, they should consider trading Mike Trout.
It's a modest proposal more than a manifesto, the kind of needling thought experiment that the Internet loves. And, no, the author wasn't advocating for it. It was a just sayin'/not sayin', and Angels fans were resoundingly against the idea. There were some rude comments on Facebook, if you can believe it, but the post was all in good fun.
You can see the problem with a Mike Trout trade. It's impossible to get fair value and make everyone happy. Trout is still the age of a prospect, and if you believe in WAR, he's worth as much as Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista stapled together. Even more when you consider that all of that value in one player allows the Angels an open spot for another productive player to add even more value. So, either you get three or four of those four-win players in exchange, or you get a player with a slim chance of being that eight-win player, with a couple more pieces thrown in.
For example, the Angels could ask for the Giants' entire infield of Belt/Panik/Crawford/Duffy (both sides would decline), or they would ask for Carlos Correa and extra prospects on top (both sides would decline). It's like selling a Honus Wagner card on a playground. Even if the 7-year-olds empty out their toy chests and video game collections, you're still not going to be happy with the return.
Three years ago, we looked back at all of the rumors surrounding Miguel Cabrera and the Marlins before he was traded to the Tigers, and we determined that exactly one rumored trade out of dozens would have been worth it: the one where the Dodgers were reportedly amenable to including Clayton Kershaw in a deal. And that's a scenario in which a once-in-a-generation pitcher just happened to be in the system of a rich, contending team that could afford Cabrera. Not only should you not expect to find those kinds of prospects in a sea of offers, you can't expect them to exist in the first place.
The lesson is simple: Never expect to win that kind of trade unless you're the one getting the Hall of Fame talent in his mid-20s. The Angels know this, and they wouldn't consider a trade for Trout for a millisecond, which makes this all hypothetical fluff to fill column inches on the dark side of the offseason.
But the larger point stands: The Angels' farm system is absolutely brutal. And while teams have overcome that sort of obstacle before, it's much more common for a team to sink or swim based on the help they get from their farm. If the Angels' farm really is that desolate, they'll have a dreadful time building a roster, even with a Trout-sized head start.
The odds are strong that they'll start losing, in other words. At some point between now and 2020, the Angels will have issues with their major league roster, and they won't be able to turn to their farm for help. Again, there are ways to overcome that, especially for a team with a big-market budget, but if we're having an Occam's pillow fight, the likeliest scenario is that the lack of minor league depth will hurt the Angels in a very tangible way.
And with each season, hypotheticals and what-ifs will get louder. If the Angels lose when Trout is 25, they'll be a murmur. When he's 26, they'll be a chatter. When he's 27, they'll be an honest-to-goodness rumbling. Eventually, assuming the farm system portends doom, the Angels will have no choice but to consider a Trout trade.
Except for the most obvious choice of all: Keeping Trout, regardless. Keep him during the 110-loss seasons while you plan for the 110-win seasons. He's a player that breaks the normal paradigm, where you trade Zack Greinke when you're down so you can get Lorenzo Cain when you're up. That sort of system makes sense most of the time. But Trout breaks it.
When the Orioles were losing 90 and 100 games in the late-80s, I'm sure they could have dealt Cal Ripken for all the prospects they desired. We're talking Kiki Jones and Jose Offerman. But they passed, and they were rewarded with a couple of deep playoff runs and a dump truck filled with history.
When the Giants were losing 90 games in the mid-90s, they could have dealt Barry Bonds for all the prospects they desired. We're talking Ruben Rivera and Jackson Melian. But they passed, and they were rewarded with a pennant and a dump truck filled with history.
Both of those teams recognized the value those players had on the field, at the box office and in the history books, and they accounted for them with every roster, good or bad. They were rewarded. And maybe there's a scenario in which Ripken could have been traded when he was 30, and the Orioles would have benefited. Maybe. But Orioles fans haven't spent the last two decades with a lot of Ripken-related what-ifs. They've spent them with a lot of Ripken-related memories.
That's what will happen with Trout and the Angels. As he gets closer and closer to 2020, the Angels will keep him, regardless of where they're at. They'll extend him if they're in last place or if they're in first place. His first extension showed a willingness to stick around, even if it meant forgoing a potential mega-mega contract. There's a chance for Trout to be the Angels' all-time WAR leader before he turns 26 (he's fifth all-time right now), and this is their best chance to have an all-time great stick around for the next 30 and 40 years, soaking up the cheers before he throws a first pitch, becoming as synonymous with the Angels as Ripken is with the Orioles, Gwynn is with the Padres, or Mantle is with the Yankees.
Trout isn't going anywhere, even if the Angels fall on the hardest of times. Their farm system might be a mess, and there might be 100 years of darkness yet to come, but Trout will stick around because absolutely nothing else makes sense.