Every year, the Los Angeles Angels have the greatest head start of any roster in baseball. If they were participating in an earthquake kit draft, they would have gallons and gallons of potable water as their first pick. Mike Trout is basically nourishing, plentiful, life-bringing water. He's essential, and he's theirs. Every year, the Angels know they have the best player in baseball, and they just have to find players to fill in the remaining 96 percent of the roster.
That's the tricky part, though, that remaining 96 percent. Because in addition to Trout, the Angels also have the biggest roster obstacle to overcome in baseball. Albert Pujols is still owed more money from 2016 through 2021 than Evan Longoria will make in his entire career, and that's not hyperbole. They're still paying Josh Hamilton to play for a division rival. They played fast and loose with the free agent contracts, and nothing worked out quite like it was supposed to.
That means the help for Trout has to come from somewhere other than the free agent market. They stuck with Johnny Giavotella at second because they couldn't spend to replace him. They mashed Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry together so hard they're on the DL, and that's all they could afford. If the Angels are going to win, they're going to need to do it with prospects or pitching.
I've been doing these rankings for eight years now, and (the Angels' farm system) is by far the worst system I've ever seen.
Okay, then they were going to need to do it with pitching. A pitching-first team wasn't an organizational blueprint as much as it was an absolute necessity. It's all they had left if they wanted a chance to be better than the average American League team. The plan was to lean on Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney and Hector Santiago. To cross their fingers when it came to C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver. Surprise contenders have been built from lesser pitching staffs, in theory.
Here's how that plan has gone: Wilson hasn't thrown a pitch since last August because of elbow and shoulder issues. Weaver has thrown a pitch since last August, but it hasn't reached home plate yet. Heaney has a damaged UCL and is trying to avoid Tommy John. Richards has a torn UCL, and he needs Tommy John. Tyler Skaggs would be next in line, but he's dealing with biceps tendinitis. Matt Shoemaker's job was yanked after he allowed 22 earned runs in 20⅔ innings, but now the Angels have no choice but to bring him back up.
Kyle Kendrick has the lowest ERA of any right-handed starter in Triple-A. His ERA is 5.79.
There's at least a glimmer of a sliver of hope in the minors, as lefty Nate Smith is adjusting to Triple-A well. He was thought of as a C+ kind of prospect before the season, but Angels' grade inflation turns that into an A+, and he'll probably be at the airport by the time I finish this.
Apart from that, the Angels will check in with John Danks and Tim Lincecum, who are free agents because they've combined for eight bad seasons since the last time either of them was any good. The worst part is that it makes sense for them to explore those options and hope Angel Stadium can help them reclaim some of their old form.
Apart from Trout and Kole Calhoun, the lineup is an ailing, flailing mess. Andrelton Simmons was supposed to have a chance to hit as he filled out, but he's in straight St. Rey territory. Pujols' OPS is a sweet ,666, where it will remain, at least metaphorically, all season. This was a team that needed to win with pitching. There was no other option. And now the pitching is broken.
Okay, deep breaths, let's think about this rationally. What are the options?
Trade for pitching help
Nope. The minor leagues are a grocery store that's even out of the dented cans. There are some players to dream on, but nothing that would bring back an average starting pitcher in a seller's market.
Nope. The valuable players on the Angels are the cheap ones under 30, which are the players you want to have around for the future anyway. Flipping Simmons when his value is low might get you some prospects who are better than Simmons in two years, but the odds are against it.
If we get to July and Calhoun is still hitting like this, and the Angels have fallen out of the race, there would be a strong argument in favor of dealing him three years before he reaches free agency. It would maximize the prospect return, certainly. But it would leave the Angels a hitter short for when Heaney and Richards return, and they can't exactly buy another hitter, remember.
Trade Mike Trout
Get out of here. There is roughly a 100-percent chance that Trout will outperform every single prospect he's dealt for over the next five years, even if you add their contributions together into a single number. The return is far more likely to be Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller than Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.
Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, Henry Owens, Jackie Bradley Jr., Anderson Espinoza and Yoan Moncada for Trout, and we'll talk. The Angels get to act like one of those jerk countries in Civilization V with all the aluminum and oil, knowing that no one will ever satisfy their demands.
So if they can't rebuild or reload, what can they do?
N ... nothing?
There isn't a damned thing the Angels can do other than hope for assorted miracles until the good young pitchers heal. Take a flyer on Lincecum and hope it was his hip all along. Hope Smith can transcend that competent-lefty label and become a delightful surprise. Hope Wilson comes back strong. Hope Skaggs is healthy soon and ready to contribute. Hope Shoemaker finds whatever it is that he's lost. Hope that Pujols is at least okay, like he's been for the last three years. Hope that Simmons can hit even a little.
They need to hope. That's a very, very hard thing for the Angels and their fans to do after Friday's news. It's all they have, though. It's Hector Santiago and Mike Trout vs. the world right now. They'll have to hope that the world is kind to them.
Spoiler: The world is never kind. The Angels can't think about that now, though. They have to start throwing things to the wall and hope they stick.
Jered Weaver: I'll do it!
Wait, Jered, no ...
Jered Weaver: UNGNNGGH
Jered Weaver: ...
Jered Weaver: ...
Jered Weaver: ...
Jered Weaver: ...
Jered Weaver: Man, I can't wait to see what sticks.
Yeah. You and me both. Wild stabs at the pinata are all the Angels have right now. I can't see how that will be enough.