The obvious paradox of every offseason: The Giants need a star, but they don’t grow on trees. Well, there’s Chet Lemon, but he’s been retired for a long time. Darryl Strawberry doesn’t count, and Norm Cash definitely doesn’t count. In the offseason bazaar, there are hundreds of booths, but only one of them is offering a star. The line is 20 deep, and the guy manning the booth is taking a bathroom break. Yes, the Giants finish second for premium free agents a lot, but think of all the teams who finish seventh!
You don’t feel better.
That doesn’t change the fact that the Giants just can’t go out and get the free agents they want, though. These players have agency; it’s right there in the name. They can choose where they want to go. Farhan Zaidi can order a 600-foot banner of Shohei Ohtani’s face, slap it on the Salesforce Tower and stand under it with a gigantic novelty check in the amount of one billion dollars. It still doesn’t guarantee that Ohtani is coming to the press conference.
No, stars don’t grow on trees. But they can be found in the ocean sometimes. I even double-checked to see if this is true.
The Giants liked Mike Trout when he was a high school kid from Jersey. It’s time for him to come home to the team that drafted him in an alternate universe. There’s more than one way to skin a fish that doesn’t grow on trees.
It’s time to see if there’s a plausible way to get Trout on the Giants.
“If you are the Angels and believe in your ability to build a winning team, you can do that with your merging core.”
— MLB Now (@MLBNow) November 13, 2023
Question #1: Would the Angels trade Trout?
Probably. He’s owed $222.7 million over the next six seasons. The Angels have played 486 games over the last three seasons, and Trout has played in 237 of them. The idea of Trout being traded isn’t just me pulling something out of my nether regions; MLB Network just did a whole segment on the idea. The Angels are most likely (although not definitely) going to lose Ohtani, and Trout is making a sixth of the payroll while playing half of the games. It’s not like that team is close to an Orioles-like renaissance, although the Orioles didn’t look like they were especially close a couple seasons ago, either.
Arte Moreno might want to save a hundred million dollars, give or take. Maybe even two hundred million, depending on how much contract Trout’s new team absorbs. That’s the kind of money that could be used to get the next Anthony Rendon, so you know Moreno is itchy.
Question #2: Would Trout want to be traded?
The biggest question. He has veto power, and as we saw with Giancarlo Stanton, sometimes players exercise that power. He might absolutely love Medieval Times. “You eat with your hands!” he tells anyone who will listen. “They joust! Dude, did you see that? They freaking joust!” You can’t get that kind of entertainment in the Bay Area.
Trout might also be legitimately comfortable with the Angels organization. It’s the only one he’s known.
Just like a free agent, Trout can control where he goes. Just as it’s not as simple as going to the Ohtani store, it’s not as simple as going to the Trout store. If he doesn’t want to go, he doesn’t want to go. Discussion over.
Question #3: Would Trout be a good fit for the Giants in 2024?
It’s hard to imagine a better fit, both in terms of making people care about the Giants and on-field concerns.
In terms of brand-name acquisitions, Trout is still at the top of the list when it comes to players that fans know. It’s a short list. There might be three or four players with more general name recognition in the sport, but not much more than that. Trout is still a star’s star, even when he’s playing 80 games. If the Giants are looking for a way to signal that they’re trying, Mike Trout in a San Francisco Giants uniform goes a long, long, long way.
— Los Angeles Angels (@Angels) April 9, 2023
In terms of on-field performance, Trout’s worst career WAR (1.8 in 36 games in 2021) would have made him one of the most valuable players on the 2023 Giants.
He played 36 games in 2021.
It’s more complicated than that, of course. He’s 32. You might get 36 games and 2.2 WAR one year, and 20 games and 0.1 WAR the next. Trout’s recent injury history makes him a risky acquisition. But in terms of next year, and only next year, he’s immediately the odds-on favorite to lead the Giants in any offensive category you can imagine. He posted the worst adjusted OPS of his career last season (131). That would have been second on the 2023 Giants, just behind Wilmer Flores (136). Imagine if he’s healthy. Imagine if he’s even healthy-ish.
Question #4: Would Trout be a good fit for the Giants in 2030?
It’s hard to express how little I care.
The long-term ramifications of Trout’s contract would affect future seasons, but I don’t care. Take Giancarlo Stanton, for example. If the Giants could have convinced him to waive his no-trade clause before the 2018 season, he wouldn’t have been the savior. It wouldn’t have been close. Stanton has been less valuable than Mike Yastrzemski since 2019, and it’s not even close (3.9 for Stanton, compared to 11.9 for Yastrzemski).
Yet, if Stanton were on the payroll for the 2024 Giants, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine good things. He’s a freakishly impressive baseball specimen. Even as he gets older, he does things that most baseball players cannot do. The Giants would be happy to have Stanton on the roster going into next season, even if it would take some imagination to hope he would be an All-Star again. And his contract would still allow the Giants to spend this offseason. Maybe not enough to dominate the Ohtani discourse, but the Giants wouldn’t be completely out of it with Stanton. He could make next season’s team win more games, without preventing the next generational superstar from joining the team.
Trout is much, much more than that. Stanton is a historically anomalous baseball talent, but Trout is two tiers above that. Trout’s comps are Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, and that’s not hyperbole. Look how those guys aged. They had injury-flecked years that looked like Trout’s 2023, and then they rolled deep into their late 30s. Always, always, always bet on the generational baseball freaks. Not the pitchers, who rely on labrums and forest sprites, but the hitters who see the ball better and drive the ball better than almost anyone who’s ever come before them. They’ll age better than you expect, usually.
The Giants would get excitement from a Trout acquisition now, and they’d be likely to get production for the next several years. The cake would be had, and the cake would be eaten. More cake would come. Everybody gets a slice of the Trout cake! Wait, why are you all running away …
Honestly, that Yastrzemski comparison up there applies to Trout even more. Even when Yastrzemski is bad, he’s good. And when he’s good, he’s great. Trout is like that, but exponentially more so. When he’s bad, he’s awesome. When he’s pretty good, he’s great. When he’s awesome, he’s one of the best baseball players you’ll ever see.
Mike Trout with a diving catch!
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) May 31, 2023
Don’t worry about things like, “Will he still be a 5-win player in 2030 and worth the money?” because he won’t. Most likely. Think about things like, “Can he be an inconsistently reliable contributor for years and years, while having a couple years of absolute brilliance that make you remember he’s Mike Trout?”
Yoshinobu Yamamoto will get about $227 million over the next six seasons. Can you tell me, with absolute certainty, that he’s a better bet than Mike Trout in his 30s over the next few seasons? Who do you pick to have the better season in 2030, Yamamoto or Trout? Keep in mind that I’m absolutely in the tank for Yamamoto.
The answer is Trout. He’s not just a guy. He’s not Bobby Abreu or Will Clark or Keith Hernandez, all-time greats in their own right. You just don’t get players like Trout very often. Albert Pujols was the last one, and it’s funny to acknowledge that his greatness made the Angels plunge into a disaster contract, which is exactly what we’re arguing for here.
You root for a franchise with fans that can high-five when they hear Barry Zito’s name. Shut up about future commitments and hope it all works out.
Question #5: Seriously, though, what about Trout’s recent history of injuries?
It’s a feature, it’s a bug, it’s complicated. If/when Trout goes on the injured list, the Giants would have a stable of young outfielders who will be ready for the opportunity. It’s hard to project Wade Meckler and Luis Matos as opening-day starters just yet, but as a contingency play in case Trout goes on the IL, they’re more than helpful. It would be a way to allow Meckler and Matos to progress like normal 20-somethings, while also giving them extended tastes of the major leagues.
Or, Trout could stay healthy, and nothing else would matter. Count those WARs as they float by. All of the WARs.
I’m not a fan of acquiring players in their 30s with a substantial injury history. But carve out an exemption for players like Trout, who are likelier to age more like Mays than Evan Longoria. This is a chance to buy low on an impossibly rare baseball deity. Throw the concerns about payroll and IL time in the incinerator.
Question #6: What would it take to get Trout?
The weirdest question to contemplate. The Angels could say that they’re not interested in salary relief, and that they still want the best prospects available. They take Kyle Harrison and Marco Luciano, and you take a 32-year-old player with $222.7 million left on his contract. Deal? Let’s shake.
That obviously wouldn’t work for the Giants, though. Or, they might want to save $100 million of that contract and allow a team to offer a top prospect, singular, rather than top prospects, plural. Maybe the Giants consider that.
Take the whole contract, and maybe you can get by with Ross Stripling and a lukewarm bowl of clam chowder.
I have no idea what the Angels would want, and that’s assuming that they’re open to a trade at all, which we don’t know for sure. They could ask for all sorts of unrealistic things because they want to keep him as a franchise icon and veteran presence for the rebuilding project. Or they could ask for Carson Whisenhunt, Heliot Ramos and $150 million salary relief and move on.
Either way, the Giants could afford it. They can afford the high and the low end of that spectrum. They’d likely be unwilling to trade players who could contribute this season, but after that? Sure. Open up the prospect checkbook. It’s literally Mike Trout.
Question #7: Wouldn’t it be awkward for Trout and Ohtani to be back together on a different team (the Giants)?
I don’t think they would have a problem with it.
If the Angels would seriously consider it — a big “if” — the Giants should be all over it. Don’t look at the games missed. Look at the consistent help that’s Trout’s floor. His WAR since he played his first full season in the big leagues:
2012: 10.5 WAR
The line graph doesn’t look great, but those last three years remind you of how even a bad Trout is a good Trout. It’s possible that his body won’t allow him to continue performing at a high level, but when I’m considering inner-inner-circle Hall of Famers, I’m anticipating a decline that doesn’t look like the typical middle-aged former All-Star.
Would Trout even consider the idea? Would the Angels? Would the Giants? There’s enough uncertainty with all three to make it supremely unlikely that anything happens, not even one measly, compelling rumor.
For me, though, Trout represents a unique opportunity, even in the abstract. Maybe there’s a chance for this generational superstar to be on a team that can absorb the contract and market him to a disgruntled fanbase. The fit couldn’t be better for the acquiring team. The external forces will have their say, and they’ll probably make the final decision.
It’s a shame. A real shame. I’m of the mind that the Angels should simply give Mike Trout to the Giants.
(Photo: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)