It’s the decision the Los Angeles Angels don’t want to make. And by golly, it’s the kind of decision no team should ever have to make.

But whether the Angels like it or not, trading Mike Trout continues to look less like the nuclear option and more like the only option.

Trout is still the Angels’ best player. The 24-year-old has a .929 OPS, 14 home runs and 10 stolen bases, and has garnished it with solid defense in center field. Both and FanGraphs put him among baseball’s best position players.

By now, noting as much is like noting water is wet or Brad Pitt is handsome. Trout has rarely not been stupendous since emerging as a perennial MVP candidate in 2012. It can’t be said enough that we’re watching possibly the best young player in baseball history.

That’s not the kind of guy whose name should ever come close to the trading block. And for now, the party line is that it won’t.

“We have no intent or desire to consider moving Mike Trout,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler told Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports last month. “He’s not moving. He’s an impact player, a huge piece in a championship core.”

Eppler could also have pointed out that nothing is threatening to take Trout away, as his contract runs through 2020. The hole in Eppler‘s logic, however, has to do with the “championship core” thing. 

The Angels have dug themselves a hole with a 31-41 record, and there’s not going to be any climbing out of it. Trout and Kole Calhoun are the only impact hitters in an offense that ranks 11th in the American League in OPS. And with Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, C.J. Wilson and Tyler Skaggs all sidelined with arm and shoulder injuries, it’ll be tough to fix a pitching staff that ranks 12th in the AL in ERA.

This makes 2016 a lost year, but the worry now should be whether it’ll be a one-off or something worse. It’s easy to see how screwed the Angels are now, but it says a lot that it’s just as easy to see how screwed they are later.

A championship core usually consists of young, talented and healthy players who are in their prime and controlled for the long haul. On the Angels, that’s a small club. There’s Trout and the 28-year-old Calhoun, but who else? Albert Pujols, 36, is old and worse than ever. Andrelton Simmons can only field the ball. Matt Shoemaker has been on a nice run, but he’ll be 30 before the year is out.

The only way the Angels will acquire a championship core in the near future is by buying one or making their own. In the remaining years of Trout’s contract, they’ll be in a position to do neither.

The Angels have Wilson and Jered Weaver and their $40 million in salaries coming off the books this winter. But with the free-agent class due to be one of the worst in recent memory, there won’t be any good places to put that money.

The best chance the Angels will get to reload in free agency is after 2018. That’s when Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey are due to headline possibly the best class of free agents in history.

But starting in 2019, the Angels will be on the hook to pay $75.1 million to Trout, Pujols and Simmons alone. Factor in Calhoun’s arbitration payday, and they’ll have close to $100 million invested in only four players. That doesn’t leave much room for big spending.

Meanwhile, the cavalry will not be coming from the farm.

This is the second year out of three that Baseball America rated the Angels’ system as the worst in baseball. Keith Law of concurred and provided the apparent origin of this conversation: “[The Angels] 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.”

A big draft did not happen. The Angels only had two picks on Day 1, and they reached with the first of those when they chose Virginia catcher Matt Thaiss at No. 16. That landed them on my list of draft losers.

When a team is damaged both up top and underneath as badly as the Angels are, breaking up the whole damn thing and starting from scratch is the only way forward. To this end, trading Trout would be one hell of a first step.

The fact that Trout is owed a little over $120 million over the next four seasons complicates his trade value somewhat, but not too much. That’s going to be a significant underpay if he continues to perform like the best player in baseball, as his talent and youth suggest he should.

In theory, the Angels could look to unload Trout’s remaining contract while also demanding a big haul of young talent. One general manager suggested a likely asking price of “three to five potential impact players” to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. That sounds about right.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that a haul of “potential impact players” will equal one Trout. Shaikin pointed to the infamous Miguel Cabrera trade as an example of what can go wrong. He also noted that, in general, prized prospects don’t always turn out to be prized major leaguers.

However, skepticism like this has become dated.

If it feels like young players rule the modern baseball world, it’s because they do. Rob Arthur noted at FiveThirtyEight last year that the average age of baseball’s biggest stars has been trending downward for years. Trout has done his part, and he’s not alone.

Besides, who says the Angels need to get only prospects in a Trout trade? He’s good enough for L.A. to demand an established young star to take his place. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe floated names like Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, George Springer, Nomar Mazara and Kyle Schwarber as he was pondering potential deals for Trout. None of those are preposterous suggestions.

After landing a player like that, the Angels could still demand a couple of top prospects on the side. Getting them would help put their farm system on the right track.

And though there may be no guarantee of a strong farm system leading to long-term success at the major league level, the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros and New York Mets can all vouch for the value of a strong system. Before long, the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves should be able to as well. 

If anything, the more pressing question is how many teams can and would pull off such a huge trade. In all likelihood, the list is too short for a deal to happen this summer, when contenders will mostly be looking to fill holes rather than overhaul their depth charts.

The winter could be a different story, though. Contenders and rebuilders alike will be in better positions to focus on their long-term goals, increasing the number of teams that could turn to Trout. And with little impact talent available on the open market, Trout’s sticker price could look more reasonable over time.

Nobody thought we’d be having this discussion as recently as 2014, a year in which the Angels extended Trout in the spring and then rode 98 wins into October. But courtesy of their assorted failures and bad breaks, here we are. And courtesy of those same failures and bad breaks, it’s a discussion that isn’t likely to go away if they ignore it.

The Angels won’t soon forget their time with Trout. But before long, it’ll be time to move on.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

Follow zachrymer on Twitter 

Read more MLB news on