It's a testament to Shohei Ohtani's unique, mythopeic brilliance that news of his torn UCL overshadowed every other baseball happening last week, reducing even Angels teammate Mike Trout's latest physical setback to second-page status. Trout, for those who missed it, returned for his first game since he fractured his hamate bone on July 3. He took four at-bats, recording an infield single along the way, and then was placed on the injured list after the game.
"He's dying to play, but it's pain in his hands and you need your hands to hit," Angels general manager Perry Minasian told reporters, including MLB.com, about Trout's return to the shelf. "It's a significant injury he's coming back from. The last thing we want to do is have him start compensating and it affects other parts. So we're going to give it at least 10 days to calm down."
For as much ink has been spilled over Ohtani's future (and understandably so), this feels like an appropriate time to ponder Trout's. Below, we've done just that by asking, and hopefully answering, four pertinent questions.
1. Can he still be Mike Trout Good?
You may recall that, before Ohtani arrived, and before the injury bug took up residence in Trout's general vicinity, Trout was the league's undisputed fun fact king. He seemed to do something historic on a nightly basis. He may not be that guy anymore, but he remains a highly skilled and productive ballplayer.
We concede that using Wins Above Replacement to demonstrate Trout's greatness is a threadbare exercise these days -- that isn't going to stop us from doing it here, but we wanted to get out in front of those charges. Anyway, consider that Trout has compiled 2.8 WAR in 82 games this season, putting him on pace for 5.6 WAR over a full season -- only 19 players had at least that many last season. Consider also that Trout has tallied nearly 13 WAR in 290 games during the Pandemic Era. Do the calculating and you'll find that works out to 7.2 WAR per 162 games. Again, that's pretty good.
If you go to Trout's Baseball Savant page, you'll find a bunch of red bulbs. He ranks in the 85th percentile or better in nine of the 15 categories displayed in the rankings box, including average and maximum exit velocity, barrel and chase rates, and sprint speed and Outs Above Average.
There are two blue bulbs in that box, too: Trout's strikeout and whiff rates. Those give us the slightest bit of pause when thinking about his game moving forward. Take a look at how those metrics, as well as his in-zone whiff rate, have trended in recent years:
As you can see, Trout has become far more prone to swinging and missing in recent years. It could be tied to a philosophical shift elsewhere rather than a skill issue. He's also become more pull-heavy, suggesting he might be looking to maximize his damage by prioritizing slugging over pure contact.
Obviously those shifts haven't hampered Trout's top-line numbers (though his 130 OPS+ would represent a career low), and that's the most important part of the equation. It is interesting to think about those shifts with the context of his age (he just turned 32) and injury history (more on that in a second). If this wasn't arguably the most talented American-born player in history, would we be more concerned about those trends as potential evidence of decline?
Let's move on to something less conceptual, albeit more dispiriting.
2. Is his body failing him?
Let's face it. Trout has become prone to missing large swaths of the season. Dating back to 2018, he's required five separate stints on the injured list. He's also dealt with a variety of day-to-day injuries, as you'd expect.
Aug. 6, 2018
May 18, 2021
July 15, 2022
July 4, 2023
Aug. 23, 2023
It's to be seen when and if he returns before the year is out. He needs to appear in 18 more games to clear 100. If he falls short of that, it'll mean he's appeared in fewer than 75% of the Angels games in each season since 2020:
|Season||Games played||% of Angels games|
Additionally, Trout has surpassed 140 appearances just once since 2017. (Though, to be fair, his 53 appearances in 2020 prorate to 143 in a normal year.)
A question the Angels have to ask themselves is how to keep Trout healthier heading forward. They've already phased out the stolen base from his game: whereas he averaged 27 per 162 contests from 2012-19, he's attempted -- not stolen, but attempted -- all of seven steals since.
One potential remedy could stem from Ohtani leaving as a free agent, thereby opening up the designated hitter position for Trout. The Angels don't have to go full Minnesota Twins/Byron Buxton here or anything, but being strategic with how often Trout plays the field could help keep him hearty and hale.
3. What's his contract situation?
Rest assured, Trout isn't heading to the open market anytime soon, if ever, after signing what remains (for the time being) the richest contract in baseball history: a 12-year pact worth $426.5 million.
Trout's contract stipulates that he'll receive $35.45 million annually through his age-38 campaign. For those not willing to break out the calculator, that means the Angels will enter next season owing him nearly $250 million more.
4. Could the Angels trade him?
After going through the first three sections, you might be wondering if the Angels could move Trout -- for his sake, or theirs, depending on your perspective. CBS Sports asked a few front-office sources with other teams about the possibility, but no one thought that it was realistic for a few reasons.
Foremost, owner Arte Moreno just resisted trading Ohtani. You can blame that on stubbornness, a desire to avoid being known as the owner who failed to build a winner around the most talented player of all time, or whatever else. Some (if not all) of Moreno's exact reasoning applies to Trout. Baseball is part of the entertainment business. You have to give people a reason to tune in and to buy gear and tickets. If Ohtani signs elsewhere this offseason, the post-Ohtani Angels will struggle in that respect. At least Trout, no matter how bad the supporting cast, is a major attraction.
Even if Moreno signed off on a trade, general manager Perry Minasian might have a hard time finding takers. It's one thing to commit nearly $250 million to a great player as they age into their mid-to-late 30s, it's another to do it when said player is already having trouble staying on the field. In theory, the Angels could eat salary to facilitate a deal, but again, that would require buy-in from Moreno (and, for that matter, Trout, who has a full no-trade clause).
It seems likely to us that Trout is going to remain with the Angels moving forward. Our hope, then, is that he and the Angels can find a way to keep him healthier. For as big of a shame it is that we've been deprived of the opportunity to watch him play in meaningful games, it would be even crueler if he's unable to partake in a higher percentage of meaningless games.