Mike Trout, as you've surely heard by now, is done for the season.
After being hampered by soreness for the past month, Trout - who last appeared in a game on Sept. 7 - will undergo season-ending surgery this week to address a condition called Morton's neuroma that causes pain in the ball of the foot.
The most pressing question raised by Trout's injury is whether it'll hinder his chances of earning a third American League MVP Award. The quick-and-dirty answer? It might. But it shouldn't. And it probably won't.
The only other viable contender in the American League is Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros, and Trout has been the superior player in every conceivable way. Obviously, if Bregman goes completely bananas over the final two weeks of the season, things could change, but right now it's Trout's award. The only ostensible edge Bregman has on Trout is that his team is going to the playoffs, and no right-headed voter should allow that to dictate their decision. Trout shouldn't be penalized for the ineptitude of his teammates, nor should Bregman get extra credit for the excellence of his. Got it? Good.
Even more distressing than the potential impact on his MVP candidacy is how frustratingly inconsequential Trout's injury is for the Angels, who are currently heading for a second straight fourth-place finish in the American League West and weren't more than five games above .500 at any point in 2019. If the Angels were fighting for a postseason berth, Trout would've tried to play through the pain, he said. As usual, they're not.
Since Trout's debut in 2011, the Angels have made the playoffs just once despite the varied and persistent attempts to surround their superstar with a capable supporting cast. They've thrown money at free agents, from Albert Pujols to C.J. Wilson to Zack Cozart. They've traded prospects for All-Stars like Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton. They've spent on the international market, too, most notably landing two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani two winters ago. They even parted ways with longtime manager Mike Scioscia after last season as part of their ongoing attempt to wrest themselves from this seemingly interminable stretch of mediocrity. Nothing has worked.
To his credit, Trout has never been fazed by the Angels' immutable suckiness. Amid all that frustration, he's cemented himself not only as the best player of his generation, but possibly as the greatest of all time. No player in history has accrued as many wins above replacement through his age-27 season as Trout, who is already the seventh-most valuable center fielder ever, according to FanGraphs. Since his first season as an everyday player, in 2012, Trout has been 43% more valuable than the game's second-most valuable player over that span, Buster Posey. Trout's career 1.000 OPS is eighth highest in the live-ball era, putting him right between Hank Greenberg and Manny Ramirez, while he's also a member of the highly exclusive .300/.400/.500 club.
According to Trout himself, this season was his best. Before getting shut down, the 28-year-old hit .291/.438/.645 - his OBP and slugging percentage are both tops in the AL, and he leads the majors with an OPS+ of 184 - while managing a career-high 45 homers in 134 games. Meanwhile, he sits atop the FanGraphs leaderboard with 8.6 WAR, and the only player within one win of him, Christian Yelich, is also done for the year.
Still, the Angels have only the lone postseason appearance to show for Trout's consistently Herculean efforts - they were swiftly bounced from the 2014 ALDS in three games - and they haven't even managed a winning record since 2015. Now, though, with another sensational (albeit abbreviated) season in the books for Trout, the team's inability to parlay his singular excellence into success is verging on historic.
Since 1920, a position player has amassed at least 8.0 fWAR in a season without his team qualifying for the playoffs only 137 times, and Trout is now responsible - or, rather, the Angels are - for six of those campaigns. Los Angeles didn't play into October in either of his first two full seasons, when he accrued 10.1 and 10.2 fWAR, respectively, and the franchise subsequently squandered Trout's production in 2015 (9.3), 2016 (9.7), 2018 (9.7), and now 2019 (8.6). The only players to have more exemplary seasons wasted are Willie Mays, who played the majority of his career in an era that sent only one team from each league into the "postseason," as well as Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams, both of whom retired (and, in the former's case, died) before first League Championship Series was played in 1969.
|Player||8+ WAR w/o postseason|
No pitcher in the live-ball era, incidentally, has endured this particular frustration as many times as Trout. Roger Clemens came closest, though, having authored four seasons of at least 8 fWAR in which his team didn't make the postseason.
Can the Angels make it seven such seasons for Trout in 2020, pushing him into a dubious tie with Hornsby (who, it should be noted, won a World Series title with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1926)? While standard it's-way-too-early-to-make-predictions-about-next-season caveats apply, it certainly looks like it.
Chiefly, the Houston Astros are almost certainly going to win the division for a fourth consecutive year next season. They're arguably the best team in baseball, with only one player of import, Gerrit Cole, eligible for free agency this winter. A wild-card berth, then, is likely the Angels' best-case scenario, and while an offseason overhaul could dramatically change their outlook, this team is currently too deficient to have much optimism moving forward.
Even with Ohtani expected to return to the mound in 2020, the rotation looks to be a veritable dumpster fire. Angels starters have put up the third-highest ERA (5.50) in the majors this season, and none of the youngsters have much upside. Additionally, Los Angeles was only an average offensive team this year, and its roster remains littered with too many intractable, declining veterans (e.g. Pujols, Simmons, and Upton).
So, the Angels aren't in a great spot right now, and that's without taking into account Trout's increasingly disconcerting durability. He's now missed extended periods of time in each of the last three seasons, averaging only 129 games in those campaigns. One of those injuries was a freak thing - he tore a thumb ligament sliding into a base in 2017 - but the specifics here are largely incidental. The point is that Trout is less apt to play every single day now than he was five years ago, putting even more pressure on those around him to pick up the slack.
Whether the Angels' front office also feels that pressure this offseason remains to be seen. That front office bought itself all the time in the world over the winter when it signed Trout to a 12-year contract extension, effectively unburdening the team from the burden of winning in the near term. Trout isn't going to be an eight-win player forever, though. Sooner than later, all that surplus value had better amount to more than a dubious footnote in baseball's history books.
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.
- With research assistance from Guy Spurrier.