Yesterday, Keith Law released his organizational farm system rankings and called the Los Angeles Angels' "by far the worst system I've ever seen." It was shocking. Our friends over at Halos Heaven reheated a piece they wrote in November, arguing that the Angels should think about moving Mike Trout if they want to halt their decline and improve over the long term,
"Just imagine the haul that trading Mike Trout would bring in for the Angels! They could be set up for a generation by dealing a once-in-a-generation talent. If the Angels were to include Mike Trout in a trade package, not only would they be able to fill out some holes in the major-league roster in the hopes of fielding a competitive team in the short run, but they'd also be able to stack the cupboard in the minors for years of winning baseball to come."
But is that true? Can you actually get value for Mike Trout? I mean realistically. Is there a package that a team could offer that would be fair to the Angels? What would that even look like?
First, let's acknowledge just how good Trout is. At an age (24) where many players are still on Keith Law's prospect list, Trout has already been worth just shy of 40 wins above replacement, finished in the top two of MVP voting four times, and become the best player in the game. He dwarfs the production of Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey, and Alex Rodriguez. We haven't seen a player like him since Willie Mays, and Mays didn't have the same meteoric rise at such a young age. You can reasonably count on Trout to be worth between eight and ten wins per season, assuming he is healthy. Also, he is signed for a pretty fair contract for the next five years.
It's going to be tough. For one thing, his excellence on the field means that it's simply not feasible to trade him for future value. Having Trout is a huge competitive advantage, such that it makes an otherwise mediocre team into a legitimate playoff contender. And any team that gets to the postseason has at least a puncher's chance of winning the World Series. Like, perhaps the Cubs would be willing to deal Jorge Soler and their entire farm system to get him and move Jason Heyward back to right field, but if it moves the Angels back into the Stone Age, it's not really worth it. It's considerably easier to put together a contender with Trout than with a bunch of other pieces who are less than Trout.
Of course, it's possible to get a bunch of players whose contributions add up to Trout's eight-to-ten wins. I mean, presumably the Blue Jays would be willing to send over Kevin Pillar, Marcus Stroman, and Devon Travis, but there's more calculus to be done. Pillar, Stroman and Travis would have to be at least as much better than the players they replaced as Trout is. Assuming, for instance, that there's a five win difference (or more) between Pillar and Trout, Stroman and Travis would have to represent at least a five win upgrade over, say, Johnny Giavotella and C.J. Wilson, or whoever is going to be the 5th starter in LA this year. Because those players have value. Like, even a pretty bad Major League starter (like Giavotella) is going to be worth at least a win and a half above replacement.
No, to make dealing Trout worth it, the Angels would have to pick up at least two players who are going to be consistently worth an average of something like five wins over the next five years, or three players worth an average of four wins per year or more and the list of those players, especially those in the same organization and who would be realistic targets, is incredibly short. Like, for reference, only 33 players were worth five wins or better in 2015, according to Fangraphs, and only 57 were worth better than four wins. And many of those can't be counted on to reproduce their incredible numbers, simply because it's hard to be that great year in and year out.
And that's before we even get into what it would cost to pay to keep any all star caliber players the Angels acquired as they gained service time. Or the risk of two or three or four players staying healthy, as opposed to one.
Look, the point is that it's almost impossible to trade Trout for what would be an acceptable return in 2016. He's not just a long term building block, he's practically the damn building. He's the closest you can get to having a one-man team. This is a fun thought exercise, but even though the Angels may be in a bad spot now, they'd be in an even worse one if they tried to move the best player in baseball to restock an aging team.