When we look at the American League West Division standings today, on the last day of the regular season, we’re first struck by the Oakland Athletics having the same overall record as the Texas Rangers. This is amazing for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the A’s were further behind the Rangers than the Houston Astros were behind the Cincinnati Reds on July 1st.
After that, we’d be surprised to see that the Los Angeles Angels, the team that spent more than any other club on the free agent market and boasts what should be the run-away candidate for the American League’s Most Valuable Player award is four games behind the duo that are currently tied atop the AL West standings. When we consider that Mike Trout, the team’s best player this season, began the year with the organization’s Triple A affiliate, we might begin to wonder what would’ve/could’ve happened if the best player in the league played the entire season in Anaheim.
At the very least, this question was on the mind of Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com when he asked Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto if he had any regrets in his handling of the young center fielder this season. According to Dipoto:
I don’t know how much sooner we could’ve called him up. I mean, Mike had no Spring Training at all [because of a nasty virus and shoulder tendinitis]. Essentially, if you look at Spring Training, even the game portion of Spring Training is a month-long exercise. We didn’t even give him that long. He had enough time to go down and get his timing, hit .420-something and then pop up and be the best player around. I have not lost sleep thinking about that, about the idea that we didn’t call him up soon enough.
There will always be things that you second-guess about. But the worst thing you can do is sit here and drive yourself crazy second-guessing. Should we have done this? Could you have built the roster in this way? At the end of the day, I believe this is a very good team. I do. I think it’s a very good team, we played like a very good team for much of the season. You can’t control what the other teams around you are doing, and we weren’t able to catch them.
It’s unlikely that Mike Trout would’ve offered the Angels enough value in the first thirty games of the year to make up four wins. For as good as Trout has been this season, he is after all, mortal. And besides, Vernon Wells and Peter Borjous, the two players he would’ve been most likely to replace actually offered positive value over the first month of the season.
But let’s suppose for a second that Trout’s numbers did suggest he might have had a chance at increasing the team’s win total by four if he had played the first month of the season, such extrapolation would assume far too much. Primarily, it assumes that Trout offered so much value to the Angels despite missing the first 30 games instead of because he missed the first 30 games.
Instead of criticism, perhaps a little bit of credit is due the Angels front office for letting Trout get his bearings before bringing him up to the big club. After accumulating 83 days of service in the previous season, they would’ve had to wait three months into the season to keep an extra year of team control, and the negligible difference between starting the year in the Majors and being called up thirty days later isn’t likely to affect his Super Two status. They kept him down there for development purposes only.
The eagerness with which we, as savvy baseball fans, criticize managers and front offices is often entertaining and can be valuable in pointing out perspectives that might otherwise go unseen, but it can also be rather inconsiderate to imagine that we know more about a situation than we truly do. While I prefer to dismiss a lot of the naked arguments in support of intangibles being the cause for success or failure, I will gladly accept criticisms over the equally nude assumptions that sometimes come with extrapolation, as is the case with those claiming an entire year of Trout in the lineup would’ve certainly led to a playoff team in Anaheim.