Through his age-28 season, Mike Trout best compares statistically to players such as Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Frank Robinson.
But historically, Trout is headed down a path that will put him more in the company of Ernie Banks, Ken Griffey Jr., and Ted Williams. All were tremendous players who never won the World Series.
Trout’s only appearance in the postseason came in 2014 when his Angels were bounced out of a Division Series in three games by the Kansas City Royals.
As every season has passed since, the clock ticks a little louder.
“It’s almost like a mortal sin in the Catholic faith,” said Joe Maddon, now in his second season managing the Angels. “You just can’t miss out on that kind of opportunity when you have that kind of generational talent . . . he could be the logo by now for MLB.”
Maddon is Trout’s third manager since he made his debut in 2011 and Perry Minasian the fourth general manager. But as the team changes around Trout, the results have not.
Trout had a good relationship with Billy Eppler, who was fired as GM after five losing seasons. It was Eppler who signed Trout to an extension in 2019 and included him in the team’s roster-building process.
“I trusted his decisions and I trusted his staff,” Trout said.
Eppler led the successful recruiting of Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon and rebuilt what was a barren farm system.
Now Minasian, who was an assistant GM with the well-run Braves, gets his chance. He’s building a rapport with Trout and arrived with a plan to boost the roster now as opposed to a long-term rebuilding process.
The Angels are trying, give them that. Minasian traded for Reds closer Raisel Iglesias, signed bounce-back candidates Alex Cobb and José Quintana for the rotation, and took Dexter Fowler off the Cardinals’ hands to play right field. José Iglesias is the new shortstop.
The American League West is trending down with the Astros and Athletics having holes to fill. The Angels could have enough offense to overcome their pitching and give Trout another shot at the postseason.
He’s getting tired of that topic.
“I hear it every year,” Trout said after reporting to spring training. “I think the only way to change it is to get to the playoffs.
“I’m trying to get to the playoffs. We all are. If that’s not the mind-set, you shouldn’t be here. Every year that’s in my mind. It’s still the same.”
Maddon can be an acquired taste for some players. But he has shown the ability to flip the mood of a clubhouse gone sour. Pandemic protocols have taken visits from Mariachi bands and zoo animals off the agenda for now, but Maddon usually finds a way.
The Angels, as Trout noted, haven’t felt the full Maddon effect yet. But a 14-10 record in September after a 12-24 start generated some hope.
“He’s about culture and team chemistry, getting guys to buy in,” Trout said.
Maddon was careful to say he’s not building a team to give Trout a bigger place in history. Maddon came up with the Angels as a minor league manager and coach under Mike Scioscia and returned to “win for everybody” in the organization.
But he also understands the window for Trout will close at some point.
“I’m getting older for sure, but I’m still young,” Trout said. “I still feel great.”
Williams was 28 when the Red Sox lost the 1946 World Series. He played 14 more seasons and never went back. It was the one box Williams never checked.
As Trout prepares for the season, his on-field goal is to clean up his defense in center field. He’s also taking on an increased role with the Players Association, talking often with executive director Tony Clark as the union prepares for negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement.
“We want to know the future of baseball. I’m learning a lot of new things,” Trout said. “Tony wants to know our input.”
Trout and his wife, Jessica, had the first child last summer, a son. Maybe Beckham Trout will have a parade in his future.
“This year I’m a dad. Maybe something different will change our luck,” Trout said.
That’s J.D, as in just dreaming
It was interesting to hear 33-year-old J.D. Martinez say he was interested in playing into his 40s and perhaps staying with the Red Sox over the long term.
“I feel like in Red Sox history will forever know David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez, and those guys that have been here for years, so obviously you know it’s one of those things where that would obviously be a dream,” Martinez said.
Sounds nice. But is there anything about the way Chaim Bloom has conducted business in Boston so far that suggests he would want to invest in an aging designated hitter?
Bloom has prioritized defensive versatility, short-term deals, and maximizing value. Bloom’s former team, the Rays, haven’t had anything close to a full-time DH since 37-year-old Johnny Damon started 133 games at that spot in 2011.
Martinez is due $19.37 million this season and next. Then he’s surely gone unless he settles for a low-cost, one-year deal.
A few other observations about the Red Sox after landing in Fort Myers:
▪ Martinez on whether MLB and the Players Association can avoid a work stoppage next season: “I don’t know. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a tough one. It’s going to be a battle.”
▪ Xander Bogaerts had a refreshing take on his motivation for following COVID-19 safety protocols.
“Just be professional. Don’t always think on yourself. Think on, as normal people would say, your neighbor. Think on the guy next door. Think on the coaching staff and front office. Those are older guys, guys that have a higher age group than we have, you know?” he said.
“I know we’re young. Sometimes we think we’re invincible or nothing can touch us because we’re so young. This virus, you never know with it. Just try to keep yourself safe but mostly the elder ones that are always around here. It can be coaching staff, front office, ownership group, whatever. Just try to think on them before you do something, I would say, stupid.”
▪ Bobby Dalbec was friendly with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez, who unexpectedly died earlier this month. Dalbec played at the University of Arizona with Gomez’s son, Rio, who is now a Sox pitching prospect.
“He was the best. Everybody who knew him is going to miss him a lot. He was special,” Dalbec said. “It was awful to get that news. I knew he knew I was getting called up before I did. He was always so supportive.”
▪ Dalbec, whose father is a music industry executive, passed on a recommendation to check out Champagne Lane, an Atlanta-based duo. They have a jazzy/chill rock feel. Listen to “Golden Hour” on YouTube to get a feel.
Yastrzemski doesn’t take success for granted
At 30, Mike Yastrzemski is just getting started.
The Andover native made his major league debut in 2019 and has since hit .281 with an .892 OPS, 31 home runs, and 90 RBIs in 161 games for the Giants.
He finished eighth in voting for the National League MVP last season.
But Yastrzemski remembers the six fruitless years he spent in the minors with the Orioles before being traded. There was no sense of comfort coming into spring training this season.
“It’s competitive,” Yastrzemski said. “In my mind I still want to make a team every spring that I get here. I want to keep getting better and keep growing my game. If I were to lay off that mentally then I don’t think physically I’m really going to get much better.
“As much as I would like to be comfortable, I can’t really completely say I’m 100 percent confident in that. Because this game is wild. You have to prove yourself every day.”
A three-game losing streak to close the season cost the Giants a playoff spot last season. Two of the losses were by one run.
“It’s still frustrating. We haven’t had a chance to redeem ourselves yet,” Yastrzemski said. “It’s still a little thorn in our side. We’re just not satisfied.”
With the Dodgers and Padres in their division, the Giants have a difficult road to the playoffs. But they played with a sense of purpose under Gabe Kapler last season and have Buster Posey coming back.
Yastrzemski was one of the players who grew into a leadership role after Posey opted out of the season to be with his wife and their newly-adopted twin baby daughters.
“It’s interesting to look around the league and see what’s going on,” Yastrzemski said. “We’re focused on us and being the best we can possibly be. If we keep that mentality and not worry who we’re facing and not getting star-struck by big names we’re going to be just fine.”
As for his Hall of Fame grandfather, Carl Yastrzemski focuses on the future when they talk.
“He was more saying, ‘Congrats on a good year,’ and very quickly he’s on to the next,” Mike Yastrzemski said. “More on how do you get better, how do you maintain this going forward? More or less preparation of how to stay focused and how to continue to grow and continue my career. It was more advice on that.”
CCBL finds a sweet spot
The Cape Cod Baseball League is not under the umbrella of MLB’s “One Baseball” system but will continue to receive some of its funding from MLB through a grant request.
But instead of primarily competing with Team USA for players, the CCBL will have to contend, at least to some degree, with two MLB-affiliated prospect leagues.
The Appalachian League, once a rookie-level pro league, is now a wood-bat amateur summer league for incoming college freshmen and sophomores. There’s also a new six-team MLB Draft League for draft-eligible high school and college players.
The new amateur leagues will play in professional-level ballparks and have professional-level coaching and umpiring.
But commissioner Eric Zmuda sees the CCBL remaining a destination for the best rising college juniors.
“Ultimately, as always, it’s up to the college coaches as to the best fit for their athlete,” he said. “I feel the coaches nationwide know that the Cape is the best place for their player.”
The Cape has tradition on its side and is a favorite stop for scouts. But its long-term future will be tied to improving its facilities.
The only thing surprising about the comments that led to Mariners CEO Kevin Mather resigning in disgrace was that he was foolish enough to say them in public. Clubs have been manipulating the service time of young players for years or trying to pressure them into signing team-friendly contracts. Mather’s callous personal disregard for the players was jarring and to be sure, he seems like an awful person. But it also speaks to how a reliance on predictive analytics has executives treating players more like goods with an expiration date than people. The NBA’s relationship with its players feels like a partnership designed to grow the sport and share the wealth that growth produces. With baseball, the relationship is adversarial. The goal is winning the negotiation, not what’s ultimately right for everybody and the sport. Mather was essentially fired because he blurted out in public what teams have tried to pretend for years isn’t true . . . Bryce Harper sure loves Dave Dombrowski. “Once Dombrowski came in, finally, it was kind of like a breath of fresh air,” Harper said after arriving in Phillies camp. “You’re sitting there going, ‘Man, this guy is going to do his job, and he’s going to do everything he can to help this organization.’ And I think the city is in need of that, you know what I’m saying?” Since becoming president of baseball operations in December, Dombrowski has fortified the Phillies by re-signing Didi Gregorius and J.T. Realmuto and bolstering the pitching staff. As he did in Boston, Dombrowski convinced ownership to chase a championship. “For them to be able to do what they did, I was really excited. I was really pumped about it,” Harper said. “And I was, quite frankly, a little shocked that they were able to do what they did.” . . . The Dodgers left a locker open for the late Tommy Lasorda at their Camelback Ranch spring training complex in Arizona … Tigers lefthander Tarik Skubal, a good pick to click this season, is working on throwing the same type of splitter teammate Casey Mize uses . . . Deidre Pujols made news Monday by writing on Instagram that the coming season would be the last for her husband, Albert. As the media quickly reacted, Pujols said no decision had been reached. Pujols is 41 and has been in decline for several years. Retirement seems inevitable. He should follow the example set by David Ortiz and make that decision now. Ortiz was able to enjoy his final season and with that weight off his shoulders, he flourished. Pujols is a legendary player and should be celebrated this season . . . Padres majority owner Peter Seidler obviously has pushed back on the idea he’s running a small-market team with the moves they have made. “We have the opportunity to be opportunistic when it does make sense. We make decisions really with 10 years in mind, not year to year to year, although we are cognizant of the current year,” he said, “I could not be happier with where we are in every way, business-wise, baseball-wise, and I’ll speak for the people of San Diego. We’re the eighth-largest city in America. There’s nothing we can’t do.” . . . Don’t mess with Mr. Met. Taijuan Walker intended to have No. 00 when he signed with New York before being informed that the mascot has that number. He went with 99 instead. Walker will be the first No. 99 for the Mets since, of course, Dalton’s Turk Wendell from 1997-2001. “It’s awesome. I mean, let’s be honest. My number is not retired, I wasn’t some superstar player. I sure as hell ain’t a Hall of Famer,” Wendell told SNY . . . Luke Farrell, the 29-year-old son of former Red Sox manager John Farrell, is in Twins camp as a non-roster invitee. Farrell has apeared in 43 major league games the last four seasons. The righthander twice overcame cancer while in college . . . Happy birthday to Brian Bannister, who is 40. Bannister was with the Red Sox from 2015-19 as a scout, director of pitching analysis, assistant pitching coach, and vice president of pitching development. The Bay Area resident is now director of pitching for the Giants.