Through the first ten days of the 2017 baseball season, one of the most prominent topics surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies has for some reason been... their desperate need to make a trade for Mike Trout.
Facing a young team bereft of superstars and a lackluster start to the season, a lot of Phillies fans are having starry-eyed dreams about the pride of Millville, N.J. putting on red pinstripes sometime soon. After all, Trout grew up rooting for the Phillies. He goes to Eagles games, and he's even hunting buddies with Carson Wentz. If there's any star athlete on another team who's "one of us," it's Trout.
Radio hosts and fans alike are calling for the Phils to put a huge package of their top prospects on the table in an offer for the superstar outfielder, a two-time American League MVP and the best player in baseball, and bring Mike Trout to Philadelphia as soon as possible.
It should go without saying: I would love it if Mike Trout ended up with the Phillies. You would love it. It would be incredible. Trout would probably shatter every record for jersey sales and usher in an era of Phillies excitement unlike anything since the World Series runs of the last decade.
But let's slow down here. If Trout becomes a Phillie, it's unlikely to happen this year, next year, and probably not the year after that. Trout is not available now and there's no indication of that changing anytime soon. If you're ignoring the Phillies, barring the supposedly imminent arrival of a superstar with no plausible short-term path to your team, that's a great strategy for perpetual disappointment.
Let's look at the practicalities: Trout is signed with the Angels for four more years, through 2020. The Angels have not made him available, and seem highly unlikely to make him available at any time in the near future. After all, if you were the Angels, wouldn't you want Mike Trout to spend his entire career with your team? And much as the Angels are described as a hopeless team with no future, they are, in the early going, in first place in the AL West.
Now the Phillies could try to "make them an offer they can't refuse" of every single minor-league prospect you've ever heard of, and "do what ever it takes" to get a deal done. But that's not a strategy likely to get Trout to Philly.
That's because there's probably no possible combination of players currently in the Phillies organization, whether in the majors or minors, that could get the Angels to say yes on giving up four years of team control of Mike Trout.
Nola, Crawford and Alfaro? Crawford, Hernandez, Kingery and Hoskins? Herrera, Eickhoff, and Appel? If you were the Angels, would you say yes to any of those packages? I know I wouldn't. Hell, if the Phillies offered their entire current 40-man roster for Trout and Trout alone, I bet the Angels would still say no.
Trout is, after all, the best player in the game, a probable future Hall of Famer, young and in his prime. Four years is a long time and while the Angels might not be world beaters now, they have plenty more chances to build a winner around Trout before his time in Southern California is up. There’s currently no force applying pressure -- a trade demand, a financial crunch, impending free agency -- that would give the Angels any urgency to trade Trout this year, or even next year.
But let's say the Angels do eventually decide to trade Trout. Once again, it would likely not happen until 2019 at the earliest. Rather than negotiate with the Phillies exclusively, the Angels would probably attempt to set off a bidding war in which the Phillies would need to compete with various other teams. Were that to happen, the Phils wouldn't be offering their prospect list of today, they'd be offering their prospect list of a couple of years from now, which would probably consist of all different players and might not be as strong as the current list.
There is a much more likely scenario: Trout signs with the Phillies as a free agent, after the 2020 season. They wouldn't have to trade anything, he'd get to choose his own hometown as his destination, and he'll still only be 29.
Sure, it's a long time to wait. But it also doesn't entail the Phillies offering to jettison their entire future nucleus in a long-shot trade bid. If they did do that, the Phillies may very well end up with Mike Trout, no other star players and a barren farm system. In other words, they'd look a lot like the Angels right now.
There's also the assumption that superstar players always live happily ever after once they sign crowd-pleasing nine-figure contracts with their hometown team. See the story of the Minnesota Twins and Joe Mauer for a particularly painful counter-example.
The Phillies' brain trust has been consistent about their plan for the last 18 months: Develop the current core of young players, and when the team looks like a contender, start spending that sweet Comcast cable cash on free agents.
Signing Trout in 2020, to go with today's prospects as they approach their primes, would fit with that strategy. But a trade of all their prospects for Mike Trout right now wouldn't be a Matt Klentak move at all -- it would be a Ruben Amaro Jr. move.
Would the Phillies be better with Mike Trout right now? Yes. Would they be more exciting? No doubt about it. Is it going to happen? It's highly unlikely. Does Trout-to-the-Phillies have any business dominating discussion of the Phillies in 2017? Of course not.