The Angels are trying to win, which is good, unless it’s bad(?)

The prospect hugging has gone a little too far if there’s whining about trading a top 50 one in order to give Shohei Ohtani a better chance at the postseason

This article is free for anyone to read, but please consider becoming a Patreon subscriber to allow me to keep writing posts like this one. Sign up to receive articles like this one in your inbox here.

The Angels aren’t in possession of a Wild Card spot at present. They’re certainly not atop the AL West. They’re also playing through what very well might be the final season of Shohei Ohtani’s time with the organization, which doubles as the last time they have both Ohtani and Mike Trout together on the same roster. Another way to read that is that these last two-plus months of the season might be the last time the Angels have the last two players in the league who have had genuine Greatest of All Time labels attached to them, and accurately so, on the same roster.

They’ve basically done squat with Ohtani and Trout together to this point, so it wouldn’t have been surprising to see them once again fail to achieve anything with this ridiculous head start. But instead, on Wednesday, they traded a pair of prospects to the White Sox for Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López, signaling that they weren’t giving up on making it to the postseason in this last chance they might have to do so for… God, who knows how long, really.

For some reason, there have been some struggling with the context here — both fans and more embarrassingly, media — as the Angels gave up a legitimate prospect in Edgar Quero: he was a top 101 prospect heading into the season, and played his way into Baseball Prospectus’ midseason top 50 list, all the way to number 37. That’s not a player you give up for a piece that isn’t the final one, goes the thinking, and not when the Angels have so little to look forward to after this season, assuming Ohtani departs. What’s the alternative, though? Not trying at all? Saying, “well, the player who might genuinely be the greatest player to ever suit up in Major League Baseball, given they’re sometimes a Cy Young-caliber starting pitcher and sometimes an MVP-caliber hitter, occasionally at the same time, is gone, so I guess we should hold on to all of our prospects. Surely that will work out where this didn’t.”

Going for it now makes sense. There is no real later for an organization on the cusp of losing literally Shohei Ohtani. As Ginny Searle pointed out, “There’s absolutely a world out there where the Angels miss the playoffs, lose Ohtani, and see Quero become a star for the White Sox. But who cares? What will the Angels be known for in the next half-decade apart from being the club that still has Trout, but fucked everything else? What does a catcher to compete with Logan O’Hoppe offer in terms of future value that another bite at the Ohtani apple couldn’t give them a dozen times over?”

Quero is a good prospect. He’s not Ohtani; no one is, no one has been. Even Babe Ruth had to stop pitching to concentrate full-time on being a position player, but Ohtani is both, simultaneously, and it took one of the greatest offensive seasons ever from Aaron Judge in 2022 to keep him from consecutive MVP awards. Ohtani has responded by leading the league in homers, slugging, triples, walks, OPS, OPS+, and total bases, while limiting opponents to a league-leading 5.9 hits per nine innings on the mound. You give up Quero to let this guy potentially cook in the postseason, yeah, you do that every single time.

It’s not even just the Ohtani/Trout thing and the seemingly pending dissolution of their partnership. The Angels haven’t won the World Series since 2002, which is now over 20 years ago for those who don’t feel like counting. They haven’t been to the postseason since 2014. They haven’t won a postseason series since 2009. They drew over three million fans per year from 2003 through 2019, but under 2.5 million in 2022, because the shine from their glory years of the aughts finally wore all the way off. They’re at 1.75 million fans so far in 2023 — that’s about half of what they managed at their attendance peak in 2005, and while the season isn’t over yet, they’re not about to pull in another 1.75 million over the last two months, either. There’s a trend building here, and it’s not going in the right direction: losing Ohtani isn’t going to correct it, either.

The Angels need to make it to the postseason while they have Ohtani and Trout, yes, but they also need to make it just because this organization has been one in… free fall isn’t even the right way to describe it, as they’ve mostly been stuck in the middle. But you can imagine how much fan loyalty will be left if they don’t even give winning more of a shot before Ohtani takes off for more effort-filled pastures. It’ll be obvious who’s to blame when Ohtani leaves, the why of it having been a key part of the Angels’ personality for the better part of a decade now. Dealing Quero for Giolito and López could be too little, too late, but they’re a better team than they were before acquiring them, and they need to be a better team if they’re going to do anything with these last bits of Ohtani in red.

Visit my Patreon to become a supporter and help me continue to write articles like this one.