A look back in baseball history: uncovering the details of the Angels’ failure to capitalize on the individual greatness of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.
When assembling a list of the all-time best players to grace Major League Baseball, it is a guarantee that two names will appear in every discussion: Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.
Thus far in their illustrious careers, the two combine for five MVP awards and 539 home runs. Remarkably, the Los Angeles Angels have had Trout and Ohtani on their roster for the entirety of their careers, reaping the benefits of two hall-of-fame caliber players. Yet, the Angels have only appeared in postseason play once since Trout joined the club in 2011 and zero times since the two-way phenom Ohtani came over from Japan in 2018.
On December 11, Ohtani officially departed from Anaheim and moved cross-town to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ohtani pressed ink to paper on a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, giving plausible reason to review the Angels’ disastrous recent history.
The Angels had six seasons with Trout and Ohtani on the same team and couldn’t finish one season with a winning record, with 80 wins in 2018 being the most wins they secured in a single season of the six-year window. Even before Ohtani joined forces with Trout, the Angels missed October baseball in one of Trout’s MVP seasons, his three second-place MVP seasons and his fourth-place MVP season.
It seems highly improbable that an organization boasting two of the best baseball players in a generation would fail to make the playoffs, yet the Angels beat the odds, suffering a decade of mediocrity amid Trout and Ohtani’s greatness. Albeit, Ohtani was mostly healthy in three seasons. In those three seasons, Ohtani won two MVP awards and finished second in MVP voting and Trout averaged 22 home runs per year – all to continuously fall short of postseason baseball.
This organizational failure began in 2009 with a stroke of greatness – and possibly luck. With the No. 25 pick in the first round of the MLB amateur draft, the Angels selected Trout from Millville Senior High School in New Jersey. Trout waited as 24 names passed before his own, including the Angels’ selection of Randal Grichuk at No. 24 in the draft. Little did the league know that Trout would go on to define a decade of baseball.
Trout soared through the Angels’ minor leagues, demanding his way to the majors through his efficacious, smooth swing and eye-popping offensive measures. In 131 games in Trout’s first – and only – full minor league season in 2010, Trout torched minor league pitching with a .341 batting average and 10 home runs. Trout’s numbers were impossible to overlook, earning him a trip to the major leagues on July 8, 2011. Trout’s rookie season was underwhelming, displaying a meager .672 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 123 at-bats. It was Trout’s 2012 season that put the Millville product on the map.
Still possessing rookie status in 2012, Trout raked to a .326 batting average, swiped a league-leading 49 bags, pumped 30 homers and earned the Rookie of the Year award. Trout finished second in MVP voting, getting edged out by triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera. It took a historic offensive season for Trout to be beaten out in MVP voting, but despite not winning the ultimate award, MLB fans awoke to Trout’s stardom.
The 2012 season was not only encouraging for Angels fans because of Trout. The team finished with an 89-73 record, narrowly missing playoff baseball by a four-game margin. The future was bright in Anaheim, as the Angels paired Trout with Albert Pujols, a three-time National League MVP winner.
After winning the 2011 World Series as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Angels successfully poached Pujols from the grips of his career-long team. The Angels wooed Pujols with warm Southern California weather and a lucrative 10-year, $254 million contract, which was the third-largest contract in MLB history at the time. Pujols hit 30 home runs in his inaugural season in Anaheim, giving Angels fans plentiful hope for the upcoming years.
Further bolstering the roster, the Angels added 2010 American League MVP winner Josh Hamilton to the 2013 roster, inking the veteran to a five-year, $125 million contract. Hamilton had made five All-Star teams before heading to Los Angeles. The outfielder slugged a career-high 43 home runs in 2012, making an Angels’ lineup with Hamilton, Pujols and Trout a threat. Yet, the 2013 season came with disappointment.
Pujols played in only 99 games in 2013 and his injury-laden season concluded with a career-low .767 OPS and 17 home runs, far off from his St. Louis season average of a 1.038 OPS and nearly 41 home runs. Hamilton posted a .739 OPS and hit 21 home runs – less than half of his 2012 home run total. The Angels’ pitching staff struggled, slotting in at No. 24 in MLB staff ERA. Meanwhile, Trout blasted 27 home runs and hit .323, finishing second in MVP voting for the second consecutive season.
The 2014 season renewed hope for Angels fans. The team won 98 games, won the AL West and Trout took home the MVP trophy, finally finishing second-to-none. Complementing Trout, Pujols hit 28 home runs. It was a productive season for Pujols, but far from his averages in St. Louis. Hamilton nursed thumb and shoulder injuries during the season, limiting him to 89 games and 10 home runs.
Jared Weaver, Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker led the pitching rotation with efficiency. The bullpen was lock-down, with dueling closers Huston Street and Joe Smith posting 1.71 and 1.81 ERAs respectively. The two divvied up saves near-equal, with Street finishing with 17 saves and Smith notching 15. After four seasons of no October baseball, the Angels had arrived, led by the American League MVP.
The Angels patiently waited to compete against the winner of the AL Wild Card game and were greeted with an up-and-coming Kansas City Royals team. The Angels faltered against the young Kansas City team, as the Royals swept them in the American League Division Series. Trout went one for 12 in the series, Pujols went two for 12 and Hamilton went hitless. The Angels’ three-headed monster’s performance was a monstrosity, and the Angels left October baseball with a sour taste in their mouth.
After just two seasons in Anaheim, Hamilton would never play another game for the Angels. The former MVP reported to MLB that he relapsed into his drug addiction, prompting the Angels to trade him to his original team, the Texas Rangers. The Angels would eat the majority of Hamilton’s contract, paying him for three more years despite him not being on the team.
The Angels would come close to playoff baseball in 2015, but would ultimately finish with 85 wins and take a seat on the couch in October. Outside of Trout, who blasted 41 home runs and finished second in MVP voting, and Pujols, who smacked 40 home runs, the Angels lacked offensive production. Richards and Hector Santiago were effective atop the halos rotation, but Weaver and Shoemaker both regressed, with the two posting ERAs in the mid-four range. Hope began to fade for Angels fans, as another season passed by with Trout producing and the Angels finishing below expectations.
The 2016 season saw the Angels finish with 74 wins – the worst Angels record in Trout’s Major League tenure. The pitching took a step down. The offensive regressed. The Angels fell. Yet, Trout excelled, winning his second MVP award and concluding the season with 29 home runs and a .991 OPS.
The 2017 season was deja vu, a stellar Trout and a lackluster Angels. Trout led the American League in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS, netting him a fourth-place finish in MVP voting. Trout was beginning to generate a strong hall-of-fame case, while the Angels continued to embarrass themselves nationally, winning 80 games, missing playoff baseball and wasting another year of prime Trout production. Pujols had regressed massively, forfeiting his position at first base for a designated hitter role, yet only manufacturing a paltry .672 OPS. The Machine, which was Pujols’ nickname in St. Louis, was phasing out of efficiency. After three seasons with no performance improvement, the Angels were in dire straits, and Trout needed help.
While the Angels were in the midst of subpar seasons, a young star was rising across the Pacific Ocean. Shohei Ohtani was taking the world by storm, a Japanese product that came with an unthinkable promise – the guarantee of being a two-way player. For five seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, Ohtani had been a pitcher and a hitter for the Nippon-Ham Fighters. MLB scouts flocked from North America to observe firsthand if the legend of Ohtani was true – and it was.
Departing from Japan at 23 years old, Ohtani was considered an amateur free agent under the rules of MLB. This meant that there were limits on how much money Ohtani could earn from MLB teams. Once signed, Ohtani would be contractually no different than any other player, having to serve six seasons of MLB service time before becoming eligible for free agency. The Angels had proved with the Pujols and Hamilton signings that they were willing to hand out large sums of cash for players, an advantage that wouldn’t aid the Angels in their pursuit of Ohtani, leaving halos fans with little hope that Ohtani would ever wear Angel red.
Although the Angels were viewed as long shots to lure the coveted Ohtani to Anaheim, Christmas came early for Angels fans, with Ohtani singing with the Angels on December 8, 2017. Help had arrived for Trout, with Ohtani representing two potential impact players in just one person.
Ohtani and Trout formed an esteemed duo in 2018, with Ohtani winning AL Rookie of the Year and Trout finishing second in MVP voting. Trout popped 39 homers and Ohtani added 22 of his own. Trout finished with a 1.088 OPS and Ohtani assimilated seamlessly into MLB with a .925 OPS. This must’ve warranted success in Anaheim, right? Wrong.
The Angels matched their 2017 record, ending 2018 with another 80-82 record and no postseason baseball. Trout, Ohtani and veteran Justin Upton, who hit 30 home runs in 2018, were the only exceptional hitters for the Angels. Ohtani provided 10 pitching starts for the halos, stunning audiences with a 3.31 ERA to couple his offensive excellence. Unfortunately, the double feature ended early in 2018, with Ohtani going down with an Ulnar Collateral Ligament injury that required Tommy John surgery, keeping him off of the mound until 2020. The rest of the Angels’ pitching rotation was filled with run-of-the-mill pitchers with league-average stat lines.
When Ohtani arrived in Anaheim in 2018, he instantly slotted in at the number one spot on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list. Ohtani joined Angels’ prospects Jo Adell, Kevin Maitan and Jahmai Jones on the list, symbolizing the next generation of MLB stars. The Angels’ biggest failure; however, between Trout’s selection and the present day has been their inability to develop prospects, which is evident in all three prospects mentioned above.
Adell made it to MLB in 2020 but holds a pitiful career .625 OPS in 580 at-bats. Maitan failed to develop his hit tool in the minor leagues, has never cracked MLB and was released from the Angels organization in 2023. Jones was traded to the Orioles in exchange for right-hander Alex Cobb in 2021 and has hit .179 in 84 MLB at-bats.
The Angels’ acute failure to develop talent dates back to every selection they’ve made since drafting Trout. The Angels’ first-round picks between Trout’s selection and 2018 to play in MLB are Cam Bedrosian, Kaleb Cowart, C.J. Cron, Sean Newcomb, Taylor Ward, Matt Thaiss, Adell and Jordyn Adams. Many of these picks were complete busts in the major leagues, with a few being semi-productive players for the Angels and some becoming contributing players for other organizations.
Bedrodian was a quality reliever for the Angels from 2016 to 2020 but was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in free agency after the 2020 season. Ward has been the best of the first-round picks, with an accumulation of 4.8 career wins above replacement. Ward appeared to be a draft bust from 2018 to 2021 but eventually broke out in 2022 with 23 home runs with a .833 OPS. Cron and Newcomb were the only other first-rounders to become established big-leaguers, but their best work came with other MLB teams. The Angels drafting and developing ineptitude condemned them to mediocrity for a decade, which was why the team suffered a downslide after their 98-win 2014 season.
The 2019 Angels were still afflicted by their poor player development and Ohtani’s absence from the mound, leaping backward to a 72-90 record. Another Trout MVP season was seared into the record books, with him hitting a career-high 45 home runs. Ohtani continued his offensive success by hitting 18 homers, all while recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Angels’ offense outside of the two superstars was feeble, with only four of the nine Angels starters having an OPS+ above the league-average mark of 100. Anaheim also had an inflated staff ERA of 5.12 without Ohtani.
Realizing that help wasn’t coming from within the organization, the Angels looked to the free agent market for help – a strategy that didn’t work with Pujols and Hamilton and continued to fail with their 2019 splash signing. Panicking after missing out on Gerrit Cole, who signed the largest pitching contract in MLB history, the Angels threw $245 million at third basemen Anthony Rendon, who had just won a World Series with the Washington Nationals. Sound familiar?
Shortly after making their marquee offseason move, the world was shut down because of the Coronavirus. Quarantine plagued the world and the 2020 MLB season wouldn’t begin until July 23, and a 60-game regular season was implemented. The Angels went 26-34 in the shortened season and missed the playoffs. Trout and Rendon mashed for the Angels, but Ohtani struggled in both facets of his game. It was a fluke season for the league, making it easy to conclude that the Angels might’ve had greater success in a full season.
Then, 2021 happened. Ohtani showed the baseball world what he was capable of – and it was breathtaking. Ohtani blasted 46 home runs, posted a .965 OPS, started 23 games on the mound, had a 3.18 ERA and struck out 10.8 batters per nine innings. Ohtani won the MVP award and quickly became revered among baseball fans. Unprecedented greatness was unable to overshadow the Angels’ mediocrity, with the team winning 77 games. Trout suffered a back injury and a calf strain that limited him to 36 games and Rendon had hip surgery that capped him at 58 games. Ohtani and breakout first baseman Jared Walsh drove in 100 and 98 runs respectively, with the next highest mark coming from David Fletcher and Phil Gosselin, who each drove in 47 runners. The Angels, having made zero moves to vastly improve the pitching staff, were shelled to a 4.69 ERA.
Ohtani had done the unthinkable in modern baseball. He played a full season as a pitcher and a hitter, elevating himself to the rank of the best player in MLB, developing far from where he was when he was the top prospect on the MLB pipeline. Ohtani’s performance also placed pressure on the Angels organization to build a winning team around their two superstars. Heading into 2022, no team had more eyes on them than the Angels.
Handcuffed by Rendon’s $245 million contract and Trout’s record-breaking $426.5 million contract the Angels handed him before the 2019 season, general manager Perry Minasian was financially limited. Especially with the proliferation of MLB contract figures that saw shortstop Corey Seager press the pen on a $325 million contract with the Texas Rangers. Unwilling to blow past the luxury tax mark, the Angels were limited to acquiring two starting pitchers: bounce-back candidates Noah Syndergaard, who signed for one-year $21 million, and Michael Lorenzen, who was coming off of a 5.59 ERA in 2021.
As uninspiring as those off-season moves were, they were a microcosm of the Angels uninspired baseball in 2022. Once again being afflicted by injury, Rendon played only 47 games and Trout played 119. Ohtani and Ward were the only offensive starters to appear in at least 130 games. Ward pieced together the best season of his career, hitting 23 home runs and living up to his first-round hype. Despite missing 43 games, Trout packed a punch when he was on the field, hitting 40 homers, batting .283 and slugging .630. Ohtani continued his 2021 work, proving he was durable as a two-way superstar. The All-Star hit 34 home runs and started a team-high 28 games for the halos, in which he diced opponents, boasting a 2.33 ERA. Ohtani’s work was more than enough to warrant another MVP award, but he was edged out by New York Yankees’ outfielder, Aaron Judge, who hit 62 home runs, breaking Roger Maris’ record for the highest single-season home run total for a non-performance-enhancing drug user. The Yankees team performance also aided Judge in the polls, as the Yankees won 99 games and an AL East division title, while the Angels finished third in the west with 73 wins.
Outside of Ward, Ohtani and Trout’s supporting cast was subpar. Walsh, who pieced together an All-Star campaign in 2021, saw his numbers tank in 2022. The lefty got on base at a miserable .269 rate. Starters Max Stassi, Andrew Velazauez and Brandon Marsh exhibited measly .571, .540 and .637 OPS’ respectively. Los Angeles slotted in at No. 26 in MLB in OBP and No. 22 in OPS.
The halos starting staff showed more promise than the hitters. Patrick Sandoval threw 27 games with a 2.91 ERA, Reid Detmers – pitching in his rookie season – started 25 games to a 3.77 ERA and southpaw Jose Suarez rounded out the rotation with a 3.96 ERA in 20 starts.
The Angels found themselves selling off MLB pieces at the trade deadline, flipping off-season acquisition Syndergaard to the Philadelphia Phillies for Mickey Moniak. The Angels also traded Marsh to the Phillies for promising catching prospect Logan O’Hoppe.
Halos’ general manager Minasian knew that 2023 would be the defining season in the Ohtani era. Ohtani was set to hit the open market following the season, and the Angels had failed to prove that they could contend for a World Series with the two-way superstar on the roster. Minasian, showing urgency to compete, added impact players Brandon Drury, Hunter Renfroe, Gio Urshela, Tyler Anderson and Carlos Estevez to the roster. Still plagued by Trout and Rendon’s financially binding contracts, Minasian made savvy moves between the margins, overhauling the offense.
The baseball world knew that this was likely the Angels’ final opportunity to win with two of the best players of all time, and there was true optimism that success was coming in Anaheim.
The first three months of the season were promising for the Angels, remaining in playoff contention. The Angels entered July with a 44-40 record, a month that would determine the franchise’s direction. With the trade deadline creeping closer, rumors were swirling of a potential Ohtani trade, a proposition that had been floated among optimistic non-Angel fans who wanted to see the Ohtani compete for their favorite team.
Despite remaining out of the playoffs, Minasian determined that the Angels would press their luck and buy at the trade deadline. Los Angeles kicked off the trade deadline festivities by swinging a trade for pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez from the White Sox on July 27, five days before the August 1 trade deadline. Former All-Star Giolito was in a contract year and held a 3.79 ERA at the time of acquisition, and the fireballer Lopez lengthened the Angels bullpen. The move solidified the Angels’ trade deadline status as buyers, confirming that Ohtani would finish the season in Angels’ threads.
Days later, the Angels would acquire two former Angel first-round picks in Cron and Grichuk. Multiple Angels’ position players had spent time on the injured list and Cron and Grichuk would bridge the time between the trade deadline and the opening day staters’ returns.
The Angels had finalized their 2023 roster, and heading into the most important stretch of baseball in the Ohtani saga, the Angels held a 56-51 record. What followed was an unutterable disaster.
The Angels, who were soaring at a consistent rate for the first four months of the season, utterly forgot how to fly, falling to a devastating crash in the final two months of the regular season. Los Angeles went 16-38 in August and September combined, swiftly ending playoff aspirations.
Giolito got rocked in an Angels uniform, starting six games and watching his ERA inflate to 6.89 as an Angel. Neither Cron nor Grichuk posted an OPS above the league average. The Angels officially waved the white flag on August 29, placing Giolito, Lopez, Renfroe, Grichuk, Matt Moore and Dominic Leone on waivers, meaning they were available for any MLB team to claim them away from the Angels. This move was done to alleviate financial stress, although it promptly ended any sliver of playoff hope. None of the offseason moves, deadline moves or high-priced contracts made a difference, the Angels finished exactly where they were in 2022 – at 73-89.
Devastated by inexplicable poor performance and dismal injury luck, the Angels came up plenty short of the playoffs. Trout played 82 games, Rendon played 43 games and Ward played 97 games. Detmers and Sandoval regressed from their 2022 status, turning in 4.48 and 4.11 ERAs respectively.
Ohtani won his second MVP award, played the most games of any Angel, hit 44 home runs, batted .304, hung a 3.14 ERA and struck out 11.4 hitters per nine innings. His MVP season was clouded by him falling victim to a second Ulnar Collateral Ligament injury on August 24, requiring his second Tommy John surgery.
Ohtani’s Angels tenure officially ended on December 11 when Ohtani signed a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The sad story of the Trout and Ohtani Angels saga should be defined by greatness, yet it is clouded with disappointment. For six years, the Angels’ front office failed to build a team good enough to crack postseason play. For six years before that, the Angels failed to capitalize on having one of the best, young players in MLB history on their team.
Ohtani-less, the Angels are left now with a 32-year-old and injury-prone Trout, three more years of Rendon making $38 million a season and one of the worst farm systems in MLB, with their system being ranked No. 27 in MLB in a ranking by Bleacher Report on September 20, 2023. A new era of Angels baseball has arrived, and the baseball world holds hope that the Angels’ next young superstar might see better team success than his predecessors did.