TEMPE, Ariz. — Angels superstar Mike Trout comes into spring every year fit and happy and hopefully healthy (he is feeling good again this year). He also comes in determined to erase the confounding, long-running second-division trend for his simultaneously star-studded and star-crossed team.
If possible, he’s even more determined this year.
“This is the year, for sure,” Trout told The Post Monday.
“This has got to be the year,” he said. “It’s got to be.”
And then he adds one more pertinent thought, one that’s on everyone’s mind around here.
“Especially if we want to keep Shohei,” Trout said. “We win and get to the playoffs, he’d think about it a little bit more.”
One rival executive suggested the Angels have a “five percent chance” to keep Ohtani. But even within Angels ranks, the realistic among them — Trout included — probably understand the odds look long to hold onto Ohtani as a free agent after the year.
While Ohtani’s’s thrived in the OC and feels comfortable (who wouldn’t?), they know they are up against the Dodgers, who will be in the hunt, and the Mets, who presumably will be in the hunt, too. And they know those two teams (and others) have bigger payrolls and win perennially.
The Angels have signed some very big deals, most notably Trout but also Albert Pujols, Anthony Rendon, Josh Hamilton, Justin Upton and others. But folks around the game — including in this clubhouse — view Ohtani as having a foot out the door.
Trout, meantime, characteristically sees hope around him. The Angels made many cost-efficient moves in a winter of overall overpayment. They look like a lot more than the most top-heavy team ever created after a winter of excellent adds — from Hunter Renfroe to Gio Urshela to Tyler Anderson to Matt Moore to Carlos Estevez. They raised hopes without breaking the bank.
“I love it,” Trout said. “(GM Perry Minasian) went out there, got some big guys and filled some gaps. It was a good offseason for sure … It’s going to be a fun year.”
Of course, the Angels have made moves before, and they never seem to reflect in the standings. Trout knows it’s been a while — nine years to be exact. But that doesn’t alter his consistently positive attitude. He isn’t even thinking about leaving himself, or even the possibility of going home to Philly (more on that later) in a trade, should this year start to look like past years. Nobody has a better outlook, and that hasn’t changed since he came up at 20. His life is a silver lining.
“That’s how I’ve been since I was a kid,” he said. “My parents raised me that way, to always think of the positive. You can’t think of the negative.”
Of course, it’s not possible to always be positive. “If you’re not upset or frustrated when you’re losing, you shouldn’t be playing,” he said.
Positively, the key Angels of concern came in healthy. Anthony Rendon, who’s missed more games than he’s played since signing for $245 million, is healthy, and he homered here already. As for Trout, who had a back concern last year, he declared that episode in the past.
“I feel great,” said Trout, now 31. “Obviously you get some aches and pains you didn’t get when you were 20, but you get in the training room and get treatment. The back’s fine. That was another freak thing. It’s over now.”
What needs to be over is the Angels’ amazing streak of missing the playoffs, a really incredible feat considering all the great and previously great players that came to Anaheim hoping for better.
The positive constants the last five years have been the presence of the game’s two best players — Trout and Ohtani. It’s most of the other 23 — now 24 — guys that have been the issue.
But at least with their dynamic duo the Angels provide a reason to watch. Trout is likely the best legit position player in decades while Ohtani may be the most amazing player in history. The comparisons come, not that Trout — who was a 6.3 WAR player despite missing 43 games and posted a .999 OPS in 2022 — loves it. He laughs when asked who’s better.
“He’s an unbelievable player. I don’t like comparing. What he’s been doing — pitching and hitting, is pretty remarkable,” Trout said. “You can’t take it away from him. It’s hard to do.”
“I’m always going to say I’m the best player,” Trout said with a smile.
The focus, though, remains on the other all-time great, as Trout’s contract calls for another eight years. Of course, I asked if he would consider waiving his full no-trade. He hears about it a lot, he said, especially at his beloved Eagles games, where fans and neighbors are constantly telling him to come home to Philly.
“That’s not even on my mind now,” he said about waiving his no-trade. “When the time comes, if it comes, I’ll think about it.”
For now, it’s obviously Ohtani time. The team is focused on winning for them, and for Ohtani, too. They seek to raise their chances to keep him. If the odds seem impossible, they endeavor to raise them to possible.
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