TEMPE, Ariz. — Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout spent nearly 15 minutes answering questions Wednesday morning, and it appeared a full 12 seconds were spent talking about Shohei Ohtani.
Oh, how times have changed.
It was four years ago that Trout was the talk of the town and questions about his future before he signed a 10-year, $360 million extension with two years and $60 million left on his contract -dollars remained.
Trout signed the contract extension believing the Angels would be a hit and maybe have a few World Series rings on his hands before he retires.
Well, the Angels haven’t come close to making the playoffs since that landmark contract, and if they get a chance in the future, they absolutely need to keep Ohtani, the biggest star in the game, who’s been a free agent for nine months.
So Trout, the three-time MVP, takes it upon himself to be the best salesman he can be by convincing Ohtani that really good times are ahead.
“I’ll do everything I can,” Trout said, “to keep Shohei here safe.”
The best way to do this, according to Trout, is quite simple.
Win baby just win
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“Winning this year,” says Trout, “to get into the playoffs is going to make a difference I think, which Shohei will definitely keep in mind that we’re here to compete.
“We go out there to win. We definitely have a good team.”
Win and the Angels increase their chance of holding Ohtani.
If you lose again, Ohtani may sprint out of this door.
The Angeles have not been competitive in seven years, not finishing in first place in 161 total games and finishing higher than third place in the AL West only once.
Trout has not been in the postseason since 2014 and has never won a playoff game.
“You’re definitely thinking about it,” Trout said. “It’s now been six years since we played (along with Ohtani) and we weren’t in the playoffs. … It sucks to lose. Everyone hates losing.
“If there’s a year we need to make the playoffs, it’s this year.”
Angels owner Arte Moreno says he shares the same sentiment. They immediately started spending this off-season even after Moreno launched the club. They didn’t take on any of the prominent free agents, instead snapping left-handed starter Tyler Anderson, potential closer Carlos Estevez, veteran infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Brett Phillips, trading for veteran outfielder Hunter Renfroe and infielder Gio Urshela.
The 31-year-old Trout is by no means predicting a World Series title, but made it clear that anything short of a playoff spot would be a huge disappointment after GM Perry Minasian’s moves, as Moreno decided to keep the team after all.
“When word first came out that he was going to sell the team,” Trout said, “I was shocked. … The question going into the off-season was, ‘What are we going to do? Are we going to get people or are we just going to sit still and do nothing?’
“But seeing Perry making moves and trying to make the team better, which he was doing, I got a little feeling like he wasn’t going to sell the team. It’s good to have Arte back. He’s committed to improving the team and squad and we’re not done yet. We’re definitely a lot better than last year.
“I’m feeling really good this year.”
Ohtani’s free-agent decision will have a major impact on how Trout feels about the Angels’ future.
Moreno has also made it clear that he wants to keep Ohtani at all costs. Ohtani should set a major league record by earning at least $50 million a year if he hits free agency, maybe up to $500 million overall, but Moreno has always loved star players. He signed Albert Pujols, Anthony Rendon and Josh Hamilton without blinking.
Plus, Ohtani is a moneymaker, making at least $20 million a year for the franchise just from selling licenses and merchandise.
“I’ve had a great relationship with Shohei over the years,” says Trout. “Obviously what you see on the field is remarkable. What a great teammate. What a great friend. Even (interpreter) Ippei (Mizuhara) too. Just like they treated everyone with such superstar status with respect.”
Trout doesn’t pretend to know what Ohtani thinks about his upcoming free agency, but certainly believes Ohtani is enjoying himself in the relaxed Anaheim environment. He has expressed some frustration, but certainly no anger or resentment that he still has to play in the postseason.
“I haven’t really spoken to Shohei about his future,” says Trout, “but he has to do what’s right for him and what he thinks is right. It’s all his business. So if he feels staying in Anaheim is the right move, he should. If he disagrees, I will do whatever I can to persuade him to stay.
“He really needs to sit down and think about it. It’s a big decision for him, probably the biggest of his life. It is a difficult decision for him whether to stay or not.
“I don’t even like to say it when he leaves, but it will be different for him, new atmosphere, new people, new teammates. But I will do everything to keep him here.”
Trout realizes that his performance alone could potentially make a big difference in Ohtani’s decision. He’s missed 169 games over the past two seasons with calf and back injuries, but when he’s on the field he continues to dominate. He still managed to hit 40 home runs with 80 RBI in 126 games last season.
“It’s definitely left a sour taste in my mouth for the past few years since I’ve obviously not been out there all the time,” he said. “And not win. And doesn’t make the playoffs. I’m in my 30s now so it’s about time.”
Trout, captain of Team USA at the World Baseball Classic, certainly plans to be cautious to ensure he returns to the Angels healthy. It is highly doubtful that he will play all nine innings of each game as all of Team USA’s games will be played on artificial turf at Chase Field in Phoenix and LoanDepot Park in Miami.
“We’ll see how my body feels,” says Trout. “For anyone playing here, you have to be careful. We’ll see how it goes.”
In the meantime, there are new rules (“Nobody wants to play a four-hour game), new schedule changes (“It’s great for both the players and the fans”), and a whole lot of tickets to buy when the Angels play from April 28th to 30th August to come to Philadelphia, just outside of his hometown of Millville, NJ
“As soon as the schedule came out,” says Trout, “I started getting text messages. …Back to Philadelphia, it’s always a pretty cool experience.
“I’m really looking forward to this year.”
And a chance to see if his recruiting skills can match his performance.
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