The most insane, and truly unfortunate, factoid in Major League Baseball today is that Mike Trout has never won a playoff game. How can that be possible? Trout isn't just the best player in baseball; he has been the best player in baseball -- by a considerable factor -- for six seasons now. Since Trout arrived, he has made every other player in baseball, including some all-time greats who will be in the Hall of Fame someday, look like they are playing a different game entirely. He has been in the league only six years and already has put together a higher career bWAR than Bobby Mathews, Willie Keeler, Bernie Williams, Sandy Koufax, Jim Rice, Bert Campaneris, Fred McGriff, Lance Berkman, Kirby Puckett and Orlando Cepeda. He is currently 26 years old. He is one month older than, say, Carl Edwards Jr. He is Mickey Mantle, right now, in front of us every day.
And he's never won a playoff game! He has played three playoff games, back in 2014, and the Angels lost all three. Trout went 1-for-12 in an American League Division Series sweep against Kansas City. The best player of his generation has never won a playoff game. This is unprecedented in modern sports. You would never see this in the NFL. Imagine an MVP quarterback never winning one. (The best NFL player never to win one … Dick Butkus, maybe? Back when there were no playoffs?) It's even crazier in the NBA. A recent study argued that the best NBA player of all time never to have won a playoff game is … DeMarcus Cousins. All due respect to Boogie -- who looks like he might get one this year anyway -- but DeMarcus Cousins is no Mike Trout. It's a historical travesty.
It, alas, is one that the Angels want nothing to do with. Who wants to go down in history as the team that kept the greatest player in baseball out of baseball's brightest spotlight? Thus, the Angels, after a stretch two years ago in which you wondered whether they might be farther away from the postseason than any team in the sport, have decided in recent years to floor it. They made a trade for Andrelton Simmons at the zenith of his value. They traded for, and then signed, Justin Upton. They cobbled together trades for Nick Franklin and Brandon Phillips last August. They have had little to work with, but they've never stopped trying to get Trout that playoff win. There was a time when it looked like the smartest course of action for the Angels was to trade Trout to a team packed with prospects (the Cubs, maybe?) and just start over. But the Angels refused.
On Friday, their patience was rewarded when they became the choice of two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani might not end up being Babe Ruth, or even a Noah Syndergaard who hits like, say, Matt Chapman. He might just be an above-average pitcher who occasionally pinch-hits and acts as a DH when the Angels face a tough right-hander and Albert Pujols needs an extra couple of days of rest. He's probably more than that. But even if he isn't, he's a steal of a deal, a lottery ticket rewarded and an absolute thunderclap of excitement for the franchise. On Friday, the Angels caught the biggest break they've caught since Trout showed up and started his Mantle act in the first place. They've given Trout a chance to be Trout in front of the whole world, at last. And they might just persuade him to stick around.
Ohtani instantly skyrockets to the top of the Angels' rotation -- you can get your tickets to see him open the season in Oakland on March 29 -- and gives the Angels a second superstar (or, if you include Simmons, potentially a third) at the precise moment they most needed him. Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan has argued that Ohtani is one of the 15 most valuable players in baseball, considering his contract, right now. The Angels already had one of those. They might have had two. They may now just have three.
It's possible Ohtani will have far more difficulty adjusting to the Majors than we think. It's possible he's just a No. 2 or 3 starter who has too many holes in his swing to be much more than a novelty pinch-hitter. It's possible we're getting way too excited about all of this. But there is absolutely no reason for the Angels not to just be over the moon right now.
Two years ago, they had an aging, overpaid Albert Pujols, no pitching staff, a middling farm system, about $53 million more owed to Josh Hamilton and an increasingly lonely Trout. Now they just beat out every team in baseball for a possible superstar the likes of which we haven't seen in baseball in 100 years, at a value price. The Angels got the gift of an all-time superstar in Mike Trout, and they were in serious danger of squandering that gift. Now they got another one. A team gets a Mike Trout once every 100 years. A team gets a Shohei Ohtani once every 100 years. Mike Trout is the best player in the game; Shohei Ohtani is the most fascinating one. The Angels now have them both. This might not work out. But Trout is closer to that playoff win than he has been in years. We might see Mickey Mantle in October again.
If we do, Friday should be considered a massive reason why.
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Dive Into Five is a weekly guide to the weekend's activities of sport. Make sure I don't miss anything great by emailing me firstname.lastname@example.org.