Let’s Put Mike Trout on a Contender

Mike Trout has never won a playoff game and only has one MVP to his name. Yet it would be foolish to call Trout anything but the greatest player in baseball, especially since Bryce Harper – Trout’s only true challenger – has been going through a weird slump through all of 2016.

Trout’s sustained dominance, however, comes at the worst possible time for his Los Angeles Angels, when owner Arte Moreno is still on the hook for some very bad contracts and refuses to spend over the luxury tax threshold. That severely limits the Angels’ ability to spend big in free agency, and with a barren farm system, there’s no chance of developing or trading for a second star player.

The Angels’ only shot at the 2016 playoffs was if Trout stayed in god-mode and carried the offense on his back while the starting pitching remained healthy and productive. Trout is still amazing, but Tommy John surgeries to Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney threw that scenario out the window before it even had a chance to begin.

On the flip side, there’s a handful of teams currently on the outside of the playoff picture, teams that are stocked with solid players but lack a superstar to get them over the hump. They might not make it into October this year, but what if they had that superstar in Trout? In this exercise, we’re going to place Mike Trout on different fringe contenders to see how far he’d take them. We’ll be using Fangraph’s Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) statistic to calculate Trout’s affect on his new team, which won’t be anything more than a very rough guess of how he’d actually do but as close to an exact science as we can get. We’ll also be replacing that team’s starting center fielder with Trout, meaning that Trout’s impact on each team will vary depending on the fWAR of the guy he’s replacing. Any remaining fWAR for the season and team win projections will also come from FanGraphs’ Depth Chart system.

Got it? Great. Let’s Make Mike Trout Win Again™.

Seattle Mariners

This seems like a good place to start, since the M’s have spent the past couple weeks celebrating the greatest player in franchise history, and Ken Griffey Jr. has a lot in common with Trout. They’re both center fielders who play mind-boggling defense and have ridiculously sweet swings that often send balls flying out of ballparks, and just generally make playing baseball at the MLB level look way easier than it should. The Mariners are also currently 3.5 back in the wild-card race, so they’re not out of it yet, but it would be shocking to see them overtake much more talented squads in Boston, Detroit, and/or Toronto.

What if they had Trout, though? He’d certainly be a better heir to Griffey’s throne at Safeco Field than Leonys Martin, right?

  • Seattle Mariners projected end-of-season record: 84-78, 6 games back of AL Wild Card
  • Mariners with Trout (+7.1 fWAR): 92-70, T-1st place AL West

Trout, who’s spent much of his actual career killing Seattle, gets the M’s over the hump. With Trout, the Mariners gain roughly seven more wins, setting up a tiebreaker with the Texas Rangers for top spot in the AL West. Felix Hernandez pitches a shutout in his first postseason game, and the Mariners get their first division title (and playoff berth) since 2001. Macklemore is so overjoyed about his hometown team that he releases a cover of “Hip Hop Hooray” and then retires from music forever. “Downtown” is erased from the entire internet and everyone forgets it ever happened.

New York Mets

The reigning NL Champions are fighting for their 2016 lives thanks mainly to two things: The Nationals stopped underachieving and the Mets’ young, talented rotation stopped overachieving. But New York could still use help in the outfield, since the deadline addition of Jay Bruce at the very best can only offset the losses of Yoenis Cespedes and Juan Lagares to the disabled list. The Mets also lost their best (read: only good) defensive center fielder in Lagares, meaning they’re currently sticking young Michael Conforto and a replacement-level Alejandro De Aza in there and hoping for the best. New York might be able to limp by on pitching and offense, but no team on this list needs Trout’s defense more than they do.

  • New York Mets projected end-of-season record: 83-79, 2 games back of NL Wild Card
  • Mets with Trout (+7.9 fWAR): 91-71, T-1st place NL Wild Card

The Mets go from being the last team out between the projected Marlins/Cardinals/Dodgers/Giants scramble for the NL Wild Card (and the NL West title for the last two) to right in the middle of it with Trout. They match the win total of both Los Angeles and San Francisco, earning a chance to face one of them in the NL Wild Card game. Terry Collins shocks everyone by naming Bartolo Colon the starter for that game, and he’s once again bailed out when Colon throws a no-hitter, rips his shirt off with his bare hands during the celebration afterwards, and is last seen riding a chariot into heaven.

Houston Astros

The Astros rebounded from a rough start to claw their way back into contention, and they sit just 4 games back of the second American League wild card spot entering Monday. That’s thanks mainly to young stars such as Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa as opposed to veterans like Carlos Gomez. In fact, Gomez has been a disaster on the field pretty much ever since he arrived in Houston. He’s only played in 83 games this year due to injury, and his performance when “healthy” has been a .212/.274/.325 slash line with this type of defense to back it up:

Enter Trout.

  • Houston Astros projected end-of-season record: 84-78, 6 games back of AL Wild Card
  • Astros with Trout (+9.1 fWAR): 93-69, 1st place AL West

Houston doesn’t only win the division title with Trout, their projected 93 wins gives them the best record in the American League. Trout fits the Astros, whose center field situation is arguably their biggest roster hole, like his left hand fits his own glove. Part of me really wants to see this happen now, the same part of me that can’t wait to see Kevin Durant on the Golden State Warriors this fall. Trout leaving the Angels for Houston would be the baseball equivalent of KD leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Dubs, in that it would wreck the Halos while giving Major League Baseball a heavy favorite for years to come. Seriously, if you’re an American League team, try to stop a core of Correa, Altuve, Springer, and Trout. Or if you’re a baseball fan, try to stop watching that core. It would be impossible to. Which is kind of why this scenario will never happen, and that’s probably a good thing in the long run. I guess.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh is trying for a fourth straight playoff berth, and would like to get past the division series (or even just the wild-card game) this time. Their creative front office has done an excellent job building a contender on a shoestring budget, but like every contender on a shoestring budget, this team has holes. And here’s what’s weird: center field is one of those holes. Andrew McCutchen, who was a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate and would-be savior of Pirates baseball as recently as last season, flat out sucks in 2016. His .241 batting average, .717 OPS, 93 wRC+, and 8.6% walk rate are all career lows; his 24.6% strikeout rate is a whopping five percentage points above his previous career high. The Bucs, as a result, are slipping further and further out of the playoff race. Let’s see how they do with another superstar center fielder.

  • Pittsburgh Pirates projected end-of-season record: 82-80, 2 games back of NL Wild Card
  • Pirates with Trout (+7.6 fWAR):  90-72, 2nd place NL Central

Just like the Mets, Trout doesn’t put the Pirates on top of their division, but he does secure a wild card berth. In other words, Pittsburgh is right back where they were each of the past three seasons: a wild card spot and nothing much else to show for it. But more importantly, Trout joins Ben Roethlisberger and Sidney Crosby to form a holy trinity of Pittsburgh athletes, so beloved that Mount Rushmore is remade in their image and plopped in the middle of the Allegheny. Who’s the 4th face on that? Well, Bill Murray‘s character in Groundhog day was from Pittsburgh…

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies were thought to be mediocre coming into the season, were mediocre to start the season, went on a blistering 14-4 run coming out of the All-Star break, and look like they’re sinking back into mediocrity. They may have a solid outfield, including center fielder Charlie Blackmon and his magnificent beard, but it won’t be enough. Maybe a Mike Trout who plays half his games a Coors Field could help!

  • Colorado Rockies projected end-of-season record: 79-83, 6 games back of NL Wild Card
  • Rockies with Trout (+7.0 fWAR): 86-76, 3rd place NL West

Trout just barely gets the Rockies into wild-card contention, ensuring a match-up with either the Dodgers or the Giants – both division rivals. That’s the least of their concerns, though. Trout hits so many bombs at Coors field that he eventually summons the underworld, and Denver becomes ground zero for the apocalypse. Somewhere, Peyton Manning eats a Papa John’s takeout order and sings the Nationwide jingle as the world burns.

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