Mookie Betts

The Prohibitive Cost of Trading for Mike Trout

If hot takes were water, we all might have drowned by now under the tsunami composed of Trade Mike Trout takes. The takes are all over the board, too. Some fall so far under the Trout Will Never Be Traded umbrella that any trade suggestions simply consist of jokes. Some use the idea of a Trout deal to focus solely on prospect strength, and some seem to think Mike Trout can be had for whatever roster detritus they themselves don’t want.

But no matter the focus, there is a problem with all Mike Trout trade proposals online. That is this: all Mike Trout trade proposals are an inherent Catch 22. Follow the logic here. 1) Your team wants to trade for Mike Trout because 2) Mike Trout will make your team better. To acquire Mike Trout, 3) your team has to trade so much value that giving all that up makes them substantially worse, thereby negating or severely weakening the impact Trout would have, at least in the short term. Chad Finn of the Boston Globe put it more succinctly: “For a trade to make sense for the Angels, it must devastate the team they’re trading with.” Teams that want to upgrade their roster usually don’t want to devastate it in the process. This is the rub.

For an example, let’s take the Dodgers. It’s been mentioned that the Dodgers could trade some combination, or all three, of Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, and Julio Urias for Trout. That’s great, and were the Angels looking to trade Trout, that might get them to the table. Except look at what that does to the Dodgers! All of a sudden they’re without their starting shortstop and, for a team desperately in need of starting pitching, their best pitching prospect. Yes, they’d have Mike Trout, who would be a nice upgrade on Pederson, but that still leaves two Wile E. Coyote-sized holes in the Dodgers roster, and that’s assuming the deal only took those three guys. I’m guessing it would take more than that.

Teams that want to upgrade their roster usually don’t want to devastate it in the process. This is the rub.

Then there are the Cubs. Everyone’s favorite suggestion is that the Cubs should center a trade offer around Kyle Schwarber. That’s great, except if you’re the Angels and you’re trading a 24 year old perennial MVP for an offer centered around an injured 24 year old with half a major league season under his belt. Ask yourself if you had Mike Trout, would you do that? Sure, the Cubs could also include Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and/or Addison Russell, but then they’d need a left fielder, a third baseman, and/or a shortstop. You can, I hope, start to see the problem.

It’s not that no workable offer could exist. It probably could. There are just more problems to overcome than usual. As Sam Miller pointed out on the Effectively Wild podcast, there aren’t a lot of trades done to begin with, so making one of this magnitude with these added issues, is especially difficult.

Adding to the difficulty is that, if they’re trading Mike Trout in this hypothetical, the Angels aren’t going to want to take on older players or players with only a few years of service time remaining. They’re going to want young players, either young stars or very promising prospects. In fact, strike that. They’re not going to want either young stars or very promising prospects, they’re going to want young stars AND very promising prospects. But they’re going to need to get them from a team that isn’t depending on them to win right now, and now we’re back to the rub.

Enter the Red Sox. The Red Sox are the rare team that could, if the deal was structured correctly, trade both high-end minor league talent, and high-end major league talent. Boston has impactful young talent at Mike Trout’s position as well as top minor league prospects that the organization isn’t depending on to the major league roster contribute this season. So let’s try and see how that might look.

If you’re trading for Mike Trout you have to start with perhaps the team’s best young and cheap player, and for the Red Sox that’s probably either Xander Bogaerts or Mookie Betts.

If you’re trading for Mike Trout you have to start with perhaps the team’s best young and cheap player, and for the Red Sox that’s probably either Xander Bogaerts or Mookie Betts. The problem with dealing Bogaerts is the Red Sox don’t have a ready replacement, unless you want to chance putting Marco Hernandez or Brock Holt at shortstop for 130 games plus the playoffs. So unless they’re getting a shortstop back, which they wouldn’t in this hypothetical, no to dealing Bogaerts. Betts, however, doesn’t represent such an issue. The Red Sox have other outfielders, and in fact, they’d be acquiring one in Trout who could step in and play Fenway’s expansive right field or displace Jackie Bradley to right and take over for him in center. Further, Betts was a 5.5 WARP player last season as a 22-year-old, is under team control until the 2020 season ends, and is making the major league minimum. That sounds like someone desirable who could step into the hole in the Angels outfield left by Trout and not suffer too much for the comparison. It also sounds like someone who the Red Sox could give up in such a deal.

The remainder would likely be filled out by prospects unless the Angels have some unusual demands, like they want Eduardo Rodriguez or something like that. That would present a problem, as the Red Sox would be forced to rely on lesser pitchers both now and in the future. But then they’d have Mike Trout, so there is that.

Christopher Crawford wrote an interesting piece at BP about acquiring Trout with just prospects and spoke to a front office member to confirm the validity of his offers. From the Red Sox perspective he offered Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, Anderson Espinoza, and Andrew Benintendi. If you’re headlining with Betts as we are, maybe you can keep one of them off the list. Maybe you keep two off the list. I really don’t know how a deal like this would end up looking. The important part is that Crawford’s front office friend asked for a top-five prospect who, he said, has to be a position player, presumably for safety’s sake (pitchers tend to get hurt more frequently). The Red Sox can see that need with Moncada who is the fifth best prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline and then add to that with other top prospects like Benintendi, Devers, or Espinoza.

Ultimately trading for Mike Trout would be a very tough needle to thread. The teams would both have to improve themselves by doing it, and that’s difficult when one is giving up Mike Trout and the other is giving up a Mike Trout’s worth of young stars and prospects. But if any team can do it, it’s the Red Sox led by Dave Dombrowski. A deal starting with Mookie Betts, as tough as it would be to give him up, seems the best first step forward for both teams. Then it’s just a matter of filling in the prospects, though that’s no small matter. Perhaps that’s where things break down. Or perhaps the Angels need more players from the major league roster, a request that could kill the desire of a team like the Red Sox who is looking to compete right now. These things are very difficult and this one is more difficult than most.

It sounds like, if both sides were willing, it could work. It would do immeasurable damage to one of the team’s best farm systems, but it would improve the Red Sox on the field. From the Angels perspective it would jumpstart their rebuilding effort something fierce, in addition to getting a borderline MVP candidate to take over for Trout. The Red Sox would get Mike Trout, perhaps the greatest player in a generation.

It would be quite a deal from just about any angle, which is how we know it’ll never happen.

Photo by Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports Images

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3 comments on “The Prohibitive Cost of Trading for Mike Trout”

Walt in Maryland

I’ll keep Mookie and Xander, thank you.


Dombrowski better not even think about it.


Trades are all about swapping present value for future value, which is why the ones who are traded are also the ones nearing free agency. Those players don’t have any future value, so you swap them for someone who does.

Mike Trout has both present value and future value, which is why he isn’t going anywhere. As I said above, if trades are all about swapping PV and FV, what do you have to send away to get a guy who has both? You would also have to send away both, which (as you said) reduces the impact Trout has on your team. So no, he isn’t going anywhere. And neither is any star-caliber player that has several years of control left.

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