GM sees ‘map’ to contend with Trout and Ohtani

    ESPN baseball reporter. Covered the L.A. Rams for ESPN from 2016 to 2018 and the L.A. Angels for MLB.com from 2012 to 2016.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani will help make up the American League’s starting lineup 30 miles from here at Dodger Stadium on July 19. They entered Tuesday within the top 10 in the majors in FanGraphs wins above replacement, trending towards potential MVP consideration.

And yet the team they play for, the Los Angeles Angels, is once again pacing towards irrelevance, sitting 11 games below .500 and seven games back of the sixth and final playoff spot with a hellish five-game stretch coming against the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Barring a stark turnaround, the Angels are on track to miss the postseason for the 12th time in the last 13 years — even though Trout has been arguably the sport’s brightest star for 11 of those seasons and Ohtani has acted as a transformative two-way player for each of the last two. In August, Trout will turn 31. And in 16 months, Ohtani can venture into the free-agent market. But Angels general manager Perry Minasian still believes this franchise can contend around its two best players.

“There’s definitely a formula to win around them — and it’s a deeper team,” Minasian said prior to Tuesday’s series opener against the Astros. “You can do that in a lot of different ways. The draft’s part of it, but free agency is part of that, trades is part of that. I definitely see a road map to putting a competitive team on the field with those guys. They’re great players, they’ve really performed well. I think they deserve all the accolades they get daily; I’m looking forward to watching both of them in the All-Star Game. I think they’re two of the best players in baseball, and we’re lucky to have them.”

The Angels surged at the start of the 2022 season, winning 27 of their first 44 games. But that was followed by a mystifying 14-game losing streak, during which Minasian fired Joe Maddon as the team’s manager. The Angels haven’t necessarily recovered from that, going 11-20 under interim manager Phil Nevin. The starting rotation, a focus of Minasian this offseason, has been solid. But the offense — minus Anthony Rendon, who underwent season-ending wrist surgery in the middle of June — has struggled mightily, posting the second-lowest OPS in the majors over the last seven weeks despite the continued presence of Trout and Ohtani.

“It’s on me,” Minasian said. “A hundred percent on me. I’m in charge of the roster. Coaches can only work with what I give ’em. I’m very cognizant of that.”

The trade market is expected to pick up after the conclusion of next week’s draft, at which point teams will undoubtedly express interest in the Angels’ Noah Syndergaard and Michael Lorenzen — capable starting pitchers who are also pending free agents. Minasian opted against designating whether he would look to add veteran players or use his current veterans to build up the minor league system, saying he will “look for opportunities to make the club better, whether that’s short term or long term.”

The question circulating around the Angels is whether they would consider trading Ohtani, who is only under team control through 2023, or Trout, who’s signed through 2030 and must approve of any trade. But that scenario — if it were to even be considered — likely wouldn’t manifest itself until the offseason, when more teams can theoretically get involved.

“I’m not gonna talk about specific people,” Minasian said when asked about trading his stars. “Teams are gonna call and ask about everybody. If you have really good players on your team, for the most part you get called and asked about them. You don’t hang up the phone, per se, but some players are harder to trade than others, obviously.”

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