The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim should be ashamed of themselves. While the World Baseball Classic has its (not-so) fair share of critics, it has been providing something that has been sorely missing at Angel Stadium for quite some time — joy for Angels players. It sure feels as though it's going to take the first miracle since Roger Bowman convinced George Knox to believe for the Angels to save face here.
The Hate for the World Baseball Classic is Unwarranted
The World Baseball Classic has come under scrutiny for being lame, poorly timed and injury-laden, among other things. Old-school baseball folks will do anything to undermine change in "America's pastime." To them I say: Do you hate fun? Are you really so ignorant as to reject viewership numbers and ratings associated with this year's tournament? The proof is in the pudding that the World Baseball Classic makes the game more inclusive, and allows players and fans alike the chance to take pride in their country in a way that watching the worst Major League Baseball team in Southern California doesn't cut it.
Look no further than the Japanese and American teams in this year's WBC. Two of the game's best players, Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, are playing the only meaningful games either have played on U.S. soil. And this is particularly sad because, by some twist of fate, they both play for the Angels — a team without a winning season since 2015.
And yet, the excitement for and from those two is palpable. Regardless of what happens in the WBC final, one of these players could raise a trophy in honor of their country and build on that momentum into the MLB regular season. That could be good for the Angels, as it's likely their last season with both guys on the roster. So that means they need to do something to bolster the supporting cast.
Shohei Ohtani Playing Two Ways is No Novelty
For Ohtani, it's all but officially a guarantee that he's going to test the free agent market next season. The two sides avoided arbitration and landed on a $30 million deal for 2023. But having never even made the playoffs, there's little chance Ohtani is going to be convinced to stay. In his five years with the club, he is a two-time All-Star and has been awarded League MVP and Rookie of the Year. At the plate, he has averaged .267 with 36 home runs and 98 RBIs. On the mound, his 162-game average is 15-8 with a 2.96 ERA. Being a two-way player seemed like a commodity when he joined the club, but he has delivered big. And to fall short time and time again won't be appealing for him.
Mike Trout Has Delivered, While They Angels Have Not
Trout burst onto the scene before his 21st birthday. In his decade-plus with the Angels, he has amassed Rookie of the Year honors and three MVPs, and he has been named an All-Star 10 times. In that time, he only experienced a winning season three times and a playoff berth just once. And that was short-lived after being swept by the Kansas City Royals in 2014. While you have to admire his loyalty, committing to a 12-year deal back in 2019, a continued failure to make it to the postseason could see the center fielder looking for greener pastures.
The impact the 2023 World Baseball Classic is having on these guys can't be understated. These are the only meaningful games they've played since joining the Angels, save for the three-game sweep back in 2014 for Trout. Since Ohtani already has one foot out the door, let's keep the focus on Trout for a moment.
He's playing for a U.S. team that didn't even send its best pitching, due to some absurd hatred of this tournament. And yet, his energy and leadership are absolutely infectious. The Americans have a chance to defend their 2017 championship with Trout as their leader. If they're able to do so, it's going to be difficult for the Angels to figure out what to do next. Seeing Trout raise a trophy alongside guys who have tasted World Series victory is only going to expand that sense of hunger in the pit of his stomach.
Your Move, Angels
Say what you want about the tournament, but it's proving to light a fire under some of the game's biggest stars. We often get so bogged down in the politicizing of changes in the game or the corporate structures of MLB that we forget that baseball is a game. And these guys have taken to the World Baseball Classic and transported themselves back to the game they played as kids.
Trout was a teenager when he joined the Angels, and Ohtani was in his early 20s. There's something to be leveraged here. Put the pieces around them, carry that WBC momentum, and get these guys a ring. It's your move, Angels. Make it happen or let these guys win somewhere else.
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