My landlord is a Mariners fan, and he's oftentimes the first person with whom I exchange out-loud words each day, because he'll set fresh coffee out by the front door to my building and if there's anything I like more than cheap coffee I can make myself, it's free coffee requiring little more than several dozen steps. We don't always talk about the Mariners, but when we do, he shows all the typical signs of fanhood. He can be visibly exasperated. He'll lament the inability to ever score runs. He'll wear pitiable grins of resignation. It's not the toughest thing to be a Mariners fan, but it has been a tough thing, for a while.
These days there's hope. There's always hope, even if we have to make up reasons why, but these days there's hope that is to some extent validated by other, more objective people. These days, while the Mariners' on-field product is mediocre, their farm system is very highly rated by subject-matter experts. Of course, subject-matter experts when it comes to baseball prospects tend to be wrong a lot, due to reasons out of their control and reasons very much within it, but it's better to have more prospects considered good than fewer of them. Most good prospects will be recognized as such, and most unrecognized prospects will go on to accomplish very little.
The Mariners' farm system is supposed to be one of the best. We've all memorized the top names and the corresponding skillsets, and many of the prospects are reasonably close to being major-league ready. We could conceivably see a lot of them in 2013, and it's by supplementing the current major-league talent with some of that future major-league talent that the Mariners are looking to build an actual, sustainable winner. Most every team has a similar plan, but not every team has the future talent that the Mariners do right now.
There's hope these days because there's talent knocking on the door. The farm system isn't a barren, scorched-earth wasteland like it used to be jarringly few years ago. Mike Zunino might break camp with the Mariners next spring. Danny Hultzen is close, even with his Tacoma hiccup, and there's Nick Franklin as a high-level shortstop, and James Paxton as a high-level pitcher, and Taijuan Walker as a high-level pitcher, and still others, too. There are exciting players in the lower levels, but there are also exciting players in the higher levels, the more meaningful levels, the more encouraging levels. We all have dreams of what these prospects might one day be able to do, and one could argue this is the best part. With prospects, you can imagine the world and the sky and limitlessness, and none of them have yet been given an opportunity to demonstrate that yes actually they do have real limits like everyone else, and the limits mostly aren't extreme.
Now then, not long ago, the Angels had themselves a top prospect by the name of Mike Trout. Trout was hyped up like a lot of top prospects are hyped up. All people wanted to talk about with Trout was his ceiling, and his ceiling was practically invisible, out of sight. After a while, it's easy to stop taking such hype-happy reports seriously, and in a 2011 cameo Trout was unimpressive. He was also in the process of turning 20 years old. In 2012, at the official ages of 20 and 21, Trout was the most valuable player in baseball, even if he doesn't end up being formally recognized as such. He met the hype, and while I don't know if he exceeded it, that's only because the hype was so sensational, so nearly unparalleled. Trout graduated from potential stardom to actual stardom, and there's not a thing he can't do as an awesome-hitting awesome center fielder who's awesome and young.
Trout is under cheap team control for another five years. In his first full season, he was worth ten wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs, and 10.7 wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference. He wasn't promoted until the end of April. For the sake of comparison, 2000 Alex Rodriguez was worth about ten wins above replacement. Felix Hernandez tends to be worth about six or seven wins above replacement. Ken Griffey Jr. maxed out around ten. Barry Bonds peaked around 12 or 13. Mike Trout missed the first three weeks and then did what he did over the rest of the season.
Yesterday, I was reading a post at The Book Blog, and here's the way that it ended:
At least half of the teams would give up their entire farm systems to get Mike Trout.
It's insane to think about and it would be even more insane to actually pull off, given that two organizations would have to completely rebuild their entire farm systems at every level. This is a straight up message-board hypothetical. But let's entertain it. In their farm system, the Mariners have a bunch of potential stars and potential big-league contributors. In Mike Trout, the Angels have a proven, established, virtually flawless superstar, who's young and under control for a while yet. Let's ignore, for the sake of simplicity, whether or not the Angels would be in favor. Would you, knowing what you know, trade the Mariners' entire farm system for Mike Trout?
Trout could probably make the Mariners a playoff contender on his own. I guess not on his own, but along with all of the other current Mariners. The Mariners would then immediately re-stock their farm system with minor-league free agents, international free agents, undrafted free agents, and trade acquisitions, and they'd have the same picks in the draft next summer. In terms of who counts as being in the farm system and who doesn't, let's just draw the line at big-league experience. So, Walker, Hultzen, Zunino, Franklin, Paxton, and so on: farm system. Trayvon Robinson, Carlos Triunfel, Carter Capps, Erasmo Ramirez, and so on: not farm system. Triunfel should probably count as a farm-system guy but your answer isn't going to change based on whether or not the Mariners can hang on to Carlos Triunfel.
So, have at it. This should be interesting. For whatever it's worth, I don't yet have an answer of my own, so don't let me bias you.