ANAHEIM, Calif. — Mike Trout believes he doesn't deserve the American League Most Valuable Player award if his team isn't in the playoffs.
After another lost season for his Los Angeles Angels, Trout is hoping he'll be worthy of bigger honors next October.
The Angels finished 78-84, posting their lowest win total in a decade and just their fourth losing record in manager Mike Scioscia's 14 seasons. Los Angeles hasn't made the playoffs since 2009, and the big-budget club never even contended this season.
"It was a frustrating year from a team standpoint," Trout said in Texas before heading home to New Jersey to live in his parents' basement for the winter. "The slow start hurt us again. We have to figure out a way to try to avoid a slow start again. It's almost the same exact thing, but last year we were in it later. ... We came together as a team the second half of the season and played the game the way we're supposed to be playing."
The 22-year-old Trout is one of the game's best players in just his second full major league campaign. He led the AL with 109 runs and finished third in average (.323) and fourth in hits (190) while wreaking near-nightly havoc on the basepaths.
But Trout also has never been to the postseason, and he's currently a gem surrounded by mismatched spare parts on an aging, expensive roster.
Not even Trout's brilliance and a lineup full of proven major league talent could save the Angels from a 10th-place finish in the 15-team league. Owner Arte Moreno, who bears responsibility for much of the Angels' woes, should decide soon whether to rebuild by cutting ties with general manager Jerry Dipoto or Scioscia, the majors' longest-tenured manager with five years and $27 million left on his contract.
Los Angeles had won 23 of 32 before losing four straight to Texas to finish a season that went wrong well before the All-Star game. The Angels were never above .500 after opening day, dropping to 15-27 by mid-May and going into the midseason break at 44-49, already 11 games out of first place.
Even with Trout, the Angels struggled to get consistent offense from what should have been a dynamic lineup featuring Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick, Peter Bourjos and Erick Aybar. Much of the Angels' best offensive work was done by youngsters: Outfielder J.B. Shuck emerged as a Rookie of the Year candidate, and Trout had no discernible sophomore slump.
Although high-priced pitchers Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson both performed well when healthy, the Angels' expensive investments in offense have yet to pay off.
"There's no doubt in my mind we'll see a better Albert Pujols and better Josh Hamilton next year," Scioscia said. "No doubt, these guys are motivated. With Albert's health rejuvenated, he'll be able to do things we haven't seen here. I think Josh's comfort level is better. He's turned the corner on that."
Pujols has done little of note in the first two seasons with the Angels. After limping and jogging through the first three months, he was sidelined for the season in July with torn plantar fascia in his left foot.
"Coming into the spring last year, Albert wasn't healthy," Trout said. "Seeing him battle through it, limping and still putting up decent numbers, he's one of the toughest players I've ever seen. It's going to be fun to see him come back next year."
Pujols will come back as a 34-year-old slugger with eight years and $212 million left on his contract — and even if he regains his MVP form, he's not the only financial albatross weighing down the Angels.
Hamilton knows he was a disappointment in the first season of his five-year, $125 million contract, needing a September surge just to bat .250 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs.
"You come in here with high expectations, and that first three or four months of the season, it didn't happen for you," Hamilton said. "It's been a long season. It hasn't ended the way we wanted to, and obviously wasn't the season I wanted to have, but the last month of the season is something to grow on. Now you've got your feelings and bearings of a new place and what to expect. No excuses next year."
Moreno was behind the lavish deals for both Pujols and Hamilton, but Dipoto also gambled and lost on multiple decisions last winter, particularly in choosing veterans Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton to fill out the Angels' rotation. Hanson and Blanton were utter flops, sitting unused in the bullpen last week, while Vargas pitched well, but missed two months with a blood clot.
The rotation must be fixed again, but that's only part of the job for Moreno, Dipoto and Scioscia — or whoever returns to rebuild the Angels around Trout.
"Some things I know I need to look in the mirror and be accountable," Scioscia said. "Some things are just part of a major league season."