The Major League Baseball playoffs will begin in two weeks. Even with the field expanding to now include 12 of the league’s 30 teams — and in 2020, 16 teams made it — the postseason will, once again, be without the Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers.
I can’t help but envision Bill Murray’s Phil Connors saying, “well, it’s Groundhog Day … Again,” as this has become an annual ritual. The longest playoff droughts in baseball belongs to these two ballclubs, now at nine seasons and counting.
The Tigers were in the World Series in 2006 and then won the AL Central four straight seasons from 2011-14. They made three straight ALCS in there and won the 2012 pennant. They have just one winning season since that 2014 playoff appearance and otherwise have been somewhere between historically bad and below average.
The Angels won the World Series in 2002 and were somewhat a playoff fixture in the ensuing several years, making the playoffs six of eight seasons through 2009. Since then, they’ve made the postseason just one time, when they had the best record in baseball in 2014 but were swept in the ALDS.
Both franchises should be better. The Angels are in a large market and before people start screaming about how they aren’t actually in L.A., check the Orange County metro area population stats. The Tigers are in a middle market, but Detroit is a sports town capable of supporting a team spending like a large-market team. We’ve seen it in the not-so-distant past. These are both ownership groups with deep pockets.
Both have had mega-star-power during the droughts, too. Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani out in Anaheim, while Detroit has Miguel Cabrera and has had Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, among others. Cabrera is retiring while Ohtani is very likely to sign elsewhere and Trout might even be traded this winter.
Basically, in all likelihood, both teams will look exponentially different next time they make the playoffs compared to the teams we’ve seen contend before in these uniforms.
So which one breaks the drought first? Let’s take a look.
We’re going to break things down for both teams here, but a quick and mild spoiler: The answer to the question on which team breaks the playoff drought first is not the Angels.
The farm system is one of the worst in baseball, if not the worst. Ohtani is overwhelmingly likely to sign elsewhere this coming offseason. At that point, surely the front office will realize it’s best to see if Trout would like to play elsewhere and see what they can get for him in a trade, including any salary relief possible.
Keep in mind, the Astros, Mariners and Rangers are strong contenders this season and there isn’t much reason to believe that’ll change in the near future.
The confluence of these and other factors say it’s a rebuild on the horizon, maybe even a somewhat radical one. There’s no reason to trade Trout unless that is the case. Perhaps the next contending Angels team is led by the likes of Zach Neto, Nolan Schanuel, Logan O’Hoppe and Reid Detmers. It certainly seems far off, though. This group isn’t anywhere even close to a turnaround before being broken down first.
In Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Kerry Carpenter, the Tigers have a trio of big-league position players age-26-and under that can make for a nice foundation. We’ve seen some flashes from Parker Meadows while infielder Colt Keith isn’t far away from joining the majors.
On the pitching side, we’ve seen some promise from the likes of Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning and Reese Olson. Former No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize should be back from Tommy John surgery for a full 2024, including spring training.
This isn’t exactly the makings of the 2023 Braves, but there’s reason to believe the front office could build a winner around these names in the next few years with internal development, savvy trades and quality free agency maneuvering. There is certainly direction here, unlike with the Angels where it’s nothing but question marks and negativity.
In looking around the rest of the AL Central, too, there’s even more reason for optimism. The Royals are in bad shape, the White Sox are starting a rebuild and the Guardians seem to be in a down-cycle. The Twins are going to win the division here in 2023, but they are hardly confidence-inspiring.
There will be an opening for the Tigers here in the next few years and that’s more than we can say in looking at the state of the Angels right now.
While these two teams share the longest MLB playoff drought at present, the smart money is on the Angels taking that mantle for themselves before snapping their drought. The Tigers will get there first.