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Ian Desmond  bet on himself once. That was back prior to the 2014 season, when he turned down a seven-year, $107 million extension from the Washington Nationals.

He was a shortstop then, and a very good one. He was very athletic and could hit for power, but his numbers took a nosedive in 2015. Desmond finished that season hitting a paltry .233 with a whopping 27 errors in the field.

All that set the stage for the 2016 offseason, when Desmond waited until the eleventh hour before signing a one-year deal worth $8 million with the Texas Rangers. It was a far cry from the $100+ million that he had previously turned down, but 69 games into his first season in the American League, Desmond is making himself and the Rangers look very smart.

Why? Because to this point in the season, Desmond has not only been the best player for the Rangers, who boast the best record in the AL entering play Monday, but one of the best in the entire MLB. He is currently slashing .309/.360/.495 to go along with 10 home runs and 12 stolen bases. He has also chipped in 49 runs scored and 45 RBI, both of which are among the Top 10 among MLB outfielders.

Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Going by FanGraphs' wins-above-replacement (WAR), Desmond has been the third-most valuable outfielder in the Major Leagues. Considering he only became an outfielder in March makes that statement even more impressive. The Rangers moved him to the outfield when they signed him, let him learn the ropes in left field for a while and have since moved him into the role of full-time center fielder. All of the advanced defensive metrics have Desmond as a solid above-average MLB outfielder.

“I never had that pride in playing shortstop. I never had that, ‘I’m only a shortstop and that’s all I want to be,’’’ Desmond told Jorge L. Lopez of USA TODAY Sports. “Now that I play center, I’m starting to have that feeling. I love playing center. I want to be a center fielder. This is the way I see my career going.’’

However, some haven't yet learned of his excellence out there. Statcast broke down Desmond's perfect throw to nab Kolten Wong at the plate last weekend.

So in addition to being arguably the best hitter for the Rangers, Desmond has also made a seamless transition to the outfield and now locks down one of the most important positions on the field.

Is it a stretch to say that to this point in the season, Desmond is the most valuable player on the American League's best team? Not at all.

He has been stellar, and he will likely continue to be an offensive catalyst out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup. The fact that he has his batting average above .300 despite an awful first month of the season -- he hit .229 in April -- is downright incredible. He has been on a terror ever since the calendar flipped to May, and the Rangers have as well.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As Desmond goes, so go the Rangers.

He has shown the versatility to get on base in front of mashers Nomar Mazara and Adrian Beltre as well as being an extra-base hit machine with the ability to drive in runs by himself. 

If Desmond does not make July's All-Star Game, it will be a travesty. Heck, his performance so far in 2016 deserves some MVP consideration. He's been that good.

Add in that Desmond is a terrific baserunner and a phenomenal presence in the clubhouse, and you get what is arguably the best bargain in baseball. I wrote back in March that Texas was getting a major steal, but I had no idea at the time that it would be of this magnitude. 

He might have lost in 2014 when he bet on himself, but if he can continue to play like he's been playing for the last two months, he will be paid. There is no telling who will dish out the most cash for his services, but what is certain is that he will be a sought-after free agent next offseason.

But until then, expect to see Desmond as a pivotal piece in the Rangers' lineup and roaming center field like he's played there his whole career. And, if he does that and Texas continues to win games at its current pace, there is no reason he shouldn't garner a few MVP votes at season's end.

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For the past three seasons, Manny Machado has been an outstanding baseball player. He hit an MLB-leading 51 doubles in his first full season in 2013, then hit 35 home runs with 20 stolen bases in 2015, making appearances in the MLB All-Star Game on both occasions.

However, those accolades were earned as a third baseman, meaning that he had to share the spotlight with other hot corner stalwarts like Josh Donaldson, Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant and Todd Frazier.

Now, though, the 23-year-old Machado has finally been liberated. It took a foot injury to J.J. Hardy for the Orioles to make the move, but Machado can finally play the position that he came up playing: shortstop -- which also happens to be the position on the diamond most starved for elite talent in Major League Baseball.

Add it all up and the conflation of Machado's incredible offensive talent, his highlight-reel defensive ability and the position scarcity that he enjoys makes the young Oriole not only a superstar -- he certainly is that -- but also the most valuable player in the game.

Yes, more valuable than Mike Trout. More valuable than Bryce Harper. And Josh Donaldson. And even Clayton Kershaw.

"This is crazy," you might say. "Trout and Harper are obviously the two best players in baseball."

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

You would be correct -- Trout and Harper are once-in-a-generation talents -- but this argument isn't about Machado being the best, it's about him being the most valuable.

To prove it, let's go through a little exercise: name all the shortstops in baseball who'd you want to build your team around. 

My list is incredibly short: Carlos Correa and Machado. Troy Tulowitzki is having a brutal year at the plate, Francisco Lindor doesn't hit enough yet to be labeled a cornerstone type of player and Xander Bogaerts is close but there yet. Trevor Story had a phenomenal start to his rookie season, but he has cooled off considerably in May and I'd like to see his final stat line before anointing him an elite shortstop.

After Trout and Harper there are several other terrific outfielders -- Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Mookie Betts and Lorenzo Cain, to name a few. Similarly, Kershaw is undoubtedly the best starting pitcher on the planet, but it's not like there aren't replacements for him.

Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, Jake Arrieta and Chris Sale are only a few of the plethora of arms in baseball that could replace Kershaw. However, when you look at shortstop -- arguably the most important position on the field -- there simply isn't that much depth.

That is why Machado is now the most valuable player in baseball. He just does things that other shortstops cannot -- hitting for power being paramount among those. More than likely, Machado is going to lead all MLB shortstops in home runs, slugging percentage and wRC+ when the season ends. And it probably won't be all that close.

Machado finished fourth in last year's AL MVP voting following his 35-homer campaign where he racked up 6.8 wins-above-replacement, sixth in the majors.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Machado's value goes beyond the stats -- although his stats are very impressive -- he also has an indefatigable work ethic that has continued even through his success.

“One of the greatest compliments I can pay a guy is when I say he’ll be as good as he’s capable of being,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter told Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post. “Manny wants to be as good as he’s capable of being. And he’s appreciative of the talents that have been bestowed upon him. He wants to do things that help the team so that he gets recognized as a byproduct of that. He doesn’t have the cart in front of the horse. He’s got it down. He’s got a real maturity about his preparation.”

From here on out -- assuming that the Orioles make the intelligent decision of keeping him at shortstop -- Machado has the potential to be a perennial contender for the MVP award. He has always had the great offensive numbers and been one of the best defensive infielders in the MLB, but now he is a shortstop. For now.

Only Showalter knows how long Machado will stick at short when Hardy returns from injury, but everyone knows that Machado is a legit star when he is a third baseman -- one of the game's very best players.

What some people don't know but should is that when Machado is at shortstop, his value becomes even greater. He goes from a fantastic player at a pretty deep third baseman position to the best player in the league at an even more important defensive position.

In other words, the most valuable player in all of baseball.  

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The thought of trading Mike Trout seems insane. An absolutely inconceivable notion. After all, he is possibly the best player in baseball, he's in the prime years of his career and he is signed through the 2020 season.

However, trading the 24-year-old Trout is exactly what the Los Angeles Angels are quickly going to be tasked with doing. It is almost inevitable. After general man ager Billy Eppler chose not to open up the bank account for high-profile free agents Jason Heyward, Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes, the Angels were left with an Opening Day roster that leaves much to be desired.

And following injuries to C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards, the Angels' hopes of contending in 2016 are already shot after only a month of play. But after Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote an article about a possible Trout trade, Eppler immediately quashed that speculation.

"He's not moving," Eppler told Fox Sports on Friday. "He's an impact player, a huge piece in a championship core.

"This team was up against a lot of adversity last year and fought to the end. We've got a lot of character, a lot of the same guys on the club. They will not back down from a fight."

Trout leads the MLB in wins-above-replacement (WAR) by a wide margin since 2012, per FanGraphs.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Eppler is correct that Trout is a great player -- he is a proven superstar no doubt -- but the idea that this current Angels team has what it takes to compete for championships is downright absurd. Trout has little protection around him in the order sans Kole Calhoun, the starting pitching has been horrendous and Albert Pujols is locked into what is the worst contract in baseball through the 2022 season.

The Angels are a team that struggles to score runs, can't get anybody out, has little roster flexibility and no sort of farm system offering short-term reinforcements. Actually, prospect guru Keith Law of ESPN.com recently called L.A the worst farm system that he has ever seen.

Add all of that up and the Angels are in prime position to unload Trout. Yes, he is a true five-tool transcendent star who has already has an MVP award and three runner-up finishes in his young career. Yes, he is still young and under club control for a few more years.

But none of that should concern the Angels. All that should concern them is assembling a winning team, which they currently do not have. If they do not want to spend the big bucks on the free agent market -- and their wariness is understandable after throwing huge money at busts Pujols, Wilson and Josh Hamilton -- then they need to trade Trout.

Albert Pujols' 10-year, $254 million contract is looking like a major bust at this point in his career.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

So, what would that look like? We aren't talking about your usual deadline deal  where Team A sends a couple of mid-to-high-level prospects to Team B in exchange for a veteran player in hopes of pushing them over the hump. No, the market for Trout is basically unprecedented.

We are talking about a player who can go to almost any organization in the league and make them instant contenders. A team like the Nationals or Tigers that wants to ensure that they get their owner a ring before he dies? Adding Trout would do just that. 

A young, on-the-rise team like the Astros or Mets wanting to expedite the process of winning a championship? Trout could be the final piece. Even a rebuilding team like the Braves or Phillies could jump up the standings with the addition of Trout.

Trout has the ability to bring back a tremendous return to the Angels. Eppler and his staff likely wouldn't have to decide whether they preferred a slew of prospects or a few MLB-read big-leaguers; they could have both. Trout is that good.

When thinking of the perfect team that could give the Angels the best return package, there are a few options that come to mind. The Cubs, Dodgers, Rangers and Red Sox are all teams with plenty of young, controllable talent that could potentially entice the Angels into pulling the trigger on trading their star player. 

The Cubs could offer Kyle Schwarber -- who would make an ideal DH in the Amerian League -- and Jorge Soler to get the bidding started. Then they could throw in their top prospect, 19-year-old shortstop Gleyber Torres, as well as maybe Willson Contreras, the No. 1 catching prospect in baseball according to MLB.com.

That is the kind of haul that could set the Angels up for long-term success, but at the same time, the Cubs would be getting back MIKE TROUT. Joe Maddon could slot Trout in center field and in the No. 2 spot in the batting order in front of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, and the Cubs might win the World Series every year.

The one thing that the Cubs cannot give much of, though, is pitching. And with a depleted rotation that has been decimated by injuries, pitching might be the Angels' biggest need. That's where their cross-town rival comes into play. The Angels could ask the Dodgers for prized left-hander Julio Urias as well as either Corey Seager or Joc Pederson -- or both, if that's what Eppler & Co. prefer. 

The Angels could get Pederson (left) or Seager (right) -- maybe both -- in a blockbuster trade involving Mike Trout.
Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers also have a quartet of highly regarded pitching prospects -- righties Jose DeLeon, Grant Holmes, Frankie Montas and Walker Buehler -- all of which could provide an infusion of pitching talent into the Angels' organization.

The Rangers' farm system boasts slugging third base prospect Joey Gallo, who might possess more power than anyone in baseball right now, Nomar Mazara, who has flashed plenty of promise in his first few weeks in the big leagues and righthander Dillon Tate, the No. 4 overall selection in last year's draft. Jurickson Profar, Martin Perez and top-100 prospect Luis Ortiz are also possible pieces that could be thrown into the deal to get the Angels to bite.

For the Red Sox, Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi and Blake Swihart would all look good in an Angels uniform. A package consisting of the three of them as well as righty Matt Barnes, lefty Eduardo Rodriguez and/or outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. could be enough to convince the Angels and it would make both teams better.

All in all, any of the four deals mentioned would be outstanding for both teams; especially the Angels. They are currently stuck in a situation that is never a recipe for success -- they don't have even a near resemblance to a winning club at the big-league level and they don't have any kind of farm system to speak of.

For a team so starved for young talent, this is the perfect time to trade Trout. They have proven that they cannot build a winning team around Trout, so why not use his status as the best player in baseball to try and build a winner without him? Again, with a player with Trout's talent on their side, the Angels can practically name their price.

Personally, I think the best trading partner would be the Dodgers. If the Angels could extract Urias and either Seager or Pederson as well as two or three of the Dodgers' other top pitching prospects, I think it would be something that they would have to consider. 

The Angels could "rebuild" without actually rebuilding; it would be more like a reload. Adding four or five high-upside players -- some of which aren't just prospects but established players -- would give the club a jumpstart on the future without having to tank any seasons to get back to contention.

Finally, the Angels don't have to trade him, but they would be doing themselves a huge disservice if they did not at least listen to offers. Who knows, maybe a team blows them away with an offer that is too good to pass up.

If that doesn't happen, keeping the best player in baseball on your roster is far from a disappointment. They just need hit the free agent market soon so they don't waste all of Trout's excellence on losing seasons.

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