The Los Angeles Angels are in another peculiar spot with the upcoming contract decision surrounding two-way star Shohei Ohtani as he approaches the final year of his deal in 2023.
The Angels are in fourth place in the American League West, they were swept by the Baltimore Orioles in a four-game set, and they have the worst record in baseball since May 16, but Ohtani and Mike Trout were once again named to the AL All-Star team.
Ohtani was named as both a pitcher and the designated hitter for the AL, adding another feather in the cap to his stunning list of accomplishments over his four-year career. His 2.44 ERA and his 2.42 FIP put him among the best starting pitchers in baseball. But with one-year remaining on his deal after this season, the question isn’t if the Angels should or can bring him back, it is if he will want to stay with the team if winning is his biggest priority.
The Angels balked at the idea of trading Trout, and ultimately signed him to a record 12-year $426.5 million contract prior to the 2019 season. General manager Perry Minasian faces the same situation with Ohtani, and many around MLB think they have to at least entertain the idea of dealing him, via Sarah Valenzuela of the L.A. Times:
“I think you have to [consider taking calls on Ohtani],” said Billy Blitzer, a former longtime scout for the Chicago Cubs who pointed to the Angels’ losing records despite having Trout and Ohtani. Blitzer said the value of potential offers would impact the decision whether to try to keep Ohtani.
As the season is nearly at the halfway mark, Ohtani ranks third in FanGraphs WAR at 4.2, behind Rafael Devers of the Boston Red Sox and Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees. This year, his pitching is carrying his overall performance, and if his bat picks up even more in the second half, he could be looking at another MVP award.
The Angels have a bottom-10 ranked farm system in baseball and don’t have a prospect ranked in MLB’s top-100, Minasian would be justified in approaching owner Arte Moreno to field calls on Ohtani, but the price to move him would need to be astronomical.
“If I’m them, I got to get a phone call from another team that I’ve scouted inside and out and I know that team about as well as I’m gonna know a team that I don’t work for,” one former National League general manager said. “And they got to make an offer to me on Ohtani that I cannot hang the phone up. You’re gonna have to give me $2 for $1.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers dealt two of their top prospects in starting pitcher Josiah Gray and switch-hitting catcher Keibert Ruiz and others to the Washington Nationals for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner at last season’s trade deadline. With Scherzer on an expiring deal and Turner still under contract for 2022, the cost, considering team-control heading to the Dodgers, was probably the best offer the Nationals received for the pair of All-Stars.
It would be a monumental move for the Angels to pull off, and one that would surely leave a Grand Canyon-sized crater for their fanbase, but with the team running on fumes, all options need to be on the table.
Winning is the biggest thing in next contract
When the Angels signed Ohtani prior to the 2018 season, they knew they had someone incredibly special to pair up with Trout. But as he heads into his final two years of team control, the club has to worry about how they will retain him.
Ohtani took over the baseball world in 2021 after posting a 9-2 record with 156 strikeouts and a 3.18 ERA in 23 appearances, and as a hitter, he smashed 46 home runs and drove in 100 runs with a .965 on-base plus slugging en route to his first career American League Most Valuable Player Award.
With Trout and Ohtani in the heart of the lineup and at the front of the rotation, the Angels should surely contend for the playoffs every year, but they haven’t. Ohtani hasn’t played in one postseason game, and the team hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2014.
The unfortunate reality for the Angels and employing a superstar with as much competitive fire as Ohtani is that many players want to win.