When the Los Angeles Angels signed Shohei Ohtani prior to the 2018 season, they knew they had someone incredibly special to pair up with Mike 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, and according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the sense is that it could become very difficult to keep him in town:
The Angels, according to sources, had informal discussions regarding an extension for Ohtani late in spring training with his agent, Nez Balelo of CAA. Club officials expressed an understanding that to sign Ohtani, they would need to award him a record average salary, surpassing Max Scherzer’s $43.3 million. But the Angels, at least at that time, were reluctant to make the kind of long-term offer Ohtani almost certainly would command on the open market, sources said.
When the Angels needed someone to play the role of stopper during their franchise-record losing streak, Ohtani stepped up and pitched a gem while slugging a momentum-shifting home run at the plate. He is a unicorn in MLB and speculation about his contract is all-new, because there hasn’t been a two-way player like him since Babe Ruth:
In January, Ohtani indicated to The Athletic’s Sam Blum that he did not want to discuss an extension until his current two-year deal was complete. The closer he gets to free agency, the less willing he might be to entertain such a deal, particularly if the Angels continue to flounder.
Ohtani proved he has what it takes to excel as a two-way player and be nearly the best in MLB at both, simultaneously. The Angels missed the playoffs as he coasted to an MVP, which was incredibly disappointing for him:
After Ohtani’s final start last season, which the Angels concluded with a 77-85 record, he told reporters, “I really like the team. I love the fans. I love the atmosphere of the team. But more than that, I want to win. That’s the biggest thing for me. So, I’ll leave it at that.”
The Angels have never operated at a higher payroll than they have coming into this season, and being unable to extend Ohtani would be a monumental failure for the franchise. But from a standpoint of an all-world talent who wants to win, he is justified in wanting to do so.
Ohtani’s first 100 career home runs
The Angels faced the Oakland Athletics in a doubleheader on May 14, and although the first game didn’t go well with a 4-3 loss, they responded in a big way during the second game backed by Ohtani and Taylor Ward.
Ohtani only had one hit in five at-bats, but his lone hit was a two-run home run to extend the Angels’ lead to 8-1. More importantly, that long ball was the 100th of his career.
This also made Ohtani just the third native of Japan to collect 100 home runs in a career. He joined Hideki Matsui (175 HR) and Ichiro Suzuki (117) as the only players from Japan to reach the mark.
With just 444 career games, he reached the mark faster than any other Japanese player in ML history.
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