With the offseason fast approaching, MLB front offices have begun exploratory talks about potential trades. However, Andy Martino of SNY reports that teams calling the Angels about two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani are finding that the Halos have “no appetite” for discussing such scenarios at present.
It’s no surprise that plenty of teams would be interested in Ohtani, after he showed that his 2021 MVP season was no fluke. A year ago, he hit 46 home runs and threw 130 1/3 innings of 3.18 ERA ball en route to securing a unanimous MVP selection. This year, he took his pitching game to new heights, getting to 166 innings while lowering his ERA to 2.33. His offense took a bit of a dip, as he dropped to 34 homers in a similar number of plate appearances, but he cut his strikeout rate by more than 5% and had a better batting average.
That level of two-way production is perhaps unprecedented in all of baseball history, but certainly within the past century or so. Even Babe Ruth, who excelled at both hitting and pitching, didn’t really see those parts of his career overlap in the same way since he was a initially a pitcher who gradually took the mound less and hit more. Given Ohtani’s incredible and unique skillset, not to mention marketing opportunities, every team in baseball would surely love to have him on their roster.
In that case, it also stands to reason that the Angels would be loath to part with him. The fact that it’s even been a consideration is due to a few factors. First off, the team overall has been struggling of late, despite the contributions of both Ohtani and Mike Trout. They haven’t had a winning season since 2015 and haven’t made the postseason since 2014. Ohtani is also just a year away from free agency now and there haven’t any reports to suggest that there’s any momentum towards an extension. Furthermore, owner Arte Moreno is exploring a sale of the team, casting a great deal of fog over the future of the franchise.
These factors put Ohtani in a situation somewhat analogous to that of Juan Soto, another superstar who once seemed untouchable in trades until he wasn’t. The circumstances weren’t exactly the same, since Soto still had 2.5 years of control at the time he was traded from the Nationals to the Padres. However, the team was unable to gain any traction in extension talks with Soto due to the uncertain nature of that franchise, which is also for sale. These comparisons have led to much speculation about Ohtani following a similar path, and the club even listened to offers at the most recent trade deadline. But even then, a trade seemed unlikely and all deliberations were reportedly kiboshed by Moreno.
With the hot stove about to warm up again in short order, the Ohtani rumors will surely follow, though it seems the club is not on the verge of anything. Martino’s report indicates that the Angels are rebuffing efforts to talk trade scenarios. Instead, it is believed they will try to explore an extension and, if unsuccessful, open up trade talks at next year’s deadline. We also can’t really rule out the scenario where the Angels are competitive next year and decide to keep him past the deadline. After all, they were neck-and-neck with the Astros through mid-May this year before a 14-game losing streak dealt them a gut punch that they never really recovered from. With a few improvements and some better luck next year, getting within striking distance of the expanded playoffs isn’t totally out of the question.
As for this offseason, it’s always possible that their approach could change as it progresses, for a number of reasons. If a sale of the club is finalized, perhaps the new owners will tip the scales one way or another. Maybe they will be interested in giving out a huge extension in order to keep a marquee player around, or perhaps they’d be prefer to try a rebuild and keep spending low for a while, as happened when the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter group purchased the Marlins.
That is a great unknown which could potentially extend to the club’s other offseason efforts. As we saw with Soto, a murky franchise future can make a player reluctant to bind themselves into a situation they could later regret. Will that make it harder to get free agents to sign in Anaheim? If that is indeed the case, it will make it challenging for general manager Perry Minasian to improve a 73-win team in order to compete with the dominant Astros, ascendant Mariners and aggressive Rangers in the AL West.
Perhaps there are future scenarios where Ohtani becomes available. As we saw with Soto, a player is “untouchable” until everything aligns just right to make the unthinkable become reality. For now, it seems the Angels will kick any trade considerations down the road. But their hold on Ohtani lasts for just one more year, meaning something will have to give between now and then.