10:14pm: An Angels’ official confirmed the team’s plans to retain Ohtani and add to the roster when speaking with Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. “Arte is committed to making a run this season, along with having Angels fans see Ohtani through September and hopefully into October,” the person told Fletcher. “The best way to try to make the postseason is through addition, not subtraction.”
8:53pm: The Angels have decided to take Shohei Ohtani off the trade market, reports Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated. According to Verducci, the Halos determined on Wednesday afternoon they were committed to buying in advance of next Tuesday’s deadline.
Earlier this evening, Robert Murray of FanSided reported the Angels were engaging other teams about adding MLB talent. That’d certainly suggest they were trending towards buying, though Verducci’s report indicates far more definitively that’ll be the case. Verducci writes that adding a starting pitcher and bullpen help are the priorities for the Halos over the next six days.
A slump early in the month — coinciding with a number of injuries, none more notable than the hamate fracture suffered by Mike Trout — led the Halos to at least consider other teams’ overtures on the two-way star. According to Verducci, preliminary talks didn’t result in any momentum towards a deal.
Ohtani briefly appeared in trade rumors at last summer’s deadline as well. Halos’ owner Arte Moreno quickly stepped in to quash that possibility. It stands to reason Moreno was involved in the decision to pull Ohtani from the market this time around, though it’s also worth noting a recent run of strong play has pulled the club back into contention and makes that course of action justifiable from a pure baseball perspective.
Los Angeles has taken seven of their last 10 games, pulling three games above .500. They’re four games out in the Wild Card race (with the Red Sox and Yankees also between them and the final playoff spot, currently held by Toronto). Los Angeles is 6.5 games back of Texas in the AL West.
Barring injury, the 2021 AL MVP should shatter the record for largest contract in MLB history when he hits free agency next winter. Ohtani is amidst one of the best seasons ever, hitting .299/.398/.668 with a league-best 36 home runs while pitching 111 2/3 innings of 3.71 ERA ball.
It is generally expected the eventual free agent megadeal will come from another organization, though the Halos will obviously attempt to make a run at re-signing the game’s best player. If he departs in free agency, they’d recoup a draft choice as compensation. If the Halos don’t exceed the luxury tax this year, that pick would come between Competitive Balance Round B and the third round in the 2024 draft. If the Angels do go past the $233MM tax marker, the compensation pick would fall after the fourth round. Roster Resource presently calculates the club’s CBT figure right at that threshold.
Clearly, the Angels could do far better than that in a prospect return this summer. Yet doing so would’ve more or less waved the white flag on the team’s efforts to snap an eight-year postseason drought. With the playoffs still within reach, it seems the focus is on loading up for a run in what could be Ohtani’s final season in Orange County.
Turning to the Halos’ target areas, bolstering the pitching staff is logical. Their rotation ranks just 20th in ERA, allowing 4.62 earned runs per nine innings. Ohtani is the club’s only starter with an ERA below 4.00. Reid Detmers, Patrick Sandoval and Griffin Canning have all been fine, with the former’s 29.4% strikeout rate suggesting he has probably deserved better than a 4.38 ERA. The Angels prefer a six-man staff to keep Ohtani’s workload in check and the final two spots haven’t been as effective as anticipated.
Offseason signee Tyler Anderson carries a 5.18 ERA in his first 17 starts as an Angel. José Suarez had a disastrous first month and has been out for a couple months with a shoulder strain. Jaime Barria has been more effective as a multi-inning reliever than when pressed into rotation duty.
The bullpen also ranks 20th in run prevention, sporting a 4.18 ERA. Free agent signings of Carlos Estévez and Matt Moore have worked out brilliantly thus far. That duo and Barria are the only relievers with 10+ frames and an ERA below 3.00, however. José Soriano and Jacob Webb have missed a decent amount of bats (Soriano in particular) but haven’t thrown strikes consistently.
Specific targets for the Halos aren’t clear, though potential trade candidates on the pitching staff have been covered extensively. Jordan Montgomery, Lucas Giolito, Jack Flaherty, Lance Lynn and old friend Michael Lorenzen all look likely to move. Marcus Stroman and Eduardo Rodriguez could be dealt. On the relief front, Scott Barlow, David Robertson, Joe Kelly, Kyle Finnegan and Chris Stratton are among a host of names who could change teams.
Speculatively, the Angels could also use some offensive help. They’ve patched over some infield injuries with early acquisitions of Mike Moustakas and Eduardo Escobar, but first base has been a revolving door all season. Brandon Drury could fit there once he returns from a shoulder contusion, but he’s better suited for a multi-positional infield role. Trout’s injury has pushed Mickey Moniak into unexpected center field work. The former first overall pick has hit exceptionally well to cover for that loss, though, and Verducci writes the Angels expect Trout back by the middle of August.
Until 5:00 pm CST on August 1 passes, other clubs and their fanbases might hold out a small amount of hope about the Halos having a change of heart. Perhaps losing four or all five of their remaining games before the deadline might affect the organization’s thinking. Yet it seems they’re fully committed to buying right now, and Ohtani’s impending free agency means there should be urgency for the front office to strike boldly for upgrades to help that playoff push.