The Angels are 6½ games behind the first-place Texas Rangers in the American League West and 1½ games back of the Houston Astros for the third wild-card spot.
The trade deadline is Aug. 1.
How the Angels perform between now and then, however, is unlikely to influence their decision on what to do with Shohei Ohtani. Whether they remain in contention or tumble to the bottom of the standings, the expectation is for Ohtani to be on their roster for the remainder of the season, according to people familiar with the team’s thinking who spoke under the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized the publicly discuss the matter.
One such person said of the possibility of dealing Ohtani, “I don’t see that happening.”
The primary reason: The Angels believe that trading Ohtani would stamp out their chances of re-signing him.
Ohtani, 28, will be a free agent this winter.
The popular opinion around the game is that Ohtani is bound to sign elsewhere — I’ve written before that he should move to a perennial contender, both for his sake and baseball’s — but the Angels aren’t counting themselves out just yet.
While Ohtani hasn’t said he wants to play for the Angels beyond this year, he hasn’t said he doesn’t want to, either.
The Angels have created for him an environment in which he can more or less do what he wants when he wants. His media obligations are limited to postgame scrums on nights he pitches. He calls his own pitches, even though results point to him being better off with his catchers making those decisions; he’s posted a 5.06 earned-run average during his past eight starts.
The perception that Ohtani wants to leave is based almost entirely on a remark he made late in his MVP season in 2021 about his desire to win being stronger than his affinity for the Angels or their fans.
In reality, what the intensely private Ohtani wants is a mystery.
The guess here is that Ohtani would thrive in any market — he carried the expectations of an entire baseball-crazed nation while leading Japan to the World Baseball Classic championship — but, who knows, maybe he really values the comforts provided to him by the Angels.
There’s something admirable about a team defying the industry’s conventional wisdom that it’s smarter to trade a superstar early rather than to risk losing him for nothing at the end of his contract. The Washington Nationals dealt Juan Soto to the San Diego Padres last year, and Soto was still 2½ years from free agency. The Boston Red Sox traded Mookie Betts to the Dodgers before his walk year in 2020. Smart or not, Nationals and Red Sox fans had to be disgusted by the departures of their franchise players.
But the brave and calculated wager the Angels are about to place on being able to retain Ohtani can easily turn into a reckless and irresponsible pursuit without the complete backing of their owner. In other words, if the Angels don’t trade Ohtani during the next eight weeks, Arte Moreno better be prepared to offer him as much, if not more, than any of the two-way player’s other potential suitors.
Ohtani is expected to be courted by the sport’s financial giants, including the Dodgers, Mets, Yankees, Giants and Padres. He hasn’t pitched particularly well this year, but he’s nonetheless 5-2 with a 3.32 ERA. His 17 homers are tied for fourth-most in the majors. There’s no other player like him.
Under these circumstances, a hometown discount can’t be expected. Moreno previously signed Mike Trout to a record $426.5-million contract and should be prepared to set aside another $500 million to $600 million for Ohtani.
There’s already a sunk cost associated with Ohtani, namely in packages of premium prospects the Angels passed on by refusing to trade him last year. The return for him this year wouldn’t be what it was back then.
The Angels might as well push all-in and that plan starts with the owner.
Because if Moreno fails to make Ohtani a competitive offer and he signs with another team, what would have been the point of holding onto him? What would the effort to retain him have been worth if the effort was only half-hearted?