The Los Angeles Angels announced Tuesday that owner Arte Moreno has initiated a formal process to evaluate "strategic alternatives" involving the franchise, including a potential sale. Moreno, who has owned the Angels since buying the franchise from Disney in 2003 at the cost of $184 million, said the following as part of his statement:
"Although this difficult decision was entirely our choice and deserved a great deal of thoughtful consideration, my family and I have ultimately come to the conclusion that now is the time. Throughout this process, we will continue to run the franchise in the best interest of our fans, employees, players, and business partners."
If Moreno's process does result in a sale, that development will have major repercussions throughout the league, in no small part because it could clear the way for a Shohei Ohtani trade. As CBS Sports reported last month, rival front offices believe that the biggest hurdle to an Ohtani trade would be getting Moreno to sign off on it; if he's out of the picture, the odds of an offseason deal would increase.
It's fair to wonder why an incoming owner would be OK trading one of the best players in baseball, but the situation is comparable to what the Washington Nationals faced this past deadline with Juan Soto. Ohtani, 28, is a year away from free agency, at which point he's certain to demand a massive contract. The new owner will already have several large obligations on the books, including those given to Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, and will likely have to leverage themselves financially in order to complete the purchase. As a result, they may shy away from another big contract -- especially if they take a realistic view of where the Angels stand, competitively.
The last point is crucial because Ohtani -- a two-way sensation and the reigning AL MVP -- has a say in where he'll play after next season. He's publicly stated that his top priority is to win games, making it possible -- if not downright probable -- that the Angels are far down on his list of preferred suitors.
Let's say that the next Angels owner accepts that reality, and that Ohtani is placed on the block this offseason. Just which teams are best positioned to land him in a trade? Here are five that jump to mind, presented below in perceived order of likelihood.
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The Dodgers have been enamored with Ohtani dating back to when they tried to sign him out of high school. He chose to play professionally in Japan instead, but it's unlikely the Dodgers harbor any ill will about his decision. Top executive Andrew Friedman is no stranger to making blockbuster trades, and his best-in-show player development apparatus has once again armed him with a warchest of top youngsters to offer to the Angels. The Dodgers could dangle some combination of catcher Diego Cartaya; righties Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot, and Gavin Stone; and infielders Miguel Vargas and Michael Busch. The one potential snag in a Dodgers pursuit is if the Angels elect against moving Ohtani to their biggest geographical rival.
The Mets have a lot of things working in their favor. Owner Steven Cohen has demonstrated time and again that he's willing to spend big on top talent; general manager Billy Eppler is the same executive who signed Ohtani in the first place; and the Mets have several notable youngsters they could float the Angels' way. That group includes rookie third baseman Brett Baty and catcher Francisco Álvarez, who is one of the best prospects in the game. The Mets could even include one of their first-round picks from this past summer, be it catcher Kevin Parada or shortstop Jett Williams. Unlike in the Juan Soto talks, there's no intradivisional weirdness to get in the way.
Speaking of those Soto talks, it only makes sense to include one of the other finalists. The Cardinals still have two of the top position prospects in the minors, in third baseman/outfielder Jordan Walker and shortstop Masyn Winn, and they have a slew of youngsters who could serve as secondary pieces, including pitchers Cooper Hjerpe, Gordon Graceffo, Matthew Liberatore, and Tink Hence. The Cardinals have shown a willingness to pony up in the past, and if Ohtani is serious about prioritizing winning above all, he could do worse than settling down in St. Louis for the long haul.
The Yankees are tough to get a read on in these situations. They would make sense as a landing spot for Ohtani (then again, so do most teams), but the question is, are they willing to part with the prospects it would require to get a deal done? Although the Yankees did thin their farm-system depth by trading for Frankie Montas (and others) at the deadline, they were able to retain shortstop prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza. Outfielder Jasson Dominguez remains in the system, too, and rumors had New York being amenable to shipping him out in the right trade. Another factor worth considering is how the Aaron Judge talks could impact the Yankees' long-term financial plans, and their willingness to hand out another massive deal next winter.
There are several other teams who could pop up in Ohtani-related rumors this winter. We're going to cap our skim of the market with a wild-card team: the Rangers. If owner Ray Davis and general manager Chris Young want to put the Jon Daniels era behind them, they could execute another splash move by adding Ohtani. The Rangers certainly have the prospect means to get a deal done, as they have several notable youngsters in their farm system, such as third baseman Josh Jung; righties Jack Leiter, Owen White, Kumar Rocker, and Brock Porter; and outfielder Evan Carter. It's possible that the Rangers being in the same division would lower their chances of completing a trade; it's also possible that Young wants to build from within, and that Davis would prefer to not hand out another big contract, having received mixed results from Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. Still, if the Rangers are serious about making the proverbial leap, then Ohtani should be one of their top targets this winter.