Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani, the AL MVP frontrunner as the regular season winds down, has been one of MLB's biggest stories in 2021. This year, he's smashed 45 home runs at the plate while leading the AL in triples, and on the mound Ohtani has pitched to a 3.18 ERA across 23 starts with 156 strikeouts in 130 1/3 innings. Add up his contributions on both sides -- all, of course, from a single roster spot -- and he has a WAR of 8.9, which leads all of MLB by a sizable margin.
Despite getting such worth from Ohtani at deep-discount rates (he's making just $3 million this season), the Angels are once again buried in the standings. This, of course, has been the story with the Angels for some time. They haven't managed a winning season since 2015 and haven't made the playoffs since 2014 despite having Mike Trout on the roster. Now it's the same story except with Ohtani in 2021. All of this raises the matter of Ohtani's future with the Angels.
Ohtani entered the 2021 season with three years of major-league service time. That means he's halfway to free agency, and that, in turn, means he isn't eligible to become a free agent until after the 2023 season. Even though that's a ways away, Ohtani's future with the Halos is already a frequent topic of discussion, and following his final home game of the season he addressed it as directly as possible given the extended time frame.
"I really like the team, I love the fans and the atmosphere as a team," Ohtani told reporters, including MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger. "But more than that, I want to win. That's the biggest thing for me. I'll leave it at that." Ohtani also noted that he has not yet had any contract extension discussions with the Halos.
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That there haven't yet been any extension talks isn't necessarily cause for concern for the Angels rooter, given that there's still plenty of time for such talks to take place. What seems really important here is that Ohtani, after saying the usual positive things, stresses that winning or at least the promise of it will be the driver in his decision-making. As noted, the Angels can't promise that, at least based on recent history.
GM Perry Minasian hasn't had a chance to fully implement his vision for the organization, so deeming the situation hopeless would be premature. Still, consider the 2022 season a pivotal one when it comes to proving to Ohtani that the Angels can be contenders moving forward. A healthy Trout and Anthony Rendon would certainly help matters, but getting consistent starting pitching remains a chronic challenge for the Angels. On top of the usual incentives to win games and matter in the standings, it now seems the Angels may be auditioning to keep Ohtani in the fold beyond the 2023 season.