This period of spring training is often the busiest time on Major League Baseball's calendar as it pertains to teams and players agreeing to long-term extensions. The reasoning is straightforward. Teams are done with their offseason shopping, and players want to take care of business before the season begins. Even so, it doesn't sound as though two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels are likely to reach a deal before it's go time.
"I've always been open to it," Ohtani's agent Nez Balelo told ESPN on Monday. "But there's several layers to this one, and Shohei's earned the right to play through the year, explore free agency, and we'll see where it shakes out."
When reporter Aiden Gonzalez asked Balelo if that meant a long-term extension between Ohtani and the Angels was off the table this spring, Balelo added: "I've said it before, I'll say it again -- we're taking one day at a time. I'm not putting the cart before the horse on this one."
Of course Balelo has no reason to commit either way, to getting a deal done or testing free agency; it would be bad business to shut the door on a long-term extension with the Angels, just in case they bring an offer to Ohtani that his side deems worth signing. (Plus, Ohtani is going to start the season with the organization no matter what, so there's no sense in poisoning the well on that relationship.) Shy of that, Ohtani has ample reason to play out the string.
Keep in mind that Ohtani has frequently expressed that his top desire is winning -- something the Angels haven't done much of during his time with the organization. (Indeed, Los Angeles hasn't made the postseason in Ohtani's first five seasons.) Even if the Angels do bring him an offer worth his market value, it's conceivable that he would want to see what else awaits him this offseason -- spoiler alert: it's a bunch of lucrative offers from contenders.
You can almost count on the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets being involved in the Ohtani sweepstakes this winter -- provided, again, that he does reach free agency. The Chicago Cubs' inclusion in the bidding is less certain, but that hasn't stopped outfielder Seiya Suzuki from recruiting Ohtani. (Both Ohtani and Suzuki are members of Japan's World Baseball Classic roster.)
Ohtani is likely to be regarded as the best free agent on the market this winter. San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado, whose self-imposed deadline for an extension recently passed, is also expected to be a top target.