One of the biggest questions heading into Major League Baseball's trade deadline (Tuesday, Aug. 2 at 6 p.m. ET) is what the future holds for the Los Angeles Angels and two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani. Rumors surfaced last week that the Angels are listening to inquiries on Ohtani, albeit not in a manner that indicates a trade is likely to occur before Tuesday. Still, the Angels' willingness to hear out offers is a significant development, and a hint he could be on the move this offseason, right? Yes and no.
Ask any honest front-office person and they'll concede that every desirable player gets discussed in this manner at some point or another, including the golden goose types who aren't on the block. It's how the industry works, and it's how teams gather information on a given player's trade value and their potential list of suitors.
Even accepting that background information, Ohtani's availability is the first acknowledgement the Angels have made of an upcoming inflection point. Ohtani is scheduled to reach free agency after next season, leaving Los Angeles with precious little time to convince him to stay beyond then, either by signing a long-term extension beforehand or returning after he's engaged in a free-agent tour.
CBS Sports has spent the past few days asking executives with other teams for their thoughts on the Ohtani situation: how likely he is to suit up for the Angels on Opening Day 2023, what factors are working in favor of a trade, and what factors are working in opposition. We've distilled those conversations into two parts: the first highlighting the three reasons why Ohtani could be traded before next season, and the second detailing the one big reason he may stick in town until next deadline, at minimum.
Let's begin with the three reasons the Angels could trade Ohtani before next season.
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Why the Angels might trade Ohtani
1. A huge payday is on the way
As mentioned in the introduction, Ohtani will qualify for free agency after next season. We don't have a crystal ball, but we feel confident in writing that he'll be one of the most sought-after free agents of all-time barring a devastating injury. He is, at present, a 28-year-old with a career 137 OPS+ and 131 ERA+. A lot of players are described as being without equal; Ohtani validates the claim. There's no one else, in the majors or the minors alike, who can hit and pitch at his level consistently.
There's no doubt that Ohtani is going to have all the usual big spenders interested in his services. Only a loose understanding of the relationship between supply and demand is required to conclude that he's going to have a lot of lucrative contract offers heading his way. Factor in his proximity to hitting the open market -- around 16 months' time -- and the chances of him agreeing to an extension seem remote; he just doesn't have a long or rocky road between him and the open market.
The threat of being in competition with all the league's high rollers should concern the Angels since there's no guarantee they'll offer him the most money. Bear in mind, the Angels have never spent as much as $200 million on an Opening Day payroll. They already have more than $90 million committed to three players (Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Raisel Iglesias) for the foreseeable future. Ohtani making $30 million a season -- a conservative estimate -- would mean they'd have more than 60 percent of their usual payroll wrapped up in just 15 percent of their active roster. From this perspective, that seems like an untenable situation … and that's a low estimate.
To recap: the Angels seem unlikely to convince Ohtani to sign before he hits free agency, and they seem doubtful to be the highest bidder. Maybe there would be more reason for optimism about their chances of retaining him long-term if there was a separating factor other than money working in their favor. Alas, the separating factor might make him more inclined to leave, thereby upping the likelihood of a trade.
2. Ohtani wants to play for a winner
It's fair to write that most players -- as is their right -- are inclined to take the highest offer. Ohtani is the white crow, in that respect, since he's demonstrated before that the dollar is not his primary motivator. He took less money to come over to the majors as a 23-year-old, when he could have waited a few years and signed for substantially more. If a fat check is a certainty, his decision seems even more likely to be informed by something else, like which team is best positioned to win a title. Heck, Ohtani has hinted as much within the past year.
"I really like the team. I love the fans. I love the atmosphere of the team," he told Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times last September. "But, more than that, I want to win. That's the biggest thing for me. I'll leave it at that."
Even if the Angels can offer Ohtani a ton of money -- and as we established above, it may not be the most money -- it's not clear they can offer him a realistic path to a World Series ring. If they can, they sure haven't proven as much. Ohtani has been a member of the Angels roster since 2018. They haven't finished at .500 or better in that time, and they aren't likely to change that this year; rather, they're on pace to win the lowest percentage of games in his big-league career. Yikes.
The Angels haven't done themselves any favors by embracing constant turnover in the dugout. Ohtani has already suited up for four managers, and that number will likely increase to five if he is in town next spring. The only consistency with the Angels, then, has been dreadful underperformance borne from their inability to amass the necessary depth, pitching talent, and luck to contend for a playoff spot.
Maybe general manager Perry Minasian can change the tides this winter. The problem is he'll be on his third try, and neither of the first two have suggested he's up to the task of a quick turnaround. Having Trout and Ohtani in tow, among others, means there is a chance Minasian gets it right. There's just ample reason to doubt it.
So, the Angels' chances of offering Ohtani the most money or winning enough games to convince him to sign on beyond next season are in doubt. That leaves one other reason for the Angels to consider making a move between now and next Opening Day.
3. Long-term interests
It sounds silly to write that if the Angels want to win anytime soon they should consider trading Ohtani, but there's something to it.
Say that everything above is correct. That they're unlikely to outbid everyone for Ohtani, and that even if they did, he might decide he'd rather take less money to go play for a more certain contender. That would leave the Angels recouping only a draft pick upon his departure. We'll put it mildly by writing that the Angels could use a heck of a lot more help than a draft pick if they're going to dig out of this hole before the end of Trout's prime. (He'll turn 31 this week.)
The reality of the situation is straightforward for the Angels. Ohtani's trade value will continue to decline incrementally every day between now and next winter, with a big drop-off occurring next Opening Day, when an acquiring team would be unable to recoup its own draft pick. It would behoove the Angels, if they want to net the maximum return, to outline their vision of the future -- and how it would differ without Ohtani on the roster -- sooner than later.
Trading any kind of superstar, especially an historic talent, is not an easy decision. In an instance like this, where the Angels have been unable to capitalize on rostering Ohtani and Trout for years, it's nothing short of an admission of organizational failure. And that, according to the executives we talked to, is why the majority of them believe Ohtani has a better than 50 percent chance at opening next season as a member of the Angels -- because owner Arte Moreno won't have it any other way.
Why the Angels won't trade Ohtani
1. The Arte of the deal
Club owner Arte Moreno is viewed as the biggest impediment to a potential Ohtani trade. It doesn't matter if the Angels receive an unbeatable offer, and it doesn't matter if Ohtani is a known goner at season's end; if Moreno doesn't sign off on it, it won't happen.
It's easy to understand why Moreno would push back. He's spent a lot of money on the Angels over the years without getting much in return. The Angels have changed players, managers, and general managers without much success. Moreno has been the constant. At some point, being the steady face of failure has to impact one's ego. Trading Ohtani would be an admission that he and his brain trust could never figure out a way to build a winner despite being gifted two generational talents.
A talent evaluator who spoke to CBS Sports speculated that, based on Moreno's history and reputation, they could envision a scenario where Minasian's job security is tied to Ohtani -- if Minasian is bringing to Moreno trade concepts involving Ohtani, then he might be signing his own pink slip. There's no evidence suggesting that's actually the case, but it speaks to how Moreno is viewed by other organizations.
When it comes to trading Ohtani, the greatest challenge for the Angels front office may not be finding a good offer or justifying the deal to themselves; it might be getting their owner to accept the reality of the situation and live with the blowback.