Spring training camps open next week and, soon after that, many players will leave their teams to begin preparations for the World Baseball Classic. The WBC returns this spring after a two-year pandemic-related hiatus. The tournament begins March 8 and the championship game will be played March 21, though each country will have several workouts before their first game.
Among those who will participate in this year's WBC: Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani. He will suit up for Japan, and, on Saturday, Angels GM Perry Minasian confirmed Ohtani will go to the WBC with zero restrictions. Ohtani's usage will be entirely up to him and the Japanese team's decision-makers. From the Associated Press:
Whatever Ohtani wants to do in the tournament is entirely up him and the Japanese team, since the Angels will stick to their long-standing policy of allowing him to do whatever he feels is best for his growth on his unique career path.
"I am not worried about Shohei Ohtani," Minasian said. "He's been in Arizona for a while now. He's preparing for the season. He's doing everything he needs to do to be ready to go when the bell rings. He'll get the proper work in when he needs it. He's the least of my concerns."
After carefully managing Ohtani's workload earlier in his career, the Angels loosened the reins a bit a few years ago, and let Ohtani dictate his schedule. They don't throw caution to the wind -- Ohtani gets extra rest between all his starts -- but they trust him to let them know when he needs a break. And given his last two seasons, it's impossible to complain with the results.
Japan's roster is loaded with starting pitchers, including San Diego Padres ace Yu Darvish and Chiba Lotte Marines right-hander Roki Sasaki, who threw a 19-strikeout perfect game last April. Back in October, Ohtani told the Los Angeles Times he could "pitch as a middle reliever or closer" in the WBC depending on Japan's needs. He has never made a relief appearance in MLB.
Minasian said the plan is for Ohtani to make one spring training start with the Angels before heading to Japan for the WBC on March 1. The Halos will play their first Cactus League game on Saturday, Feb. 25. Japan is in Pool B with Australia, China, the Czech Republic, and Korea. Pool B will be played in Tokyo.
Of course, Ohtani will be a free agent after the 2023 season, and his future is a much bigger story than his WBC usage. Minasian spoke about Ohtani's future in generalities Saturday -- "This whole organization would like nothing more than to see him here for a long, long time," he told the Associated Press -- and that's about all he can say right now, before spring training even begins.
Ohtani, 28, threw 166 innings with a 2.33 ERA and 219 strikeouts last season. He also hit .273/.356/.519 with 34 home runs. Ohtani will earn $30 million in 2023, and if his 2023 looks like his 2021-22, he'll be in line for a record contract next offseason, one that could eclipse $500 million.