With Ohtani gone, what's next?

December 11th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Rhett Bollinger’s Angels Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ANAHEIM -- So now what? 

The biggest fear for Angels fans became a reality on Saturday, when two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani announced that he will sign with the rival Dodgers. Ohtani is set to sign a contract for 10 years and $700 million, with much of that money deferred, which was reportedly his idea to help the Dodgers have more maneuverability to add more players and reduce his luxury tax number. 

The Angels were one of the finalists, along with the Blue Jays, but the allure of going to a consistent winner was too much for Ohtani, who did not reach the postseason or play on a club with a winning record in his six years with the Angels. His reasons for leaving should be detailed when he’s officially introduced at a press conference, which will be his first time speaking with reporters since Aug. 9. 

But for now, the Angels are left to pick up the pieces after losing a player who won the AL MVP Award unanimously in both 2021 and ‘23 and was an All-Star as both a starting pitcher and a designated hitter for three straight seasons from ‘21-23. Ohtani was both their best hitter and their best pitcher, and now they have the unenviable task of trying to replace him.  

General manager Perry Minasian knew this was a possibility, so it’s not like it catches the Angels off-guard. Now, it’s just up to Minasian to pivot and find other ways to improve the club, as they’re not going to rebuild even after losing Ohtani to free agency. Fellow superstar Mike Trout isn’t going anywhere and so now the goal is try to build a winner around him.

Losing Ohtani undoubtedly hurts the franchise, but in some ways, it does give the Angels more flexibility to improve the roster in more areas. The club is roughly $70 million under the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) and so signing Ohtani even with deferrals, they wouldn’t have much wriggle room unless owner Arte Moreno wanted to blow past the threshold, which isn’t something he’s done historically.  

The Angels can now use that money to improve their depth, which is a major concern again this year, even after they tried to address it last offseason. There are still plenty of quality free agents out there and the trade market should also start to heat up now that Ohtani is off the board.

There are even aces available in free agency such as Japan's Yoshinobu Yamamoto and lefty Blake Snell, who won the NL Cy Young Award last year. Other top starting pitchers on the market include Marcus Stroman and Jordan Montgomery, while relief ace Josh Hader is also a free agent. And the Angels don't have to worry about using a six-man rotation going forward with Ohtani no longer with the club (and even if he would’ve re-signed, he’s not pitching in 2024 after elbow surgery.)

As far as bats, outfielder Cody Bellinger is a free agent and coming off a huge season with the Cubs, while designated hitters J.D. Martinez or Jorge Soler could make some sense now that the Angels won’t have Ohtani as their DH.

And with a potentially robust trade market, there are still plenty of avenues to improve the club this offseason. It’s still unclear if the Angels plan to go over the luxury tax threshold, like they did at the Trade Deadline, but they still have plenty of money to work with this offseason to add key pieces. 

The Dodgers were better equipped to take on Ohtani’s contract because they already have a strong core in place, while the Angels need to focus on getting better in all aspects after winning 73 games in back-to-back seasons. And now they’ll have money to spread around on more players instead of most of it going to Ohtani this offseason. 

So while Saturday will always be remembered as a tough day for Angels fans, the show must go on, with or without Sho.