What does all of this mean for Shohei Ohtani's immediate future?
Few in the baseball industry see the Angels’ precipitous fall as an indication they will deal Ohtani prior to the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline.
In a vacuum, superstar players on expiring contracts are traded for the highest return. But the Angels don’t operate in a vacuum. They play on Planet Earth, where Ohtani is one of the most unique athletes ever.
Sure, the possibility of acquiring a collection of young talent is tantalizing. The Angels have two prospects among the industry Top 100, according to MLB Pipeline; the higher ranked of the two, catcher Logan O’Hoppe, is recovering from left shoulder surgery.
To be sure, the club’s baseball operations staff will communicate with other teams to workshop trade scenarios if the Angels’ slide continues. That is the job of a front office. But presenting an acceptable deal to ownership, and receiving approval for it, is another matter entirely.
If the Angels were intent on maximizing Ohtani’s trade value, they would have moved him last year, when they were less competitive in the standings and the additional contractual control would have yielded greater value.
Even if the Angels miss the postseason, value exists in keeping Ohtani on the roster until he reaches free agency. There are the viewership numbers every time he plays. There are the marketing revenues and sponsorships attached to his presence. There’s the very realistic chance that he’ll win his second American League MVP Award.
Ohtani leads the Majors with 31 home runs, which puts him on pace for 56 over the full season. If you think Ohtani is a global phenomenon now, just wait until he’s slugging in September with a chance to reach 60 homers.
Now if you’re an Angels fan — or executive — imagine him doing so in another uniform.
An empty feeling, right?
That’s why the scenario is so unlikely.
Of course, Ohtani’s game cap may no longer have a halo by Opening Day 2024. That is relevant here, too, insofar as the Angels’ long-term relationship with Ohtani will be shaped by the manner in which they could part.
If the Angels make him a strong offer in free agency, but he opts to sign with a consistent playoff team, it would be difficult for an objective observer to find much fault in the actions of either party.
By contrast, a midseason trade in the name of “maximizing asset value” would diminish the chance of Ohtani returning in free agency — and may impact the manner in which he’s connected to the organization in his post-playing years.
The Angels can quiet the trade talk by winning more ballgames, but that won’t be easy. They close the first half with the Dodgers and open the second against the reigning World Series champion Astros.
Trout won’t be in the lineup as he recovers from hamate surgery, and Ohtani’s next pitching assignment is unclear after he left his most recent start with a blister on his right middle finger. The team that had the fourth best record in the American League as recently as June 18 now trails the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Red Sox for the third and final Wild Card spot.
Ohtani’s arrival to the Angels in December 2017 is one of the great bargains in sports history, due to the international transfer rules that governed the move. All he’s done since then is elevate the sport, domestically and globally, with a series of achievements that no human previously approached. The Angels received full value from this partnership long ago.