A deadline season that already has one of the highest profile trade candidates ever Juan Soto can add another to the list. Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman of the New York Post report that while a deal is ultimately unlikely, the Angels have not turned away interested teams as they have fielded inquiries and submitted trade proposals for the two-way star and reigning AL MVP Shohei Ohtani. The Post duo spoke with three executives whose teams have reached out to the Angels, all of whom characterized the chances of a trade as extremely low due to an unsurprisingly huge asking price.
Just the notion of an Ohtani trade will ignite a frenzy of speculation and wishful thinking — and with good reason. The 28-year-old is in the midst of another incredible season, having pitched to a 2.81 ERA with a 36.4% strikeout rate and 5.8% walk rate through 99 1/3 innings. He is also hitting .254/.349/.486 with 21 home runs and 11 stolen bases. Dating back to last season, Ohtani has hit .256/.363/.550 with 67 home runs in 1,052 plate appearances while also pitching 229 2/3 innings of 3.02 ERA ball with a 32.3% strikeout rate. It’s a legitimately historic performance that current fans haven’t seen in their lifetime.
That the Angels will at least listen is certainly important and is only understandable in light of another disastrous season. Despite Ohtani and three-time MVP Mike Trout Anchoring the roster, the Halos sit at a 42-57 record and are already all but eliminated from the postseason. Amazingly, it’s a common refrain in Anaheim, where the Angels haven’t reached the playoffs since way back in 2014 — three seasons before Ohtani’s MLB debut. Repeated injuries up and down the pitching staff have regularly combined with immediate declines from expensive stars like Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and Anthony Rendon leaving the Angels with a top-heavy roster that has rarely sniffed the playoffs.
Ohtani, meanwhile, has arguably been the game’s biggest coup since arriving on the scene. Instead of waiting until he was old enough to qualify as a professional player on the international market (25 years old), he instead chose to jump to Major League Baseball at just 23 years old. In doing so, Ohtani knowingly submitted to the international bonus restrictions that govern MLB teams’ signing of amateur players, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table to accelerate his path to the world’s best league.
Shocking as it was at the time, Ohtani could yet find himself in position for a historic contract before too long. He is currently playing for just a $5MM salary in his second year of arbitration, but he will receive a presumably massive raise this winter and is eligible to become a free agent after the 2023 season. Any team that submits an offer for Ohtani will do so knowing that they can only control him for a season and a half, and that the right to do so will cost them a huge chunk of the farm system. An executive who spoke with Heyman and Sherman indicated that the Angels “want something like your top four prospects” in exchange for Ohtani’s final season plus club control.
With the remaining control dwindling, however, the Angels have a dilemma. On the one hand, it’s easy to say they should be willing to do whatever it takes to put Ohtani to the historic contract extension he would surely command. Meanwhile, the Angels already have both Trout and Rendon on the books at more than $35MM annually for the foreseeable future – Rendon through 2026, Trout through 2030. Ohtani will undoubtedly add another annual salary of more than $35MM to the ledger (perhaps well north of that sum ).
It would be a reasonable expense, but it takes two to make a deal. Ohtani has spoken several times in the past about his desire to play for a contending club and reach the MLB postseason, and the Angels have instead stumbled through a hard-to-understand streak of futility during his time with the organization. Asked last night about his desire to remain with the Angels long-term, Ohtani told The Athletic’s Sam Blum:
“No matter where I play, I want to give it my all, try to win the ball game that’s right in front of me. I am with the angels right now and I am very grateful for what they have done. I really love the team. I love my teammates. Right now I’m an angel and that’s all I can really focus on at this point.”
While far from an outright declaration that he hopes to be traded, it is of course notable that when given the opportunity, Ohtani did not express a hope to remain with the Angels long term. Maybe a record-setting offer would still lead to an agreement, but you never know. It’s generally fair to assume that when discussing MLB contracts, money wins at the end of the day. However, as previously mentioned, Ohtani has already once foregone what could have been a $200MM+ contract as an international free agent to instead sign for a $2.315MM signing bonus – which wasn’t even the best bonus available to him at the time for his original deal with the Angels in 2017.
While it’s highly unlikely that a deal will come together on such short notice, it’s still a fascinating wrinkle added to what’s already shaping up to be one of the most interesting deadlines in MLB history. There has been almost no movement to this point, generally setting the stage for unbridled chaos in the last 48 to 72 hours leading up to Tuesday’s 6pm ET deadline.