Enjoy Shohei Ohtani while you can, Angels fans. His days in Anaheim appear numbered

(Madison Ketcham / The Times)

Would the Angels trade Shohei Ohtani this offseason?

There’s no excuse for a big-market team to deal with a star player, but if the Angels had to trade Ohtani, last year was the time to do it.

If they trade Ohtani three months before he becomes a free agent, the Angels would receive only a fraction of the bonus they would have earned by trading him a year earlier.

So why does owner Arte Moreno say the Angels could move Ohtani this summer?

Say goodbye to the prospect of a Dodgers-like transformation. Let go of the dream of a better tomorrow. Prepare for the worst.

Moreno is back.

I’ve written about Ohtani before and I think it’s in the best interest of baseball that he signs with another team next winter. He should have a chance to play October baseball every season, and that’s not going to happen on a Moreno team.

That doesn’t mean the Angels should let him go. On the contrary, they must do everything in their power to keep it. If Moreno can’t re-sign Ohtani, what is he doing in this business? Losing Ohtani would be the biggest setback for an owner who has become synonymous with failure.

But rather than show that he will struggle to maintain his star appeal, Moreno has begun building a way out of town. After deciding not to sell the Angels, Moreno immediately began giving a master class in what not to do as a team owner when he did an interview with Sports Illustrated earlier this month.

“I’ll go on the record,” Moreno told the publication. “We’re not going to trade Ohtani while we’re competing for a playoff spot.”

Asked if he would make the same promise in a scenario where the Angels don’t compete, Moreno said, “I’m not going to answer that, and I’ll tell you why.”

The subsequent explanation was not important. It was important that Moreno answered the question by not answering it.

Angels owner Arte Moreno wearing sunglasses and a red zip-up jacket.

Angels owner Arte Moreno stands on the field before a spring training game against the Dodgers on March 3, 2023 in Tempe, Ariz.

(Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

He wouldn’t promise to keep Ohtani.

Moreno is 76 years old. Maybe he said it wrong. Perhaps he wanted to exclude himself in case another pandemic brought the global economy to its knees. But it’s hard to read that and not think the Angels will deal with their top prospect down the stretch.

Again, this raises questions as to why the Angels didn’t trade Ohtani last year if they had no intention of keeping him next season, regardless of their performance. A delay in trading him could have cost him a chance to stock a depleted farm system with top talent, making the New York Yankees’ Jasson Dominguez a vital prospect.

The oddly-timed flip-flop only reinforces the Angels’ view of the industry without any kind of long-term vision, good or bad, and that’s Moreno.

The good news: Ohtani will be in Southern California for at least four more months.

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The Angels’ glaring failure to capitalize on his presence at a below-market rate — he earned $3.5 million when he won the American League Most Valuable Player in 2021 and $5.5 million last year — shouldn’t detract from his status. a once in a lifetime performer.

Enjoy it while it’s still here.

Ohtani is entering his sixth season and will turn 29 in July, but his most productive years may still be ahead of him.

As arm problems limited him to 12 starts in his first three seasons with the Angels, Ohtani didn’t have his first full season as a two-way player until 2021.

“He still has unlimited room to grow,” San Diego Padres right-hander Yu Darvish said in a recent interview on former Japanese major leaguer Yutaka Takagi’s YouTube channel.

Japan's Shohei Ohtani smiles during the player introduction before the World Baseball Classic championship game

Japan’s Shohei Ohtani smiles during the player introduction before the championship game of the World Baseball Classic on March 21 in Miami. “When you win, it’s fun,” he told reporters.

(Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

Darvish played with Ohtani in the World Baseball Classic in Japan and watched closely. In his conversation with Takagi, Darvish mentioned Roki Sasaki, a 21-year-old righty who has touched with a 102 mph fastball. Sasaki, who plays in the Japanese league, is the best pitching prospect in the world.

Darvish said of Ohtani, “I think he’s a pitcher with as much room to grow as Sasaki.”

In the WBC quarterfinals, Ohtani threw a 102 mph fastball against Italy, the fastest pitch recorded since signing with the Angels.

On the mound last year, Ohtani was 15-9 with a 2.33 earned run average in 28 starts. He batted .273 with 34 home runs and 95 at bats.

Angels win or lose, Ohtani owns the show. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Moreno used this as justification for rejecting trade offers last year. He said Angels fans will “tell their grandchildren, ‘I saw Ohtani play.’ “

Excellent point. But why doesn’t that logic extend to next season? Why doesn’t Moreno close the door on the Ohtani trade in any way? So what happens if Ohtani doesn’t sign a contract extension with the Angels before the season? Shouldn’t they just keep him and exhaust all options to re-sign him?

Now, with six teams in each league qualifying for the playoffs, it’s highly likely that the Angels will still be in contention at the trade deadline and, as a result, keep Ohtani through the season. However, Moreno’s philosophical inconsistencies are troubling, and Ohtani is too observant to notice them, regardless of the language barrier.

Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Clayton Kershaw.

⚾ 2023 MLB Season Preview

For now, Ohtani must know the Angels will never win with Moreno in charge, though the politeness built into Japanese culture won’t allow him to voice those concerns.

More than a week after his interview with Sports Illustrated was published, Moreno spoke again about Ohtani’s future with reporters at the Angels’ spring training camp.

Moreno told reporters without a trace of irony: “Ohtani also wants to be here. It’s a two-way street.”

Ohtani wants to win.

Before the WBC quarterfinals began, Ohtani was asked how he was smiling and how much fun he was having playing Japan.

“When you win, it’s fun,” Ohtani told reporters in Tokyo. “When you lose, it’s disappointing. I think it’s that simple.’

Ohtani had the biggest win of his WBC career, knocking out Mike Trout in Japan’s 3-2 win over the USA in the championship game. He has since returned to an Angels franchise where he played his last season in 2014.

Next winter, Ohtani will have a chance to escape to a team that can make the game more fun for him. The Angels will stay with Moreno.

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