A borderline season that already features one of the most prominent trade candidates of all time John Soto might add another to the list. Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman from the New York Post report that while a deal is ultimately unlikely, the Angels haven’t turned away interested teams as they have researched and submitted trade proposals for the two-way star and reigning AL MVP Shohei Ohtani. The Post duo spoke with three executives whose teams contacted the Angels, all of whom described the odds of a trade as extremely low due to an unsurprisingly huge asking price.
The mere notion of an Ohtani trade will set off a frenzy of speculation and wishful thinking – and with good reason. The 28-year-old is in the midst of another incredible season, having thrown a 2.81 ERA with a 36.4% strikeout rate and 5.8% walk rate in 99 1/3 of sleeves. He also hits .254/.349/.486 with 21 home runs and 11 stolen bases. Since last season, Ohtani has hit .256 / .363 / .550 with 67 homers in 1,052 plate appearances while throwing 229 2/3 innings ERA 3.02 with a 32.3% strikeout rate. It’s a legitimately historic performance, the likes of which current fans haven’t seen in their lifetime.
That the angels are at least listening is certainly noteworthy and only understandable in light of another disastrous season. Despite Ohtani and triple MVP Mike Trout Anchoring the roster, the Halos sit a 42-57 record and already find themselves virtually eliminated from the playoffs. Incredibly, that’s a common refrain in Anaheim, where the Angels haven’t made the playoffs since 2014 — three seasons before Ohtani’s MLB debut. Repeated up and down injuries to pitching staff have routinely been associated with immediate declines of high-priced stars like Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujol and Anthony Rendon to leave the Angels with a top-heavy roster that has rarely even sniffed playoff contention.
Ohtani, meanwhile, has arguably been the best deal in the game since coming onto the scene. Rather than wait until he was old enough to qualify as a professional player on the international market (25 years old), he opted instead to make the jump to Major League Baseball at just 23 years old. In doing so, Ohtani knowingly submitted to the international bonus pool restrictions that govern the signing of amateur players by MLB teams, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table in order to accelerate his path to the top league in the world.
Shocking as it may seem at the time, Ohtani could still find himself in position for a historic contract before long. He is currently playing on a salary of just $5 million in his second year of refereeing eligibility, but will likely receive a massive raise this winter and is eligible to become a free agent after the 2023 season. Any team submitting bids for Ohtani will do so knowing they can only control it for a season and a half, and the right to do so will cost them a huge chunk of the farming system. An executive who spoke to Heyman and Sherman said the Angels “want something like your top four prospects” in exchange for Ohtani’s final season in addition to control of the club.
With this remaining control diminishing, however, the angels have a dilemma. On the one hand, it’s easy to tell that they should be ready to do whatever it takes to sign Ohtani up to the historic contract extension he would surely command. Meanwhile, the Angels already have both Trout and Rendon on the books at over $35 million a year for the foreseeable future – Rendon through 2026, Trout through 2030. Ohtani would no doubt add a another annual salary of more than $35 million at the general ledger. (perhaps well north of this sum).
It would be a justifiable expense, but it takes two to close a deal. Ohtani has spoken many times in the past about his desire to play for a contending club and reach the MLB playoffs, and the Angels instead stumbled upon hard-to-understand futility during his time with the organization. Asked last night about his desire to stay with the Angels long-term, Ohtani says Sam Blum of The Athletic:
“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’m with the Angels right now, and I’m very grateful for what they’ve done. I love really the team. I love my teammates. Right now I’m an angel, and that’s all I can really focus on at this stage.
While this is far from a direct statement that he hopes to be traded, it is of course noteworthy that when presented with the opportunity, Ohtani did not express hope to stay with the Angels. on the long term. Maybe a record offer would still lead to a deal, but that can’t be known. It’s generally fair to assume that when discussing MLB contracts, the money ultimately wins. As previously reported, however, Ohtani has already given up what could have been a $200m+ contract as an international free agent to instead sign a $2.315m signing bonus – which was not not even the best bonus available to him at the time of his initial deal with the Angels in 2017.
Even though it’s highly unlikely that a deal will be done in such a short time, it’s nevertheless a fascinating wrinkle added to what is already shaping up to be one of the most interesting deadlines in the history of the MLB. There has been almost no notable movement so far, which usually sets the stage for unbridled mayhem in the final 48-72 hours leading up to Tuesday’s 6 p.m. ET deadline.