A deadline season that already has one of the highest-profile trade candidates ever in Juan Soto could 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’ve made inquiries and submitted trade proposals for 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 enormous asking price.
The mere 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 yet 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’s 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 1052 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, the likes of which current fans have not seen in their lifetimes.
That the Angels will at least listen is certainly of note and is only understandable in light of yet another disastrous season. Despite Ohtani and three-time MVP Mike Trout Anchoring the roster, the Halos are sitting on a 42-57 record and find themselves already all but eliminated from postseason contention. Incredibly, that’s a common refrain in Anaheim, where the Angels haven’t reached the playoffs since way back in 2014 — three seasons prior to Ohtani’s MLB debut. Repeated injuries up and down the pitching staff have regularly coupled with immediate declines from high-priced stars like Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols 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 game’s greatest bargain since arriving on the scene. Rather than wait until he was old enough to qualify as a professional player on the international market (25 years old), he instead opted to make the jump to Major League Baseball at just 23 years old. In doing so, Ohtani knowingly subjected himself to the international bonus pool restrictions that govern MLB teams’ signing of amateur players, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table in order to accelerate his path to the world’s top league.
Shocking as that was at the time, Ohtani could yet find himself positioned for a historic contract before long. He’s currently playing on just a $5MM salary in his second year of arbitration eligibility, but he’ll receive a presumably massive raise this winter and is eligible to become a free agent following the 2023 season. Any team submitting offers for Ohtani will do so knowing they can only control him for one and a half seasons, and that the right to do so will cost them an enormous segment of the farm system. One executive who spoke to Heyman and Sherman indicated that the Angels “want something like your top four prospects” in exchange for Ohtani’s final season-plus of club control.
With that remaining control winding, however, the Angels have a dilemma. On the one hand, it’s easy to say they should be willing to do whatever is necessary to ink Ohtani to the historic contract extension he’d surely command. At the same time, 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 would undoubtedly add another annual salary of more than $35MM to the ledger (perhaps well north of that sum).
That’d be a justifiable expenditure, but it takes two to strike a deal. Ohtani has spoken multiple 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 difficult-to-fathom stretch of futility during his time with the organization. Asked just last night about his desire to remain with the Angels long-term, Ohtani told The Athletic’s Sam Blum:
“Regardless of where I’m playing, 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 thankful for what they’ve 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 that’s far from a direct declaration that he hopes to be traded, it’s of course notable that, when presented with the opportunity, Ohtani did not express a hope to remain with the Angels for the long haul. Perhaps a record-setting offer would still lead to an agreement, but that can’t be known. It’s generally fair to assume that when discussing MLB contracts, money wins out at the end of the day. As previously noted, however, Ohtani has already once forgone what might have been a $200MM+ contract as an international free agent to instead sign for a $2.315MM signing bonus — which wasn’t even the top available bonus to him at the time of his original agreement with the Angels in 2017.
Even if a deal is highly unlikely to come together in such a short amount of time, it’s nevertheless a fascinating wrinkle added to what’s already shaping up to be one of the most interesting deadlines in MLB history. There’s been almost no movement of note to this point, which generally sets the stage for unbridled chaos in the final 48 to 72 hours leading up to Tuesday’s 6pm ET deadline.