The Major League Baseball trade deadline passed on Tuesday, and it did not disappoint. The moves came fast and furiously, with Washington Nationals star Juan Soto headlining the list.
The reigning Home Run Derby champion was dealt to the San Diego Padres, along with standout first baseman Josh Bell. The magnitude of the trade is hard to overstate.
As big as the Soto trade was, it might have been overshadowed by a Shohei Ohtani deal. The dual-threat pitcher/slugger is one of the brightest stars in baseball, and the Los Angeles Angels were willing to listen to offers—and they got them.
Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported that the Padres, New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox were among the teams who tried making a move:
"The Yankees are among a few teams that made serious offers for two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, but there is now no chance the Angels will part with the amazing two-way player.
"The Padres and White Sox are among other teams known to have tried for Ohtani in recent days, with the Angels originally signaling they are willing to listen to offers on the once-in-a-century phenom. Several teams inquired, but the interested sides have moved on with the understanding the Angels are deciding to keep their all-time versatile megastar."
The 28-year-old will stay in Anaheim at least through the end of the season. To his credit, Ohtani has said all the right things through the deadline trade rumors.
"I'm with the Angels right now, and I'm very thankful for what they've done," Ohtani said last week, per ESPN.
However, Ohtani's future with the Angels is far from certain. He's set for arbitration next offseason and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2024. If Los Angeles is going to keep him long-term, there are several obstacles that must be overcome.
Because of these obstacles, the Angeles must revisit Ohtani's trade market in the winter.
The most obvious obstacle for L.A. is Ohtani's next contract. The 2021 AL MVP will almost certainly command a record deal, and according to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, the Angeles are reluctant to give him one.
"The Angels, according to sources, had informal discussions regarding an extension for Ohtani late in spring training with his agent, Nez Balelo of CAA," Rosenthal wrote in June. "But the Angels, at least at that time, were reluctant to make the kind of long-term offer Ohtani almost certainly would command on the open market, sources said."
Will the Angeles be any more willing to spend big on Ohtani in the offseason? Probably not. They're already locked into a 12-year, $426.5 million deal with Mike Trout. Paying Ohtani on top of that would be difficult, especially for a franchise that isn't close to contending.
Los Angeles is second-to-last in the AL West with a 44-59 record. They haven't been to the postseason since 2014. It will be hard to justify committing nearly $1 billion to two players when it isn't resulting in postseason success.
That lack of success could also make it difficult to even convince Ohtani to stay. He's going to get paid wherever he goes, and he has noted the importance of winning in the past.
"I really like the team. I love the fans. I love the atmosphere of the team," Ohtani said in September, per Sam Blum of The Athletic. "But more than that, I want to win. That's the biggest thing for me. So, I'll leave it at that."
Ohtani hasn't experienced a lot of winning in L.A., and it will likely take an active offseason for the Angels to give him that in 2023. That means more spending on top of the cost of keeping the two-time All-Star.
Perhaps general manager Perry Minasian can make it work with Ohtani, Trout and an evolving roster. That's his plan, publicly, anyway.
"I definitely see a roadmap to putting a competitive team on the field with those guys," Minasian said last month, per Sarah Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Times. "They're great players, they've really performed well. I think they deserve all the accolades they get daily."
The reality, though, is that even with Ohtani and Trout on the roster, winning won't come easily. Trading Ohtani could still deliver the players and prospects needed to jump-start a rebuild and, eventually, the sustained success that L.A. has lacked.
Consider Washington's return for Soto and Bell. San Diego surrendered prospects in left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore, outfielder Robert Hassell III, shortstop C.J. Abrams, outfielder James Wood and right-handed pitcher Jarlin Susana, plus veteran first baseman Luke Volt.
Ohtani might not command quite that much, as he has an additional arbitration year ahead of him. However, the Angeles have to at least see if they can get a similar package in the offseason. It's a far better alternative than potentially losing Ohtani in 2024 because he decides that he's never going to win in L.A.
It won't hurt to gauge the market, at least. Having one more year of team control will give the Angels options. If they don't get an offer they love, they can spend the ensuing season weighing a long-term deal and/or gearing up for the 2023 trade deadline.
Even if the Angeles don't ultimately move Ohtani in the winter, they have to put him back on the trade block. If the right offer comes along, they should flip the switch and move on with the rebuilding process.