As the trade deadline is now just over two weeks away, various clubs on the fringes of contention will have to make tough decisions about which players to trade and which to hang onto. The toughest decision and the one that is sure to get the most attention in the coming weeks is whether or not the Angels will trade two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani.
As of a few weeks ago, general manager Perry Minasian said the club’s position was “self-explanatory” at a time when they were 41-34 and in possession of a Wild Card spot. That seemed to suggest the club had no intention of trading Ohtani, though much has changed since then, with the club sliding in the standings prior to the All-Star break while also getting the grim news that Mike Trout is going to miss four to eight weeks after undergoing surgery for a fractured hamate.
With their record falling to 45-44 by last week, reporting indicated they seemed to be “leaving open the slight possibility” of making Ohtani available. After that report, the club lost two more games and went into the break at 45-46, fourth place in the West and five games back of the Blue Jays for the final Wild Card spot in the American League. Their playoff odds on FanGraphs are down to 10.7%. Today, Jon Morosi of MLB Network echoes that earlier reporting, taking to Threads to relay that the club will consider incoming trade scenarios, even though their bar for a trade remains incredibly high and a deal is still considered unlikely.
It’s not terribly surprising to hear that the club will listen to whatever offers come their way from other clubs. This is one of the toughest decisions a baseball club has ever had to make and it stands to reasons that they would want as much information as possible about each path before picking one.
The reasons for the difficulty of the decision are both due to the unique talent of Ohtani and the precarious position of the Angels. Ohtani’s skills are unprecedented and well-documented, but here’s a refresher if you need one. Dating back to the start of 2021, he’s hit 112 home runs, a tally bested only by Aaron Judge in that time. His combined batting line of .274/.369/.579 in those seasons amounts to a 154 wRC+, which places him fourth among qualified hitters in that stretch behind only Judge, Trout and Yordan Alvarez. He’s done all that while posting a 2.86 ERA as a pitcher in just under 400 innings, with that earned run mark the eight best among qualified pitchers.
One player managing to simultaneously serve as one of the best pitchers and best hitters in the game is something that seemed unfathomable until Ohtani came along and reshaped our perceptions of what is possible in this game. But despite being the only club that has such a player on their roster, the Angels haven’t been able to construct a winning team around him. They haven’t even been able to finish with a record above .500 since 2015. With Ohtani set to become a free agent in a few months’ time, their window for achieving that goal is rapidly closing.
This isn’t the first time the prospect of an Ohtani trade has come up, as similar reports emerged one year ago. The club still had a year and a half of Ohtani’s services to bank on at that time, but they were even further back in the standings, sporting a record of 42-57. Ultimately, a deal didn’t come together, with owner Arte Moreno reportedly being the one that prevented a deal from being seriously pursued. The club didn’t consider trades in the offseason either and had planned to give contention another try, hoping to both capitalize on Ohtani’s contributions while also convincing him to stay beyond the 2023 season by showing him they could win.
With the club now once again floundering outside of contention, they will have to pick their poison soon, with all signs pointing to the fact that the club’s performance in the next few weeks could push them in one direction one way or another. Ohtani’s unique abilities, not to mention marketability, would be highly sought after by all contending clubs. The Angels will undoubtedly have offers that will allow them to completely restock their farm system, which could help them in future seasons. But doing so would mean trying to win without Ohtani in those future seasons, and with Trout now into his 30s with injuries becoming a more frequent issue.
Trading the most uniquely-talented baseball player of all time would undoubtedly be incredibly painful, not to mention a potential public relations nightmare, which perhaps might lead the club to holding on and hoping for the best down the stretch. It’s worth reiterating that all reporting indicates a deal is still unlikely, merely that the club is listening to offers that other clubs are making, not that they are shopping him around. However, not trading him contains what is surely the worst-case scenario of missing the playoffs and then seeing him depart in free agency for next to nothing. The club would be able to issue him a qualifying offer and recoup a compensatory draft pick, but the value of that will be far less than whatever offers will be on the table in the next few weeks.
All things considered, it doesn’t seem hyperbolic to say that the future of the Angels will be determined in the coming weeks. Although a deal still seems unlikely, it doesn’t seem to be completely off the table. If they flounder in their upcoming games and decide to on a trade, it will likely be some kind of franchise-altering return that’s difficult to predict since a trade of this nature has never happened before. Last year, the club reportedly wanted “something like your top four prospects” in trade talks. The price may well have dropped now that Ohtani has just a few months of remaining control, but it would likely still be very high. Given the dilemma that the club’s decision makers are in, it stands to reason that they would want to give a thorough assessment to all offers so that they know exactly what their options are.
But perhaps they stay close enough to decide against such a move, trying to compete without Trout for at least part of the near future. If it works, perhaps they can convince Ohtani to re-sign, though he hasn’t tipped his hand one way or another as to whether that’s something he would seriously consider or what his priorities will be in free agency beyond winning. The Angels start a homestand tonight against the Astros, Yankees and Pirates, then go out on the road to Toronto, Detroit and Atlanta before the August 1 deadline.