Is Shohei Ohtani Now Slightly More Likely to Reach Free Agency After This Season?
It was my gut reaction to the news that the Los Angeles Angels were actually NOT going to be sold this offseason, as previously expected, and it sounds like it was an industry reaction, as well.
With the Angels not changing hands in the final year of team control on two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, the chances he actually reaches free agency have ticked up.
The strong perception around the league was that Moreno’s decision to walk away from more than $2.5 billion made it far less likely that Ohtani, a free agent after this season, would stay in Anaheim. He was already viewed as a likely goner, but one never knows what a new owner could have done to convince him to commit.
Perhaps, if the Angels had found their own Steve Cohen to breathe new life into the franchise, it would have become a better spot for Ohtani. But Moreno’s poor stewardship is so well established that there appears little reason why Ohtani would choose to remain.
A person familiar with the Angels organization predicted that the year would now play out this way for Ohtani: The Angels will hold him for a few months to see if they can remain in contention.
If they fail to do so, general manager Perry Minasian would have to seek permission from an unpredictable owner to solicit offers for him prior to the trade deadline. If Moreno allows it, the ask will be extremely high.
That tracks, logically, though I’m not actually sure if the Angels would get a gargantuan haul for Ohtani as a pure rental this deadline. A lot? Yes. A lot more than a typical rental? Absolutely. But a franchise-altering return like what we saw last year for Juan Soto (multiple years of control)? No chance.
Er, well …
The counter there could be that if you don’t acquire Ohtani in trade, then you won’t get the first crack at extending him before he hits free agency. Even if the Angels are viewed as kinda-sorta out at this point, that doesn’t mean some other team – a team with very deep pockets – wouldn’t pony up a substantial package in July, knowing that they also want to try to convince Ohtani to sign right away.
That is all to say, even if the Angels ownership news did make it more likely that Ohtani reaches free agency – I really think it did – there is still a very real hurdle at midseason. Ohtani is so uniquely special and impactful and valuable (on the field and off) that it’s not outlandish to suggest that there are organizations that would pay through the nose just to have that first chance at signing him. So our normal sense of “rental” calculations might not apply.
Even in the now-more-plausible event that Shohei Ohtani reaches free agency after the season, you can assume the bidding will become comical. Between the Los Angeles Dodgers sitting out this past winter, the New York Yankees always commanding the spotlight, and Steve Cohen’s Mets having that Carlos Correa money to throw around, I’m not sure I would bet on any other team having a real shot. Maybe the Giants, who were otherwise prepared to commit so much money to Aaron Judge? As much as I will fantasize about the Chicago Cubs landing a truly transformative superstar, I don’t know that I see them outbidding these teams on this player.
Even heading into his age-30 season, the deal Ohtani will be able to command is going to rock the baseball world. Given the fact that he is an ace and a top-tier bat all in one player, would it be outrageous for him to seek $50 million annually over ten years? I’m really not sure it would, especially when you consider that his worldwide fame probably generates a whole lot of extra value for your club.
I suppose I’m happy that it is now slightly more likely we get to see this story play out, but I am bummed that I can’t convince myself the Cubs will really be involved at those price levels.
Ohtani hit .273/.356/.519/142 wRC+ this past season, with 34 homers, and was worth 3.8 WAR as a DH. Ohtani also threw 166.0 innings of 2.33 ERA baseball, posting a 5.6 WAR as a pitcher.