International superstar Shohei Ohtani returned to Japan this week with one season left on his MLB contract, and — you’re not gonna believe this — did not seem to enjoy losing many, many games this summer with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Ohtani pitched and hit at a never-before-seen level this season and could take home his second straight MVP (and would’ve run away with the award if not for Aaron Judge), yet the Angels still finished 73-89 and got a manager fired while awaiting an ownership change.
If that doesn’t exactly scream “stability” to you, with one Ohtani contract year left to figure everything out, then you’re not alone.
Ohtani’s free agent market following the 2023 season, if he ever gets that far, will be historic. Thanks to the universal DH, all 30 teams will be able to join the bidding for a top-five offensive threat and a top-10 ace. Combine Aaron Judge’s upcoming contract with a long-term Carlos Rodón deal, and you might just reach a number that maxes out one lucky club’s budget.
There’s also a chance that Ohtani’s major payday comes in the form of an extension, though, following an offseason trade ahead of his final year with the Angels. The Dodgers have a better chance of selling Ohtani on a short drive to a better club in free agency, but regardless of when their pursuit has to come, they should still be all in on the Angels’ treasure.
Could Dodgers flip Shohei Ohtani’s ‘negative impression’ around?
As Ohtani put things in his end-of-season press conference this week:
"In an interview at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, he said it was “a good season for me personally.” Not so good for the Angels, though.Without solid support for former AL MVPs Ohtani and Mike Trout, the Angels suffered a seventh consecutive losing season and missed the playoffs for an eighth consecutive year.“I have to say that August and September in particular felt longer to me than last year,” Ohtani said, speaking in Japanese. “We were not able to play as many good games as we would like — including 14 consecutive losses. So I have a rather negative impression of this season.”"
The wild thing about the resulting Ohtani market is that … no team stands out as a potential savior, forcing all the discourse to default to the league’s biggest spenders.
The Mariners were once upon a time in the mix for Ohtani’s initial free agency. Did signing Julio Rodriguez long-term this summer eliminate them from the chase this time around? How much money do the M’s have lying around?
The Mets have Billy Eppler, the GM who first brought Ohtani to the Angels after the 2017 season. He didn’t do much else, though, and might not even be empowered in New York for too much longer. Is that really some unbreakable bond that’ll lead to a reunion? Why would Ohtani gravitate to the architect of the poorly-built team he’s now trying to leave?
That leaves the Yankees (a team Ohtani once thumbed his nose at back in the day), the Dodgers, and the Padres logically placed in this historic chase.
If LA wants a leg up on the competition, they might need to gut the farm system spectacularly — unlike any gutting the game has ever seen — to attempt to reverse Ohtani’s “negative impression” of his current climate.