One of the biggest questions of MLB's offseason is where Shohei Ohtani will be playing in 2023. Los Angeles Angels general manager Perry Minasian is doing his best to throw some cold water on that speculation.
During a meeting with reporters on Monday, Minasian said Ohtani would not be traded during the offseason and will begin next season as a member of the Angels, per Sarah Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Times.
Ohtani signed a one-year, $30 million contract to avoid arbitration for next year, his final season before he's eligible for what is sure to be a lucrative free agency. His value to the Angels is obvious, his MVP-winning 2021 season was the best two-way performance MLB has ever seen and he was arguably a better player this year.
Minasian could be very well be telling the truth — Ohtani is massively important for not just winning, but the Angels' ultimate goal of getting butts in seats and eyeballs on television as well — but what he said Monday is no different than what he would say if he fully planned on trading Ohtani.
The Angels have no incentive to let fans think they're about to trade away their most exciting player, not when season tickets are still for sale, nor do they have any incentive to signal to MLB executives (and the media) that an Ohtani trade is clearly happening. We saw a similar story play out with Juan Soto and the Washington Nationals, as Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo shot down the possibility of a trade in June, then sent Soto to the San Diego Padres about a month later.
If you're trading Shohei Ohtani, the best position to have is for bidders to think you're not sold on trading Shohei Ohtani. Though there's plenty of reasons for the Angels to trade Shohei Ohtani.
Why the Angels would trade Shohei Ohtani
You don't need to be genius to see the argument for trading Ohtani.
Ohtani is a very good baseball player. The Angels have been a very bad team basically since he came aboard, and they project to be bad again next season. They finished this season with a record of 73-89 and would need some enormous free agent wins to improve a roster that already has $169 million in salary on the books for 2023.
They could, and should, try to sign Ohtani to an extension, but it takes two sides to make that happen, and Ohtani has been signaling for the last year-plus that he intends to test the free agent market. When asked about the prospect of staying in Anaheim long-term, he said he wants to win more than he loves the Angels. When asked again in July, he demurred and merely said "Right now, I'm an Angel."
Those aren't the words of a person who fully plans on signing an extension any time in the next year, and it's hard to blame one of the best players in baseball for wanting to play in the playoffs at least once in his MLB career.
Trading away Ohtani would be painful for the Angels and their fans, but watching him leave in free agency for nothing but a compensatory draft pick would be much worse. It's also worth noting that a major reason Ohtani hasn't already been traded is current Angels owner Arte Moreno being opposed to the idea, and Moreno is currently looking into selling the team.
What could the Angels get from an Ohtani trade?
In short, a lot.
The Nationals got a five players who are either top prospects or were recently top prospects, plus first-base rental Luke Voit, for Soto and Josh Bell, though that was for 2 1/2 seasons of Soto and a half season of Bell. The Angels have one season of Ohtani available for the highest bidder, but the malleability of Ohtani's value is a major boon for them considering just about every contender with resources could use both a starting pitcher and a designated hitter, unless they already have an entrenched DH.
If the Angels were to trade Ohtani, they would be announcing their lack of contention for 2023, so they'd be looking for younger prospects, as often happens with rebuilding teams. What those packages look like is ultimately up to the Angels and one other team, but we are almost certainly talking about multiple top-100 prospects being a starting line, just like with Soto.