LOS ANGELES — Shohei Ohtani’s days in red are numbered.
When he chose the Los Angeles Angels in the 2017 MLB offseason, it made perfect sense. The AL had the DH and the NL didn’t, and it was important to have Ohtani’s bat in the lineup every day. You didn’t want him in the outfield the day after a 100-pitch outing.
And if Ohtani wanted to be in Southern California, the Angels were the only answer. Boxes checked.
But from a baseball perspective, or more importantly a winning perspective, the move to Anaheim was perplexing. A head-scratcher to say the least.
The Angels were coming off back-to-back losing seasons, and hadn’t made the playoffs since winning the AL West in 2014. And before that, it was 2009. And their lone World Series title (and appearance) — for a franchise that began in 1961 — was way back in 2002.
But the Angels did have something at the time that no other team had: The best player in baseball.
Mike Trout had just completed his seventh season with the team. He was coming off his sixth straight All-Star appearance, and was a year removed from his second AL MVP award.
So the idea of teaming up with Trout may have lured Ohtani in. But now, in his fifth year with the team, Ohtani may have his eyes set on a new home.
Ohtani has done just about everything for the Angels since he debuted in 2018. That season, he won the AL Rookie of the Year award. He set the MLB home run record for a Japanese rookie with 22. He also joined Babe Ruth as the only players in MLB history with 10 pitching appearances and 20 home runs in a season. He then underwent Tommy John Surgery.
In 2019, Ohtani became the first Japanese-born player in MLB history to hit for the cycle.
In 2020, Ohtani struggled.
In 2021, Ohtani didn’t.
He was named to his first All-Star team in 2021, and became the first starting pitcher to also lead off the game as the DH. He also participated in the Home Run Derby.
At season’s end, Ohtani was the unanimous choice for the AL MVP award.
In the 2021 offseason, the NL added the DH and Ohtani even had a rule designed specifically for him, best known as the “Shohei Ohtani rule” which allows a player to be taken out as the starting pitcher, but remain in the game as the DH.
It’s been an incredible start to Ohtani’s MLB career, but coming into this 2022 season, there was a lot of uncertainty of whether Ohtani would re-sign.
Trout signed his monstrous 12-year, $430 million extension in 2019 as not winning didn’t seem to be a deal-breaker for him.
We can’t say the same about Ohtani.
A winning season in 2022 for the Angels could easily lock down Ohtani. And earlier this season, they were doing just that. At one point, the Angels were 27-17 and sat in first place in the AL West.
Then, the losing started. A lot of it.
The Angels lost a franchise-record 14 straight games, fired their manager Joe Maddon and watched the Astros pull way ahead in the division.
Ohtani was on the mound the day the losing streak ended. He threw seven innings of one-run baseball. He also went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run.
A week later, it was announced that star third-baseman Anthony Rendon would undergo season-ending wrist surgery, and the Angels now find themselves fighting to play .500 ball yet again.
Just this week, for just the fifth time in MLB history, a team lost a game in which one of its players knocked in eight RBI. I’ll give you a guess who that player was.
And the very next day, that same player, this time on the mound, struck out 13 Royals across eight scoreless innings to will his team to victory, and a 34-38 record.
Of course it was Ohtani and the Angels. Who the hell else could it be?
Ohtani seems happy in Southern California. He loves playing for the Angels, and loves learning from Trout.
But, unlike his star counterpart, he has the opportunity to escape this never-ending cycle of mediocrity.
Ohtani turns 28 in a few weeks. He has a long career ahead of him. He’s already accomplished so much success on a personal level. It’s time for him to experience it on a team level.
Since his arrival in Anaheim, the Angels have yet to make the playoffs. If that trend continues this season — and as of right now it appears it will — Ohtani will be on his way out.
No one knows where he’ll go, but it’ll be one of the greatest bidding wars in MLB history. And with a universal DH, every team with deep, deep pockets should be in play? Who doesn’t need a 50-homer bat at the dish with unhittable stuff on the mound?
Ohtani is one of the faces of baseball, and who wouldn’t want that on their team?
And I hate to say it, but can’t you already picture him in pinstripes?