Shohei Ohtani’s high-end pitching and high-impact hitting, as well as his control over two days of All-Star events and marketability, have all been unique this summer. He’ll win the American League Most Valuable Player Award with a season résumé unlike any other, having totally stretched the imaginations of the Los Angeles Angels’ staff — and managers and executives of other teams, for that matter — about his future prospects.
Will the Angels be able to keep Shohei Ohtani? Los Angeles is facing a payroll crunch
Ohtani, 27, has proven that he can be the most productive player in baseball by frequently pitching and playing in the outfield. One rival talent evaluator predicted that if Ohtani wants to cut down on his innings as a pitcher, he might become his generation’s John Smoltz, moving from the rotation to closer. The evaluator stated, “He could warm up in the eighth inning, take his sixth plate appearance, and then go out and get the save.” He could someday follow in the footsteps of Babe Ruth, transitioning from a two-way player to a full-time outfielder. “That would be tempting,” one AL manager acknowledged, giggling at the prospect of Ohtani focusing all of his knowledge and athleticism on run production. “Can you image what he might be capable of?” Ohtani would hit 60 home runs in 700 plate appearances if he hit at his 2021 rate, and it’s possible he’d be more efficient as a hitter if that was his only task. Shohei Ohtani has proven to everyone this year that he is not to be underestimated.
Given the Angels’ existing big-money responsibilities to Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, Ohtani may well be on his way to an unparalleled financial high ground, which will be more than hard for the Angels. For the time being, Ohtani is set to play in 2022 as part of the terms of his original contract with the Angels, before being available for arbitration in the winter of 2022-23 and free agency in the fall of 2023. When he goes on the open market, he might be 29 years old. Unprecedented in terms of his performance and, very potentially, in terms of Ohtani’s earnings. “I mean, what would that arbitration case be like?” says the narrator. a long-serving agent exclaimed, “Wow!” “This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.” In the coming winter, the new collective bargaining agreement will be negotiated, and the financial structure may look substantially different than it does now. However, the Angels are in a difficult position to pay Ohtani and field the type of well-rounded competitive club they’ve been attempting to put together since Trout stepped into the big leagues under the present rules. Trout, who recently turned 30, is expected to earn $37.12 million per year for the following nine seasons. Rendon, 31, will earn $36.6 million next season and $38.6 million each of the next four seasons. Trout’s contract was structured such that he could complete his career with the Angels, possibly as the greatest player of all time.
He has no intention of leaving. And don’t get your hopes up that the Angels will trade Rendon and his salary to another team. He has a full no-trade clause and is said to be content with the Angels by pals. That means the Angels will have to pay those two players a total of $75 million through the 2026 season, with Ohtani potentially being the most costly of the bunch. Signing Ohtani to a multiyear contract might result in the team paying between $120 and $130 million to only three players. This is for a franchise that has never had to pay a luxury tax. The Angels’ payroll of $182 million this year is the biggest in franchise history, according to Cot’s. If the Angels can sign Ohtani to a long-term deal — “They can’t let him go,” a National League general manager said — the rest of the pitching staff and roster will be built on a budget more akin to the Milwaukee Brewers or Tampa Bay Rays, with the three players accounting for more than half of the payroll. That notion could help explain why the Angels selected pitchers with each of their 20-round picks in the recent draft. With big money players like Trout, Rendon, and Ohtani on the way, the organization needs to establish a pipeline of young, cheap pitchers.
The Angels should be able to score runs if they stay healthy. David Fletcher has a team-friendly contract that extends through 2027, and Jared Walsh, Brandon Marsh, and Jo Adell might all be useful at low cost in the coming years. Ohtani’s current contract calls for him to earn $5.5 million next season. Some competitor evaluators feel the Angels should approach Ohtani this winter and renegotiate his contract. Getting him under contract before he enters arbitration and then free agency might lower the long-term expense of keeping the sport’s most distinctive talent. Pay him more now to save money later, as the team tries to fit the salaries of Trout, Rendon, and Ohtani into the same budgetary area while preserving enough pitching depth to compete. That could prove more challenging than anything Ohtani has attempted so far this summer.
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