What could the Angels sale mean for Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout and Anaheim? These are the potential ripple effects

·10-min read

The Los Angeles Angels are for sale. Arte Moreno, who has owned the team since 2003, will seek a buyer for a franchise that currently employs two of this generation’s most dazzling talents and plays in the country’s second-largest market. Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and a foothold in the Los Angeles area. It would all sound much more appealing if Moreno’s tenure hadn’t turned into a blueprint for how to waste superstar talent by neglecting, bungling or outright refusing to invest in every other aspect of building a winning MLB organization.

The very notion of the team changing hands will make waves. The perfect storm that has frustrated fans and driven Moreno to sell — flashy reasons the Angels should be good consumed by deep-seated, systemic reasons they aren’t — could produce huge ripple effects under the new leadership or even as the current regime prepares for the sale.

We’re here to think through as many possibilities as we can, starting with the most pressing issue: Shohei Ohtani’s future.

Angels decide whether Shohei Ohtani can be convinced to stay

The two-way marvel, who won AL MVP in 2021 and looks like a lock for a top-3 finish this year, will be a free agent after 2023. He has calmly but publicly expressed a desire to play for a winning team — which clearly the Angels are not. Potential Angels buyers, according to the Los Angeles Times, include Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob and Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke. Could one of them have the cash, cache and championship pedigree to change Ohtani’s mind? Maybe, but timing might not allow for such an effort.

Striking a deal and turning over the team to a buyer is likely to take the better part of a year — especially considering the Washington Nationals are still for sale and could affect the Angels’ timeline.

The calculation of whether to trade Ohtani is part public relations. Does Moreno want to take the hit or leave the new team owner a (long shot) option to try to keep Ohtani? But if the sale isn’t done by spring, the team’s future on the field begins to weigh heavily on the math. An Ohtani deal in the offseason would put the Angels in a better position than holding him until midseason.

Moreno reportedly halted any idea of trading Ohtani at the 2022 deadline, and has repeatedly shown that he is, uh, not beholden to the best idea for the team’s success. But common sense and recent history suggests the Angels could move to trade Ohtani while Moreno still has the keys.

Shohei Ohtani has said he wants to play for a winner. With the Angels up for sale, that may come with a different franchise. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Shohei Ohtani has said he wants to play for a winner. With the Angels up for sale, that may come with a different franchise. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Angels trade Shohei Ohtani in a hurry, a la Juan Soto

Really, we were a flap of a butterfly’s wings from the August deadline turning into something approaching the trade apocalypse. Had the Angels’ intentions been more firm a few months ago, Ohtani may have moved at the same time as Juan Soto. If they haven’t already, the Angels will probably reach the same conclusion the Nationals did: They need to trade him as early as they can to help revive their dreadful farm system and hopefully change the fate of the next generation of Angels teams.

It’s a miserable task to try to explain to fans, but of course the real misery has already settled over this franchise. They convinced a player advertised as Modern Babe Ruth to don their colors when he had his choice of any club. He turned out to be better than Babe Ruth — in that he can do both things superlatively simultaneously. And yet they still couldn’t field a winning team with him and Trout.

Ohtani is a player unlike any other, but there are some comparable recent deals. He’ll be a superstar with just one year of team control left, in need of a massive contract to stay. It’s the same setup that led Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Francisco Lindor to the New York Mets. In both those deals, the team sending the superstar also sent a pitcher whose substantial contract they wanted to shed. Cleveland netted two useful players in Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario who are helping them compete (albeit in a down division) two years later, and Gimenez looks like he could star at second base for a long time. The Red Sox have done … less well. Still, multiple major-league contributors, and at least one with star-level expectations, would be the minimum price tag.

The Angels need to nail the return, considering the dearth of high-end talent in their minor-league system.

Shohei Ohtani lands with a new team, changes landscape in 2023 and beyond

Potential Ohtani suitors need at least a solid farm system and, more important, the willingness to pony up $350 million or more to secure his services long-term. The list of realistic destinations isn’t all that long given most team owners’ demonstrated spending preferences. I count 13 teams that seem feasible, and seven that seem more likely.

  • Los Angeles Dodgers: It starts up the freeway. Andrew Friedman’s juggernaut has the young talent to get him and the organizational capacity to help him succeed, including adjusting to the six-man rotation.

  • San Francisco Giants: Run by former Dodgers executive Farhan Zaidi, the Giants have shockingly few financial commitments for 2024 and beyond — more than only the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles. There may be no team in better position to pull off a splashy move this winter.

  • New York Mets: The Mets have … decidedly more in the way of financial commitments, but team owner Steve Cohen has shown a willingness to disregard the luxury tax thresholds that other franchise owners treat as constraints. Also of note: Mets general manager Billy Eppler was leading the Angels when they won a considerably more crowded derby for Ohtani.

  • New York Yankees: The Yankees certainly have the prospects and the money to make it happen, but GM Brian Cashman has been hesitant to pull the trigger on these types of trades in recent years.

  • St. Louis Cardinals: Contenders for Juan Soto, the Cardinals also have a high bar for parting with top young talent. However, their maneuvers for Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado show they will pounce when they have a team over the barrel. I don’t know that they would be willing to win a prospect bidding war with the Dodgers, but I wouldn’t count them out.

  • Texas Rangers: Ownership is apparently upset with the pace of the Texas rebuild. After firing Jon Daniels and elevating Chris Young, might the Rangers try to accelerate things by trading some recently accumulated young talent for Ohtani?

  • Atlanta Braves: Look, I don’t know when or how, but at some point Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos is going to take advantage of the Braves’ unparalleled cost certainty. Over the past few years, he has surgically locked in five of his six best position players until the sun burns out — at rates that range from very reasonable to Fire Your Agent. After pulling an entire World Series-winning outfield out of his hat and then apparating Matt Olson into Freddie Freeman’s spot, Anthopoulos must be recognized as MLB’s most dangerous stealth operator. If Ohtani is indeed his target, it’s possible we’ll find out when the Braves Twitter account announces his arrival in Atlanta.

The others who could make a run, at least in theory: Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs

Mike Trout’s unflinching loyalty is tested

The best player of the generation has been steadfast in his commitment to the team that drafted him 25th overall in 2009. That team squandered a decade of inner circle Hall of Fame production, and is hard at work on doing the same with a more injury-interrupted second decade.

The 12-year, $426.5 million deal Trout signed in 2019 includes a full no-trade clause, which makes his future somewhat more simple than Ohtani’s. If he persists in his loyalty to the Angels, he’ll stay with the Angels. It’s just hard to discern what or who exactly he’d be loyal to once the sale goes through. Neither the front office that drafted him nor the front office that agreed to his extension remains in place. The ownership group will be gone. He could easily be on his fourth manager. His longtime teammate Albert Pujols found greener pastures immediately after leaving the Angels — even in his 40s. And though he may enjoy the Southern California lifestyle, Trout is famously from New Jersey and enjoys tracking weather.

At some point, Trout has to reach a point where he wants to see what his game looks like when inserted into any other lineup. Right?

New ownership resets the Angels with a megatrade

Which leads to the most distant potential ripple. If Trout becomes open to a trade and the Angels’ medium-term chances still look bleak when the new team owners have assumed control in 2023, the stars will be aligning for a huge deal in the vein of the 2012 Dodgers-Red Sox salary shuffle.

The Angels would be functioning as a sort of inverse of the Dodgers. In that case, the new Los Angeles ownership group was taking on huge contracts to quickly kickstart a contender. The Angels would be playing the Red Sox role — losing team on the hook for a lot of money. Boston rid itself of roughly $250 million in salary commitments in that deal, headlined by Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, while sending $11 million in cash.

Whether it’s through one deal or separate ones, an Angels reset would be mainly concerned with moving Trout and Anthony Rendon. If we’re estimating that process would happen in the offseason after 2023, their deals would have a combined $375.5 million left on them, with Trout’s running through 2030 and Rendon’s through 2026.

It’s a lot of money, obviously, but it’s not out of the realm that another big spender operating below its payroll capacity might be willing to fill that void in one fell swoop for the chance to employ Trout. As previously mentioned, the Giants have almost empty books beyond 2023, and the rebuilding Chicago Cubs likely won’t have much stopping them from rapidly adding salary, either.

The Angels move … to a new stadium

Whenever ownership changes, the relocation question will come up. In this case, it would be a shock if the Angels moved far enough to change the city on the front of the uniform. Paying for a “Los Angeles” sports team and moving it to a necessarily smaller market won’t make sense for any potential buyer, no matter how much of a second fiddle the Angels are to the Dodgers.

What would make sense is moving to a different park. Angel Stadium is now the fourth-oldest in baseball, and nothing like the classic venues ahead of it (Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium). At the very minimum, a new stadium at the same site, complemented by something other than parking lots, will be on the new franchise owner’s agenda.

The team’s lease at Angel Stadium is set to run out in 2029 after a deal to sell the stadium to Moreno was voided after the former mayor of Anaheim sparked an FBI corruption probe in making it. The city of Long Beach has made its hopes to lure the Angels clear, and — at least at this early stage — would seem to be the most likely option if the team leaves Anaheim.