Anaheim, Calif. — When the General Motors meetings kicked off in early November, speculation ran rampant. Will the Angels trade Shuhei Ohtani in the off-season? What teams will bid? How many angels do you want?
One habit to avoid absolutes, Angels GM Perry Minasian broke off script. He laid out the hopes and dreams of the other 29 teams and their fans. Shohei Ohtani will not be traded.
Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon. Minassian, who was holding one of his regular press sessions, was asked if he would make the same announcement about the trade deadline. Although much less powerful, Minassian heavily hinted that Ohtani would not be traded.
“I think anyone who has watched us play and where we are in the standings… I think needs no explanation as to where we are,” said Minassian.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Angels are 41-33, 1 1/2 games down on the Astros for second place and 4 1/2 games off the Rangers for first place. They were only second in the wild card bracket and one and a half games in front of the fourth team in the wild card standings.
But with 34 games left before the deadline, the next question was obvious. Is Ahtani swap not on the table? Or will the next 5-6 weeks be a factor?
“You needn’t explain with what we’re in,” Minassian said curtly.
For whatever reason, Minassian did not want to answer the question. But his answer indicates his thinking strongly. And it will probably be his boss, Arte Moreno.
The concern is in the safety of that strategy. Angels are in a competitive position. Even after Tuesday’s loss, the Angels were still tied for a second/third wild card, half a game over Houston. The Rangers have 4 1/2 games left with 33 games to go before the deadline.
This is arguably the most competitive Angels since 2015. Minassian deserves huge credit for making solid moves and building a team that has a chance to make the playoffs.
But Minassian also has to act responsibly with the upcoming trade deadline. The Angels have a tough July schedule, facing the first-place Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Padres on the road and the Astros and Yankees, plus four games in Toronto and Atlanta before the deadline.
The team operates without a lot of starting pitches. Shortstop Zach Nieto (italics) is out indefinitely. Gio Orchilla (pelvic fracture) looks likely to miss the rest of the season. Anthony Rendon’s hand might be a short-term injury, but no one seems to know for sure.
The point here is simple. As far as things go for the Angels, there’s plenty of time between now and the trade deadline to keep this team going. A little over two weeks ago, the Angels were out of the game 5 1/2. A lot can happen quickly, and angels need to somehow assess where things stand when the time comes.
That includes the two-way elephant in the room: Ohtani, possibly the greatest baseball player to ever wear a uniform. No team wants to be the one they trade. Just the thought of doing that is so painful. And reasonable people could argue that it backfires regardless of the order on August 1st.
But from a cold, unemotional perspective—a perspective any good GM should have—the next steps should require careful consideration.
The Angels should only keep Ohtani if they are solidly in the playoff mix or if ownership is truly committed to making Ohtani a competitive proposition in free agency. Really willing to get into a bidding war with owners who usually spend a lot on payroll. And I really think they have a chance of keeping him regardless of whether they make it to the post-season.
And if all of those things are on the table, is Moreno willing to cross the luxury tax threshold to maintain a competitive slate at the expense of Rendon and Mike Trout who earn over $73 million together? He said it is, but actions speak louder than words. It always works below this limit.
Because at the end of the day, the Angels are a baseball team in the winning business. Motivations cannot be sponsorship or sale of additional shirts. You must start and end with a win. Ohtani obviously helps you win. But only if you have a chance to re-sign him and build around him.
Letting him walk away for almost nothing, without a playoff appearance, is the worst case scenario. This does not mean that the Angels should trade in Otani. Quite the opposite. This is an exciting time to be an Angels fan. There is legitimate hope that actual competitive baseball will play for the first time in a long time. As long as this is happening, do whatever you can to win more.
But the Angels must also be adaptable and realistic over the next 33 games.
Minassian seems to agree with that in a certain context. In a separate answer, I acknowledge that there is a long time before the deadline. He said, “We need to keep playing well.” Everything he said about the deadline outside of his answer about Ohtani was what you would expect from any GM in the middle of June.
“As far as planning, guess what? Plans change,” Minassian said. “You have to be able to tune in and understand the landscape. For me, it’s just a way to get better.”
In some ways, this answer contradicts what he said in response to keeping Ohtani regardless. On the one hand, they will keep an open mind. On the other hand, everything that does not include Otani.
Angels need constant evaluation. If they’re firmly in the mix, they should add. If they’re not, they should be selling in the name of building a sustainable winner for years to come. There should be no in between for a season like this. This season calls for a continuation of what Minassian has done all along. Bold and decisive action. Whether that means buying or selling.
Declaring any part of their deadline strategy “self-explanatory” in mid-June doesn’t quite fit that mold.
(Photo by Shuhei Ohtani: Jay Biggerstaff/USA Today)
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