We’re officially 2-ish games into the 2023 MLB campaign. The Angels are 1-1 with a +11 run differential and find themselves one game out of first place in the American League West. Nevertheless, the rumor mill has been working overtime for months, declaring that Ohtani is leaving the Angels! Ship it. It's over for the lowly Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
While this popular opinion just may come to fruition; there are two sides of a coin, after all. But, the predictions to date can be traced back to his answer to a season’s ending question.
“I really like the team. I love the fans. I love the atmosphere of the team, but, more than that, I want to win. That’s the biggest thing for me. I’ll leave it at that.”
Shohei Ohtani will re-sign with the LA Angels
This is not a cryptic doomsday message. He wants to win, and he and his team just finished up another losing season. After all that he’s accomplished and overcome in Anaheim, is the only viable interpretation that he’s going to cut and run?
Even more recently he said, “I definitely want to win a ring with the Angels.” That’s not a throwaway line that should be ignored.
Five years ago, the baseball world was by and large stunned when Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo, announced that his client would play for the Angels in 2018. Why did he choose to sign with the Angels? A team that hadn't sniffed the playoffs in 3 years and were 15 years removed from their lone World Championship (2002).
“After a thorough, detailed process, Shohei Ohtani has decided to sign with the Los Angeles Angels. Shohei is humbled and flattered by all the time and effort that so many teams put into their presentations and sincerely thanks them for their professionalism,” Nez Balelo released in a statement. “In the end, he felt a strong connection with the Angels and believes they can best help him reach his goals in Major League Baseball."
Break that down--Ohtani felt a “strong connection” to the franchise and believed that it could best help him achieve his goals. Since that time, in his relatively short career, Ohtani has earned:
- Rookie of the Year (2018)
- Baseball America Player of the Year (2021)
- Baseball Digest Player of the Year (2021)
- Edgar Martinez Award (2021, 2022)
- American League Silver Slugger Award (2021)
- American League MVP (2021)
- World Baseball Classic MVP (2023)
He has accomplished a lot as an Angel, and there appears to be no limits for a healthy Shohei Ohtani. There are at least three things that he still wants to achieve:
- Make the playoffs
- Win a World Series
- Earn a Cy Young Award
Yes, he wants to win. He has said as much many times. And this is newsworthy because despite tremendous personal accolades, the Angels have failed to achieve a winning record in any of the five seasons that Ohtani has been in the lineup. This includes a shortened rookie season (2018) where Ohtani had season-ending Tommy John Surgery after only 51.2 innings pitched, a DH-only 2019 campaign, and a pandemic shortened 2020 season where he threw 1.2 total innings. Before truly breaking out in 2021 and 2022.
It's hard to believe it now, but there was a time when he was anything but a sure bet. Very few lauded the Angels for signing the two-way potential superstar after a torn elbow ligament required surgical reconstruction. Not everyone comes back as strong, post Tommy John, just consider Noah Syndergaard as one example. Ohtani's post-surgery future as a pitcher was uncertain. Should he focus on hitting only? Maybe. Should he go down to the minors to get the feel again? It was on the table.
The gist is that the Angels were on the verge of another bad signing, in string of bad contracts.
But that's not how it has played out—the Angels nor Ohtani gave up hope. Instead, they doubled down. They knew what he was capable of, and took careful steps to ensure that he had the tools to not just rebound but deliver Ruthian-level performances that would change the landscape of the game.
Scoff at what comes next if you want, but the three achievements missing from his resume are indeed possible, maybe even probable with the Angels. I am saying it right now. Coming out of spring, the Angels proved to be much improved compared to the 2022 squad that stumbled to a 73-win season. After starting 27-17, the injuries and lineup depth--not pitching--proved to be their kryptonite. Meanwhile, Saturday's potent early season 13-1 win over the Athletics, hints at the fact that, with greater depth in 2023, barring catastrophic injuries, Ohtani's Angels are most definitely prepared to compete.
He enjoys being an Angel, loves his teammates, the fans, and the collective loyalty that each respectively showed him during his electric start, when times turned bleak, as well as after his subsequent meteoric post-Tommy John rise on his way to becoming one of the best baseball players in modern history.
Believe it or not, but this mild-mannered phenom continues to thrive in part, because he is an Angel. While not a perfect franchise, Anaheim is and continues to be the right place for Ohtani to play out his career.
Yes, he can and will explore free agency this winter. He’s earned the opportunity to be wooed by every team in baseball, and he will land a contract valued at $550+ million.
But, when the dust settles, my bold prediction is that following his 2023 AL MVP award, and his first post-season appearance, as the top-seated wildcard team. Shohei Ohtani will choose to sign not with the Dodgers, but return to where he started, where he’s comfortable, where he’s genuinely adored, and where he is also (finally) able to win--at home with the Angels.