How good was your month of June? I highly doubt it was better than the one that Shohei Ohtani has had. As NBC Sports Chicago reported yesterday, getting a brief window into it was eye-opening:
I have a quote from the Emmy Award-winning sports broadcaster, Ernie Johnson, taped to my desk that reads, “I have a ‘get-to’ job.” It helps keep the bad days in perspective. Most people have a job they have to do. I have one I get to do.
That outlook is rarely as crystal clear as when the White Sox are playing Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani.
In the three games before Thursday’s 9-7 win and series split over the Angels in Anaheim, Ohtani diced up the White Sox both on the mound and at the plate.
In Monday’s 2-1 victory over the White Sox, he homered 448 feet off of Dylan Cease. In the bottom of the ninth, he helped advance the game-winning run by walking and then executing a double steal that allowed Mike Trout to score on a wild pitch.
On Tuesday, he struck out 10 batters and hit two home runs – the first American League player to do so since Pedro Ramos in 1963. The Angels won that game 4-2 in a rocky showing from Michael Kopech.
On Wednesday, the White Sox kept Ohtani in the ballpark in an 11-5 victory, but he picked up three hits, including a triple and two runs scored.
Through eight innings on Thursday, the White Sox looked fit to hold Ohtani to a fairly blank stat line. 0-for-2 with two walks (one of which was intentional) he came to the plate with two outs and took Kendall Graveman deep on a 1-2 slider. The Angels lost by only two runs instead of four. His 14th home run in the month of June broke Babe Ruth’s record for most by a pitcher who also started a game that month.
And as AP’s Joe Reedy added, he now leads the major leagues with 29 home runs–or exactly the number Ruth hit during his last significant season as a pitcher in 1919, which at the time broke the existing major leagur record–and is hitting .309–one of only nine current major leaguers currently succeeding at a clip where you fail nearl 70 per cent of the time.
Ohtani is arguably the Most Valuable Player of 2023, as he was in 2021, and arguably could have been in 2022 had it not been for Aaron Judge breaking the league’s all-time home run record–one that his current pace has him line to make a serious run at this year.
Yet for all of this personal success, at the writing the Angels are still a game and a half out of the American League’s final wild card playoff berth, in third place in a highly competitive American League West, and still only split a home series with a far more underwhelming opponent from Chicago. And Ohtani, in his sixth season and approaching age 30, has yet to appear in a post-season game. In fact, the Angels have not made the post-season since 2014, the only post-season series where Ohtani’s auspiced teammate Mike Trout has yet to appear in in his storied career, and despite winning the division with 100 regular season victories couldn’t manage a 101st against eventual league champion Kansas City.
He is eligible for free agency after this season. Trout, two years older than Ohtani and who can’t pitch, commands more than $400 million. The highest-paid pitcher in the game, Max Scherzer, is nine years older and is being paid more than $43 million to go 7-2 with a 3.95 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP for a Mets team that itself would also not qualify for the playoffs were the season to end today. Ohtani? 6-3, 3.13 ERA, 1.04 WHIP. And 117 strikeouts to boot.
So how much could Ohtani command as someone who could fill both roles on any team as well as can Trout and Scherzer combined? Were he two separate people, he concievably could command $75 million a year. Would something just south of that be justifiable for him? All logic suggests that he could and should get it.
But the Angels, with embattled owner Arte Moreno clinging to a franchise he nearly sold last year and already saddled with long-term commitments to Trout and oft-injured infielder Anthony Rendon, are at a crossroads that will undoubtedly be played out in July as the trading deadline approaches.
As Joe Garagiola used to joke on his many talk show appearances, when he approached the Pirates’ Branch Rickey about a raise after a particularly decent year for him, he was offered a pay CUT, with Rickey exclaiming “Judas Priest! We finished in last place with you, we can finish there without you as well”.
It has been widely reported that Ohtani’s performance prior to this season in leading Japan to the World Baseball Classic title, with Ohtani on the mound striking out his teammate Trout, created a burning desire on his part to compete in meaningful games. All indications are that he’s loyal to the Angels, likes the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and would prefer to lead them to the promised land if at all possible.
Is it? And can the Angels rattle off a decent winning streak to set themselves up to provide it for him–let alone Trout–in a season this top-heavy with top-tier teams in a league where the Athletics and Royals, among others, are dragging down the bottom so heavily that even five games over .500 as the Angels are now may not be enough.
I don’t know if that’s the case. But if I’m the Angels, or for that Major League Baseball, I’d do my damndest to make sure he gets the opportunity, and is competitvely compensated for it.
The fact is, he is arguably one of the few players in the game who will sell tickets when he goes on the road. His global popularity assures he will generate merchandise revenue streams for the Angels that they otherwise might never see.
I currently live here, I do plan to at least see him once this year in person. Tickets are reasonably priced, at least for now. So I’m selfish.
But I know damn well he’d look just as appealing in Dodger blue. Certainly Mets blue and orange, although at this rate that may be an even more arudous reclamation project for him to undertake.
The best case scenario would be this all to be played out with continuity and no hard feelings. And, bluntly, the Angels are a more viable franchise–even to sell–with Ohtani than not.
Because even if he’s traded, considering you’re giving up the equivalent of two superstars, what possible haul of trades, even prospects, would be worth it?
And as for Rickey’s ancient argument–it’s true. But I know I won’t consider showing up again once he’s gone, and I strongly suggest all but the most robust Angels fans will think twice as well.
So my humble advice to Moreno is–show him the love, and show him the money. And if you think you can’t afford it, show yourself the door.