The Shohei Must Go On

The first time I saw Shohei Ohtani in person was early last season, a COVID-rescheduled game at Angels Stadium on a weekday afternoon where my single seat in a still-limited capacity environment was under an overhang.  I arrived early, eager to see a stadium I hadn’t been to in years and that was supposed to have been my first post-lockdown game in the Los Angeles area if not for the immune system of Andrelton Simmons.

The noise that the sparse crowd made for him in BATTING PRACTICE ultimately was louder and more enthusiastic than it was for any of the players that actually played in that game, a 7-1 Angels rout over Minnesota. As the afternoon latened, I lamented the fact I had worn shorts (because I felt less self-conscious than ever) and honestly I was starting to get quite cold.  A fellow fan in a nearby seat suggested I go the Angels’ offices and ask if I could borrow a blanket.  Never hearing of anything quite like that in this day and age, I eagerly went off in pursuit.

I humbly made my request and was gushing over the fine performances we had seen so far that day, as well as my surprise at the degree of enthusiasm for Ohtani. We chatted about the game and how happy I was to finally be back in person.  He then smiled, went into a back closet, and emerged with an Ohtani-emblazoned fleece blanket.  “Here, sir”, he said. “Welcome back”

So, HELL YEH, I like Ohtani.

And so do a lot of fans and executives. It seems every time he takes the mound he is capable of another record.  Last night in Miami not only did he get his eighth win of the year, a 5-1 verdict over a decent Marlins team, he also drove in the game-winning RBI while striking out 10 on the mound.  He became the first player since 1920 to strike out 10 batters and drive in two runs.  Plus steal a base.

He was elected to last year’s American League All-Star team and selected by Kevin Cash as the game’s starting pitcher.  He’ll probably get this year’s start as well, as the game will be played in Dodger Stadium.  Ohtani at twllight against the best in the NL is a national spotlight that FOX is drooling over.  Unfortunately, as his team suffered a massive collapse in the past six weeks, his chances at a post-season are yet again minimal at best.

And he’s a free agent at the end of this season.

Now there’s no question that the marriage of star and market is ideal, and there’s little question about his dual value to the Angels.  That said, the Angels have made many missteps in signings, not the least of which is the injury-plagued Anthony Rendon, now out for the year and still due hundreds of millions.  Mike Trout, who is not getting younger at age 31, also has a long-term contract and arguably as much value as Ohtani, at least as a hitter.

So if you’re Arte Moreno, are you more than a bit nervous that some other team with an appetite and a budget might find a need for a starting pitcher and a DH, particularly since the position now exists in the National League as well.

Any ideas what the first team on such a list might be?  Hmmm…maybe one that might need to replace Clayton Kershaw upon his retirement? The one that plays its regular season games in the same stadium where the All-Star Game will be, and hasn’t missed a post-season in nearly a decade?

Over his past four starts, Ohtani is one of only eight pitchers in major league history since earned runs began being tallied that over four consecutive starts has gone 4-0, struck out at least 40 and allowed two eatned runs or less.  Kershaw was one of two Dodgers to have that distinction.  The other was Chan Ho Park, a briefly successful Asian-American who pitched for L.A. during one of their less successful periods.

Ohtani’s popularity is off the charts with Asian-Americans; his games get exceptional ratings in his native Japan.  Imagine if he wore the uniform of the more popular Dodgers and pitched in significant games in the fall.  Not to mention hit on his off days.  Imagine the possibilties for the game.

Now obviously MLB can’t directly interfere.  But since the gods of the sport will be gathered at Chavez Ravine in a couple of weeks, in the stadium’s 60th anniversary season, perhaps there might be a few hints dropped to their hosts that, now that they have Mookie Betts entrenched, having a companion with versatility at a slightly larger value, to recognize his twin talents, might be worth pondering?

Or maybe the Dodgers can dangle a few of their many prospects as trade bait so that the Angels can begin reconstructing a team around Trout, while he still has some upside of his own?  He’s only played once in the post-season himself, and that 2014 team was swept out in three games.

Angels fans, feel free to mock me, curse me or worse.  This would be as blasphemous as suggesting Jacob DeGrom should be signed by the Angels, particularly since Noah Syndegaard looks like a bust.

But I defy anyone to say Ohtani as a Dodger wouldn’t be better for him and for the game at large.

Go ahead.  I’m waiting.

And, yes, I’ll buy my own blanket should that happen.

Courage…

 

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