If the Los Angeles Angels don’t make the playoffs this season then there’s no question that Shohei Ohtani is gone. Now in his sixth MLB season and heading into free agency, he has yet to reach the postseason and has said that winning is the most important thing to him.
“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,” Ohtani said during the offseason when asked about his future.
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Yikes. This quote was through an interpreter, so maybe we should take it with a grain of salt, but the fact that he had to contrast his love for the Angels with “but I want to win” is pretty damning.
To have any chance of re-signing him, they can’t just be in the hunt. They have to show that they’re going to consistently contend. It’s entirely possible that they sneak into the last wild card spot this season and Ohtani still walks, which in some ways is kind of the worst-case scenario for the organization. It would be an easy decision to make if they lost 12 straight like they did this time last year, or if they were running away with their division.
I concede that if they’re still reasonably in the hunt at the trade deadline, it’s kind of hard to justify becoming sellers and trading away Ohtani. There’s no easy answer. The Angels’ front office is going to be in the unenviable position of walking a tightrope with every July result swaying them one way or the other.
Some say it would be crazy to trade him, but the idea of letting the greatest baseball talent ever walk for nothing makes him impossible not to. They need to be good enough not just to make the playoffs, but good enough to show Ohtani that they can do it year after year. Of course, only Ohtani knows the threshold of how good they’ll have to be for him to re-sign, but let’s try to put together an educated guess.
They’re currently 28-23 through 51 games, one game back of the last wild card spot. On July 31 of last year, the three teams in the AL wild card spots were the three that were there at the end of the season. They had 57, 55, and 54 wins respectively, and they were far from separating themselves from the field.
Angels must be more than just decent
So let’s say the Angels at the bare minimum need to be in a playoff spot to justify keeping Ohtani for the last two months of his contract. But I think it’s also safe to assume they need to go above and beyond that and show they are a playoff lock.
I think roughly 60-47 through July is the threshold to show Ohtani they’re serious contenders. It’s a tall order as they’re trailing the Rangers and Astros in their own division with the defending World Series champions being winners of eight straight. They also have the Mariners, who are looking to make the playoffs for a second straight year, right on their heels. And the team they’re currently chasing for the third wildcard spot is the Yankees who have returned to last year’s form since Aaron Judge came off the IL.