If the season ended today, the Los Angeles Angels would miss the playoffs for the ninth straight season. That includes all six seasons since signing Shohei Ohtani
The two-way superstar will become a free agent at the end of this season, and while he shed little light on what he thought of his long-term future, Ohtani said ahead of the All-Star Game in Seattle that his desire to play on a winning club "gets stronger" with each passing year.
Ohtani, 29, was asked Monday whether reaching the playoffs has become a higher priority as he sorts out his future.
"Those feelings get stronger year by year," Ohtani said through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. "It sucks to lose. He wants to win, so it gets stronger every year."
Ohtani is expected to command a record contract if and when he hits the open market.
The Angels, who entered the All-Star break at 45-46, could also decide to trade 2021 American League MVP before the Aug. 1 deadline in order to get something back in return. Ohtani is finishing the second year of a two-year, $8.5 million contract signed before the 2021 season to avoid arbitration
"Obviously all the trade stuff, he has no control over, so he tries to not think about it, just focuses on the game that day," Mizuhara said on Ohtani's behalf. "That's the hardest part about trying to win ballgames every day."
Ohtani leads the majors in home runs (32), triples (six) and slugging percentage (.663) at the break while batting a career-high .302. On the mound, he's pitching to a 3.32 ERA, a shade higher than his career 3.04 mark, but he is averaging 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings (123 strikeouts, 100 1/3 innings).
Ohtani could rake in a contract of $500 million or more and have teams chase after him the way Peyton Manning and LeBron James were pursued as free agents.
"I've never been a free agent before so I'm not sure how that's gonna be," Ohtani said. "Like I said before, I'm focused on this season right now. I just want to do my best this year, try and get as many wins as possible and just do my best."
New York Mets pitcher Kodai Senga was among those asked Monday what their "sales pitch" to Ohtani would be. Senga overlapped with Ohtani in Nippon Professional Baseball and has played for Japan alongside Ohtani in national competitions.
"I'm going to put this hat on him right now," Senga joked via his interpreter.
For his part, Ohtani wouldn't tip his hand as to which players at the All-Star Game were recruiting him.
"I think I'll keep that a secret," he said.
--Field Level Media