The Los Angeles Angels should be appointment television viewing. Two of their players have won half of the American League MVP awards since 2014. The most recent winner of that award — Shohei Ohtani — is playing baseball in a way in which the NFL equivalent would be Patrick Mahomes putting up T.J. Watt’s sack numbers while still being the best quarterback in the sport.
At first, Ohtani pitching and hitting seemed like it would be a novelty, maybe at best something the Angels would try out early in his career before deciding what position would be most impactful to team success.
Instead, Ohtani has become a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. He won the MVP in 2021 by hitting 46 home runs with a .965 OPS, recording a 3.18 ERA in 23 starts, and leading MLB with a 9.0 WAR.
Aaron Judge is almost certain to win AL MVP this season. He will likely hit 60 home runs by the end of the regular season and the New York Yankees are a World Series contender, while the Angels are going to finish 2022 with a record under .500 for the seventh consecutive season. If the Angels were at least in the race for a wild-card berth, the MVP race would be tight.
Ohtani’s performance at the plate dropped a bit with 30 home runs and a .888 OPS, but as a starting pitcher, he has been lights out. He has a 2.67 ERA and 11 wins on a team that’s nearly 20 games under .500. Ohtani currently leads the Angels in both plate appearances and innings pitched. No MLB player had led his team in both since Jim Devlin did it for the Louisville Grays in 1876, according to @StatsbySTATS. If that doesn’t amaze you, by hitting a home run in the Angels’ 3-2 win against the Yankees on Wednesday, Ohtani became the first player in MLB history to hit 30 home runs and win double-digit games as a pitcher in the same season.
Clearly, Ohtani’s greatness hasn’t resulted in more victories and it appears there is going to be a major change in leadership. In August, Arte Moreno said in a statement that he is looking into selling the Angels. If only New York Knicks fans could be so lucky.
Moreno purchased the franchise following the Angels’ 2002 World Series Championship. The team had success early in his time as team owner, but they have been a mess lately. They have the second-worst farm system in MLB according to Baseball America, and have spent over $1 billion on free agents that haven’t produced. The Angels need to trade their two stars and replenish their farm system, but the problem with that is Ohtani is a generational talent.
They need to find a way to build a winner around him. He is a free agent after the 2023 season and new ownership needs to sell Ohtani on a vision in which he is the featured player in a franchise turnaround. The Angels traded starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard at the deadline for Mickey Moniak — the 2016 No. 1 overall pick — who fractured his middle finger just as it seemed he was turning his career around. They also traded Rasiel Iglesias and Brandon Marsh, and got some decent prospects in return.
With the Angels on the way to their worst record since 1999, they are going to have a higher draft pick than usual. The team’s recent drafting history hasn’t been great, so L.A. needs to flip the script and find talent that will contribute at the major league level sooner rather than later.
Moreno struck out way too many times as owner and it is good for the sport that he is stepping down. The Angels have a decent fan base and new ownership is going to have to fork over more than $2 billion to buy the franchise so paying Ohtani should not be an issue. The issue is going to be convincing him to commit to a long-term deal in Orange County.
Ohtani said near the end of the Angels’ 2021 losing season that while he enjoys playing for them, he ultimately wants to win. That competitive nature is expected coming from the most dominant two-way baseball player since before the Spanish-American War. Whoever purchases the Angels had better find a way to quench Ohtani’s thirst to win, or the current 28-year-old needs to find a franchise that can.
Sports fans need to see more Ohtani, especially in the most important baseball games of the year. He deserves to be experienced, not merely shared highlights and mind-blowing stats.