We don’t know where Shohei Ohtani would like to end up or what factors he’ll use to decide it. We don’t know if the Angels will seriously consider trading him by the Aug. 1 deadline to avoid losing him as a free agent this offseason. We don’t know how to credibly rank the best candidates to acquire him either via trade or, eventually, free agency.
We don’t know much of anything, really, in this very significant but highly mysterious countdown for the greatest player in the game today and a looming free-agent deal that could reach $600 million or more, topping the record-setting deal of Ohtani’s current teammate, Mike Trout, by more than $100 million.
Which way is he leaning? Ohtani isn’t saying. His representatives aren’t saying. Everybody else is just guessing. But maybe we can at least set some parameters from a Giants point of view, starting with four safe presumptions:
1) The Giants, from chairman Greg Johnson to CEO Larry Baer to president Farhan Zaidi to manager Gabe Kapler, very much want Ohtani and would be happy to trade for him, if possible, as a way to get him here ASAP. And if they can’t trade for him, the Giants will be lining up with everybody else to try to sign Ohtani in the offseason.
2) The Giants, along with all four other West Coast teams, were one of seven finalists when Ohtani came over from Japan in 2018 and signed with the Angels; theoretically, that means the Giants will be back in the conversation this time around, too.
3) But one of the West Coast teams is probably removed from Ohtani’s future consideration. That would be, of course, the Angels, who haven’t gotten to the playoffs in his time there and don’t look like they’re getting in this season, either.
4) The Giants were willing to sign Carlos Correa to a $350 million deal (and probably offered Aaron Judge even more) last offseason, only to void it over medical concerns, so they’ve got financial firepower and surely would be willing to go to a much higher level for a much more valuable player.
That’s the basic stuff. Let’s get into some less obvious factors shaping the trade discussions, which are being shaped by the larger free-agent theories. I’ve talked with a few industry people and made a few suppositions based on those conversations that may or may not mirror Ohtani or the Angels’ thinking right now, but I’m still giving it a try.
Note: These categories are not listed in presumed order of importance. Just the order that’s on my mind. Here we go:
• The Angels’ Arte Moreno and Perry Minasian are understandably reluctant to become the owner and general manager who traded the game’s brightest star in his absolute prime — and likely are even more reluctant to trade Ohtani to a team they’ll have to play almost immediately after the deadline.
A smart baseball person told me to check one thing: the Angels’ post-deadline schedule. Hmm, interesting.
On deadline day, Tuesday, Aug. 1, they’re playing the second game of a three-game series in Atlanta to finish a road trip. Next up comes the salient part: Home series against the Mariners (Aug. 3-6) and … Giants (Aug. 7-9).
If Moreno and Minasian go through the humiliating process of admitting they have to trade Ohtani, do you think they’ll want to see him back in front of the home fans as an opponent just a few days later? I’m not saying it’ll be the biggest element for the Angels, but the specter of Ohtani coming back with his new team almost instantly probably would tip the scale a tiny bit as Moreno and Minasian sift through trade offers. Or more than a tiny bit. That’s probably not good for the trade purposes of the Mariners and Giants.
The Rangers, another of the ’18 finalist teams, are scheduled to host the Angels in mid-August. That wouldn’t be great fun for the Angels execs, either. Even worse, the Rangers play the penultimate series of the season in Anaheim, which brings up the possibility of Ohtani celebrating the first playoff clinching of his career — with his new teammates at Angels Stadium.
Also: The Rays play in Anaheim on Aug. 18-20.
How could this affect the Giants? They’ll probably have to come up with a trade offer notably better than any of the teams that won’t be playing in Angels Stadium the rest of the season. That would include the Dodgers, Padres and Yankees. But it doesn’t seem likely that Moreno would want to hand-deliver Ohtani to the Dodgers, so maybe that’s another team that would have to bid a little extra in this specific market.
• Ohtani is on pace to threaten Judge’s AL single-season home run record of 62, which was set last year. It seems likely that Ohtani wouldn’t mind staying in the AL so he could take full aim at that number.
I don’t think this would be a deal-breaker for Ohtani, who doesn’t have a no-trade clause, anyway. The biggest clue he’s given about his future is the one he keeps tossing out there: He wants to win first and foremost. It’s not about records. And if the Angels decide to trade Ohtani, they’ll take the best offer, whoever is making it, in whatever league.
But the Angels probably want to do as right by Ohtani as possible. And we know that greatness is always on Ohtani’s mind, reinforced by this piece by ESPN.com’s Tim Keown, and there aren’t many better reference points for that than home run records.
If Ohtani is traded to an NL team, he could still go for Judge’s unofficial record for the non-steroid era, I guess.
• Ohtani hasn’t played at Oracle Park very often, and he hasn’t hit at all in those few games.
I suspect that this might be the Giants’ biggest hurdle for any attempt to sign Ohtani, and they’d have to believe they can sign Ohtani to trade the prospects it’ll take to get him. Though, obviously, Ohtani isn’t just about hitting stats, Oracle Park isn’t a great place to hit, especially for left-handed power hitters not named Barry Bonds, and Ohtani’s small sample size there is very non-great. In three games at Oracle, Ohtani is hitless in eight career at-bats and he has walked twice. He hasn’t pitched at all in Oracle.
For comparison’s sake, Ohtani has played 15 games at Dodger Stadium, none as a pitcher. He has 35 plate appearances, 28 at-bats, 10 hits, one home run, two doubles and two triples. His 1.136 OPS at Dodger Stadium is his fifth-best career mark among current MLB ballparks. (His best career mark is at Texas’ Globe Life Field, with a 1.320 OPS.)
Dodger Stadium is ranked 14th as an exactly neutral park, but it is a very good HR-hitting park. Globe Life Field is 17th overall and is decent for HR hitting.
Oracle Park, while decent for overall offense, is a bear for HR hitting, ranked sixth to last behind only Detroit’s Comerica Park, Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, Oakland Coliseum, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and the Marlins’ LoanDepot Park.
For this reason, I don’t think the Giants would have a great shot at signing Ohtani in the offseason unless they get him to Oracle Park via trade this summer and get him feeling good about playing there, maybe with a few splashes into McCovey Cove along the way. But what if they trade for him and he still doesn’t hit at Oracle? That would be a double-barrel problem: The Giants wouldn’t get his full value for the rest of this season and probably would lose him to a friendlier hitter’s park in 2024.
• But wait, the Giants have strong selling points for the rest of Ohtani’s pitching career.
Of course, the pitching side of Ohtani might love the Oracle Park conditions. Over the last three seasons, Oracle is slightly tilted toward pitching in park factors, but not egregiously so, ranking 21st on an offensive scale over this period, according to Baseball Savant. Angels Stadium is ranked eighth, tilting toward the offense. (Ohtani has hit 95 of his career homers in 334 home games, compared to 67 in 326 road games; it’s much more even this season so far, with an 18/17 home/road homer split, and this year Ohtani actually has a higher OPS on the road than at home).
Clearly, Ohtani flourishes when pitching at home. He has a career 2.19 ERA at Angels Stadium compared to a career 4.26 ERA on the road. He’ll probably be successful pitching at any home park.
But there’s more here for the Giants: Patrick Bailey is just about the perfect young catcher to pair with an ace long-term. So far this season, as a rookie, Bailey ranks fifth in pitch framing, according to Statcast. There are two other good young catchers among the teams believed to have a great shot at Ohtani. The Dodgers’ Will Smith is ranked 46th in pitch framing. Texas’ Jonah Heim is ranked second, and Heim is second among all catchers with 3.4 fWAR. Only Atlanta’s Sean Murphy is higher at 3.8 fWAR.
(Sliding-doors situation: I’ve heard that the Giants were talking to the A’s about Murphy last offseason and apparently were closing in on a deal that probably would’ve included Marco Luciano. But the two sides couldn’t finalize it, and Murphy went to Atlanta instead. Then Bailey had an impressive spring, got called up in April and immediately started to look like a foundational figure. And Luciano just got called up to Triple-A Sacramento this week.)
• Ohtani wants to win, and the Giants have been winning since early April.
The Giants started 11-17 this season and since then have gone 43-24, including the finish of a suspended game and a wild 11-10 victory on Tuesday in Cincinnati. They’re 54-41, currently hold the top NL wild-card slot and have a 77.4 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to FanGraphs. They’ve done what they had to do, not just to make themselves more appealing to Ohtani, but to establish themselves as a long-term contender.
Of course, the Dodgers currently lead the NL West and are cruising toward their 11th consecutive trip to the postseason. Even after they took a step back from big spending last offseason (saving up for somebody, I wonder who?), the Dodgers have a very good chance to make it to the NLCS for the seventh time in that period. Yeah, I think that kind of track record might have an appeal to Ohtani.
• The Giants have very good prospects to include in a trade offer.
I’m not going to go through the trade permutations, but the Giants are in a very different position than they were last trade deadline, when their top prospects were either sputtering or injured and just weren’t very valuable. This time? The Giants probably won’t put Kyle Harrison into a trade offer, but they’ve got Luciano, Carson Whisenhunt, Vaun Brown and several other rising talents. They could even dangle Luis Matos, though he’s already contributing at the major-league level and would be hard to give up. I’m not sure the Giants can beat all other offers, particularly from the Dodgers, but they sure can make it interesting.
But going over all of the factors mentioned in this column — especially that career 0-for-8 at Oracle — I don’t think it’s likely or wise for Zaidi and Baer to go all-in with a prospect package for Ohtani. The Giants’ best play probably would be to drive the price up at the deadline, get other teams a little worried about Ohtani falling in love with the Bay Area and force the Dodgers to cough up a couple of top prospects. And then the Giants could still try to sign Ohtani in November and December, anyway.
Meanwhile, everybody I’ve talked to believes the Dodgers are the odds-on favorites to sign Ohtani once he hits free agency. It makes a ton of sense — he very likely would’ve signed there if the NL had a DH back in ’18 and if the rules didn’t limit how much money the Dodgers could offer.
The Dodgers can offer anything this time. They win and win. They have almost unlimited financial resources. They’re built for stars. And I thought it was pretty interesting when the Los Angeles Times’ Dylan Hernandez reported recently that Ohtani has only taken pregame batting practice on the field three times this season — at Yankee Stadium, at Angels Stadium before a game against the Red Sox and … at Dodger Stadium.
Nobody knows what that all means exactly. All we can do is try to set the parameters and sketch out the variables. That’s all the competing teams can do, too. The Giants aren’t the favorites to land Ohtani. But they still have to try, they still have a chance, and they still know he’d be worth almost anything.
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Bowden: The Angels should trade Ohtani. Which teams (and packages) could land him?
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