Commentary: Angels should follow Nationals’ Juan Soto blueprint with Shohei Ohtani

The Major League Baseball world was upended Saturday. That’s what happens when a player of Juan Soto’s caliber is said to be on the trade market.

The Washington Nationals recently offered Soto a 15-year, $440 million contract extension, as first reported by the Athletic. Soto declined it and, as a result, the Nationals have elected to begin entertaining trade offers on the generational superstar. They have until Aug. 2 to find a suitor for the 23-year-old outfielder or wait until the offseason to make a move.

It’s a stunning development. It shouldn’t be the only one in that department in the next few weeks. The Angels should take the same approach with Shohei Ohtani.

Ohtani, 28, doesn’t speak definitively often. When he does, it’s with a purpose. And last September, he said something that should’ve alarmed the Angels.

“I like the fans,” Ohtani said in Japanese. “I like the atmosphere in the organization. But my feelings of wanting to win are stronger.”

Ohtani spoke his mind two weeks before another Angels disappointing season ended. The club finished 77-85, in fourth place in the American League West, and outside of the playoffs for the seventh straight year. Ohtani had become an unprecedented two-way force. He would win AL MVP. It did not matter.

It’s more of the same this year. The Angels are a mess again even with a healthy Mike Trout in the lineup most of the season and Ohtani pulling more mind-blowing two-way acts. They fired their manager after a 14-game losing streak. They lost Anthony Rendon for the season. Their pitching still isn’t good enough.

Shohei Ohtani walks on the field after warming up before Saturday’s game against the Dodgers.

(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

Just a few weeks ago, Ohtani hinted at the Angels’ struggles after a win, noting that he felt he needed to pitch deep into a game because the bullpen was short-handed and the offense wouldn’t produce without Trout in the lineup. That night, Ohtani had 13 strikeouts across eight scoreless innings. The night before, he drove in eight of the Angels’ 11 runs in a loss.

Barring a shocking turnaround, they’re going to miss the playoffs again despite the field being expanded. That would give the organization one more year to right the ship before Ohtani becomes a free agent.

Instead, they should figure out what it would take to keep Ohtani in Anaheim long-term, if anything, and offer him that. If not, they should trade him to avoid facing the strong possibility of losing him for next to nothing when his value will never be higher.

Ohtani is a singular asset. With a $5.5 million salary this season, he’s the biggest bargain in North American professional sports. He’s an All-Star both as a pitcher and hitter. He’s a marquee attraction with a rabid fanbase in Japan. That combination is tantalizing for World Series contenders.

But he’s had significant injuries that, coupled with his workload the last two seasons, could reduce the price teams are willing to pay, whether it’s via trade or in free agency.

“Best player we have ever seen,” a team executive said. “Only issues are injury history and age when he hits [free agency].”

While Soto is slated for free agency after the 2024 season, Ohtani will hit the market after next season. That’s two Octobers, two opportunities for a playoff team to ride Ohtani’s talents to a title. The Angels aren’t in position reach those heights this season. They probably won’t be next year either. It’s time to make a choice.

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