SEATTLE — The chants were loud and clear and constant during Tuesday night’s MLB All-Star Game at T-Mobile Park, audible from the moment Shohei Ohtani stepped into the batter’s box until the moment he left it: “Come! To! Seattle! Come to Seattle!”
He is, as Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman called him in earnest, a unicorn, the kind of player every fan base wants as its own and everyone in baseball watches to see what franchise’s history will be forever changed when he signs his name to a contract this offseason.
But even as reporters asked him about this city and that, for his feelings about Chicago and Seattle and the rest, parsing every word for some kind of hidden wink, another question loomed: Might the Los Angeles Angels, with many of their top players hurt and coming off a 1-9 collapse heading into the all-star break that slid them five games back of the final American League wild-card spot, move him before the Aug. 1 trade deadline?
In June, when the Angels were more firmly in contention, owner Arte Moreno insisted publicly they would not be trading Ohtani before his contract expires after this season. Certainly, trading a once-in-a-lifetime player such as Ohtani would not be easy to sell to fans and would feel like a public concession of the unforgivable: that the Angels had the most remarkable baseball talent in history on the same roster as one of the best players of all time (Mike Trout) and could not get Ohtani to the postseason.
But now that another season is on the verge of slipping away, can they afford not to trade Ohtani — and pass on the prospect haul he would bring?
They probably would find plenty of suitors. If Ohtani were available, he would immediately become the best starter and best slugger available, all in one package. For teams hoping to turn a disappointing first half into a magical second-half run, what could be more efficient than trading for a guy who is not only desperate to win but who can help solve two problems at once?
All of this is dependent on Moreno changing his public stance about trading his prized star. But if the Angels decide to sell, deadline suitors would have to weigh the high cost of acquiring him as a two-month rental against the possibility they might not be able to re-sign him. Like any offseason suitor, they also would have to weigh the cost of signing him: Consensus at all-star festivities this week, among players, agents and coaches, was that a Ohtani free agent deal would be worth nine digits and might begin with the number five. No North American professional sports team has given a guaranteed contract that big. It is unclear how many in MLB can.
And so the Ohtani parsing begins anew. What does he want? Where might he go? Does he, as some have reported, prefer the West Coast? Will he simply go to the highest bidder? Would the shadow of another Japanese great — say, Ichiro in Seattle — dim the appeal of one city over a place Ohtani could make his own?
The one thing Ohtani, 29, has made clear is that he wants to win. He has been open about expressing his frustration with the Angels’ inability to turn dollars into wins and elite talent into elite results. When a reporter asked this week whether missing the playoffs in his first few big league seasons has made winning even more important to him, Ohtani was unequivocal.
“Those feelings get stronger year by year,” he said through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. “It sucks to lose. [I want] to win. That gets stronger every year.”
Several teams trying to win might want to give him that chance.
Speaking of Seattle, the disappointing Mariners are not out of playoff range. They have prospects to offer and good young pitching to dangle. Ohtani said after Tuesday’s game that “he definitely heard” the chants from Seattle fans, who undoubtedly will scrutinize what he said next over the weeks and months to come.
“Every time I come here, the fans are passionate. They’re really into the game,” Ohtani said. “It’s very impressive. I actually spent a couple offseasons in Seattle. I like the city. It’s beautiful.”
Ohtani was not asked about Toronto, though the Blue Jays have a similar recent history of underachieving and a similar need to inject transformative life into their roster. They have seemed willing to spend in the past, and they seem to have the means to make a credible push at Ohtani this offseason if they want to.
The Baltimore Orioles could use a starting pitcher, and everyone could use Ohtani’s bat. But would they want to surrender prospects for a few months of a player they almost certainly would not sign long term, or does it make more sense to use those prospects to acquire the kind of top-end pitching talent that could stick around awhile?
The San Francisco Giants could use him — and probably could pay him in free agency, too. The Tampa Bay Rays have plenty of prospect capital to make a move, but they, like so many others, would have to confront the reality that trading for Ohtani probably would mean losing him a few months later.
The New York Mets could use some power and another starter or two. They have money, but the Angels almost certainly would want organization-altering prospects, and even owner Steve Cohen has admitted that he needs to be patient and let his minor league system replenish for the Mets to become regular winners. The Texas Rangers seem likely to pursue Ohtani this offseason, given their recent spending sprees. Could they try to poach him from their AL West rival even sooner?
The most obvious fit for Ohtani — at least in free agency, if not also in a deadline deal? The Dodgers. He is familiar with Los Angeles. They are consistent winners. And they seem to be clearing the way for a major pursuit — they have just over $109 million committed to their roster for next season according to salary database website Spotrac, which means adding $50 million or even $60 million per year for Ohtani would not necessarily force them over the competitive balance tax threshold ($237 million in 2024).
All of this — from potential deadline suitors to potential free agent landing spots — is speculation. Ohtani does not betray much in interviews. He is accustomed to having people parse his every word. But for the next 2½ weeks, whatever the Angels say and whatever he says about his focus, the rest of baseball will watch him closely and wonder where he will be playing in a few months. And everyone, from the fans in Seattle on Tuesday night to team owners making offers this offseason, will plead for him to write the rest of his unforgettable story in their city.