Angels owner Arte Moreno hopes to keep Shohei Ohtani with ‘impossible’ task looming
By Jon Heyman,
PALM BEACH, Fla. — Angels owner Arte Moreno changed his mind and decided not to sell the Angels , but there’s no mistaking Moreno’s intention when it comes to his two-way superstar.
Shohei Ohtani’s coming free agency is one of baseball’s biggest storylines and should result in a record contract — very likely by $100 million or more — and Moreno made it clear Wednesday in an exclusive interview: He hopes Ohtani will stay an Angel, too.
“I’d like to keep Ohtani,” Moreno told The Post at the MLB owners meetings here. “He’s a one of a kind, He’s a great person. He’s obviously one of the most popular baseball players in the world, and he’s an international star. He’s a great teammate. He works hard. He’s a funny guy, and he has a really good rapport with fans.”
Though the Angels are understandably sold on Ohtani, they may have to do selling of their own. They haven’t been able to field a winner despite having arguably the two best players in the world, also counting Mike Trout. Moreno conceded he understands winning is Ohtani’s great goal, saying, “We have to win, we have to do a better job on the field.”
Still, he sees a potential match.
“He fits in well with what we do,” Moreno said, while praising Ohtani’s desire to play every day. “We’re in the entertainment business. We want fans to be able to come to the ballpark and have a great experience.”
Though Moreno retains hope here, outsiders are giving the Angels little chance to lock up Ohtani before he becomes a free agent after the season — one rival estimated the Angels have a “5 percent chance” to lock up Ohtani long term, and another called a deal before free agency flat out “impossible.” But though it’s very difficult to strike a deal with a superstar within a year of free agency, especially since this one is sure to be a record contract, Moreno suggests he has hopes they can get it done.
“I’d like to say we have as good a chance as anybody,” Moreno said.
It isn’t known where negotiations stand — or even if there are any contract negotiations ongoing — but an Angels person said they are “in constant communication with the agent on various matters as it relates to Shohei Ohtani.” Ohtani’s agent Nez Balelo didn’t return a text.
Moreno said he didn’t want to get into where the Angels stood in possible negotiations but noted he’s seen the record-breaking estimates in the press, which have topped the record $426.5M deal Trout signed with Moreno four years ago — which included two years that were already under contract. Most of the estimates have been for around $500 million, but some have been even higher.
“Economically we’re usually in the top 10, so it’s not out of the question,” Moreno said, hopefully.
Rivals note that top 10 might not be good enough to win the day when the rival Dodgers, the aggressive Padres, and ultra-aggressive and deep-pocketed Mets all could be in the bidding. One rival noted that no matter how willing the Angels are “if [Mets owner] Steve Cohen writes the check, it doesn’t matter.”
The Padres, who seem to be collecting superstars, are said by one Angels person to be viewed as a major threat. The Dodgers shaved $60M off their payroll for what could be a run at Ohtani. And Cohen, who’s run his payroll to a record $380M is logically seen as the biggest threat — if Ohtani is willing to come east.
One executive said he heard Ohtani wasn’t interested in New York five years ago, when five of his seven finalists were on the West Coast (his handlers would tell you tastes change, and you never know). The Angels aren’t without their advantages, and Ohtani may appreciate that they’ve made good on their promise to give him a chance to prove he can become the greatest two-way star ever — and he has done that.
The Angels also vastly improved their team this winter on less than $100M (Moreno pointed out it was just under $100M, though he praised GM Perry Minasian and his baseball people) — acquiring Tyler Anderson, Carlos Estevez, Brandon Drury, Hunter Renfroe and Gio Urshela. Another plus, as Moreno pointed out, is the new balanced schedule: “We don’t have to play Houston 19 times.”
“I’ve loved baseball my whole life, and obviously I’ve read all the stuff on Babe Ruth,” Moreno said.
The implication there is this: We all know how the trade of Ruth to the Yankees worked out. And for those thinking Moreno regrets holding onto Ohtani rather than dealing him at the trade deadline, he had a few words.
“It’s true we could have traded him. But how do you get [back] a major league starting pitcher and Cy Young candidate, and obviously an MVP type?” Moreno said. “How do you trade for that? You can’t.”
Moreno obviously understands the value of Ohtani. The question remains: Does Ohtani see the upside in staying with Moreno’s Angels?
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