Column: By keeping Shohei Ohtani, Angels once again failing to invest in their future

The Angels' Shohei Ohtani watches the top of the first inning from the dugout against the Pirates
The Angels are keeping Shohei Ohtani until the end of his contract with the hope they can re-sign him.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Same old Angels. Same old Arte.

Before getting all misty-eyed over the Halo’s latest splashy headline grab — They’re not trading Shohei Ohtani!...they traded for Lucas Giolito!…they’re going for it! — understand one thing.

They’ve done this before. They’ve tried this before. They’ve sacrificed a solid investment in their future for an awkward dance with a superstar and wound up falling on their face.

His name was Albert Pujols. His name was Josh Hamilton. His name was Vernon Wells. His name was … OK, we’ll stop now.


No, this is not to compare the incomparable Ohtani to any of those Angels’ failures. Did you see his one-hitter against the Detroit Tigers Thursday? There’s increasingly little argument that he could be the greatest player ever.

The Angels refused to trade Shohei Ohtani, instead acquiring talent they hope can fuel a deep playoff run as they push to re-sign the two-way star.

July 27, 2023

But there is little chance of him continuing to do this for the Angels beyond this season, all of which means the failed history of owner Arte Moreno’s star-chasing strategy could sadly be repeating itself.

Time and again, Moreno has spent big money on big names and been ultimately left with nothing. He has chased the glamour of Hollywood and ignored the grit of Huntsville. He has one of baseball’s highest payrolls and yet one of its shallowest farm systems and today his team is tied with the Tigers for the longest playoff drought in baseball, at eight years and counting.

Unless a miracle happens — and I root for Angels miracles, I was there when Scott Spiezio’s fly ball sneaked over the fence — this sort of destruction is going to happen again.

It’s wonderful to tell your fans that you’re not trading Ohtani.

But what are you going to tell them a few months from now when he leaves Anaheim forever for only a middling draft pick? When you know he probably will not re-sign with you or he would have signed already? When you could have dealt him now for several top prospects?

It’s cool to tell your fans that, in order to keep Ohtani interested, you acquired top starting pitcher Giolito and reliever Reynaldo Lopez from the Chicago White Sox for two minor leaguers.


What are you going to tell them a few months from now when both Giolito and Lopez can walk out that same door with Ohtani? And when are you going to acknowledge that the two traded kids — catcher Edgar Quero and pitcher Ky Bush — are rated as two of the organization’s top three prospects?

It’s awesome to send your fans the message that you’re pushing in all of your chips for a chance at a championship.

Shohei Ohtani throws a complete game, one-hit shutout in Game 1, then hits two home runs in Game 2 of a doubleheader sweep over the Detroit Tigers.

July 27, 2023

But do those fans know that your probability of even making the playoffs is slim? Assuming Tampa Bay and Houston aren’t going to fold, there are basically six teams fighting for one American League wild-card spot. You still won’t have injured Mike Trout back until at least the middle of August. Your team is still beset by injuries, underperforming starting pitching, and whatever the heck happened to Anthony Rendon.

Look, this column has preached the same message for 27 years — Southern California teams must always do everything they can to win it all. There is no rebuilding allowed here. There are no awards for effort here. By this standard, the Angels are doing precisely the right thing. And so it is understandable that Angels fans, in the immortal words of Mike Scioscia, would consider this column “poppycock.”

But in this case, the Angels had a unique opportunity to help shape their future instead of being shaped by it, and yet they resisted. They traded several years of growth for two months of buzz. Is this the right team and the right time for all this? Should you even have to ask that question?

By the way, since Ohtani and Trout became teammates six years ago, the Angels have gone 380-429. That winning percentage is suddenly going to drastically change over the next eight weeks?

Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani watches from the dugout during a game against the New York Yankees on July 18.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“We feel like there’s an opportunity to win and to play well going forward,” said Angels general manager Perry Minasian to reporters Thursday. “We’re going to roll the dice and see what happens.”

Roll the dice? It’s hard to believe that anybody in his player development department felt it necessary to roll the dice. Building a foundation does not require rolling the dice. Growing and acquiring great young players like shortstop Zach Neto and catcher Logan O’Hoppe requires more hard work than crazy gambling.

But style over substance has been Moreno’s mantra since his first news conference 20 years ago when he bought the team and immediately lowered beer prices before systematically tearing apart a World Series championship organization.

He covets only the most buzz-worthy big-ticket items and doesn’t consider the everyday reality of those starry eyed decisions. He puts a “Los Angeles” in front of his team even though nobody has ever believed they actually play in Los Angeles. He ignores the future needs of his organization in an attempt to court Ohtani, when few believe Ohtani can be courted.

Moreno will fill his stadium for the next couple of months, but if the Angels don’t miraculously win a championship and Ohtani doesn’t miraculously sign a long-term deal and San Fernando Valley kid Giolito doesn’t miraculously stay in Orange County, then what?


The franchise is back to ground zero, that’s what.

They will lose their best pitcher for virtually nothing. They will lose their best hitter for virtually nothing. They will lose two of their best prospects for virtually nothing. And Mike Trout will be 32 and declining.

That’s one serious roll of the dice.

VIDEO | 08:47
Angels general manager Perry Minasian discusses trades

Angels general manager Perry Minasian discusses decision to move forward with Shohei Ohtani on the roster and trade for pitcher Lucas Giolito.

About basing this big bet on Ohtani, Minasian explained, “This is a special player having a unique season with a team that has a chance to win. To me that’s grounds for trying to improve the club…whether it works or whether it doesn’t, I can go to bed at night and say ‘You know what? We did this for the right reasons and we’re giving ourselves a chance.’”

Truly, it will be the best baseball story of the season if the Angels are inspired by these moves and Ohtani is charmed by this commitment and Angel Stadium is rocking again in late October for the first time in forever.

But, honestly, there’s a much greater chance that Minasian wakes up to a nightmare.

Not to mention a new boss, as one can imagine Moreno fleeing the scorched earth to make a second attempt at selling the team.

And while that wouldn’t be a heartwarming baseball story, it would be the perfect Angels’ story.