Why would Shohei Ohtani return to Angels? MLB’s worst nightmare is still a scary possibility as free agent nears decision

Let’s just say it: Shohei Ohtani wouldn’t really go back to the Angels, would he?

Even now, as rumors and hints and reports insist that the only MLB team that the global superstar has ever played for is still in the mix for the free agent, it seems hard to believe. Everything we’ve heard from Ohtani over the years regarding his long-term future in the sport — and it’s not much, admittedly — has been rooted in the idea the he only wants to win, to compete for championships every single season.

We all watched him in the World Baseball Classic this spring, rising to the moment and striking out Mike Trout for the final out of the final game to give Japan the title. We all saw the joy on his face. We saw the competitor buried for years by the mediocrity in Anaheim finally get a moment to show what he’s made of when surrounded by elite talent. We saw a champion succeeding in a championship moment on a championship stage.

He’s not really going to give that up, is he?

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In his six years with the Angels, they’ve never finished .500. They’ve never really sniffed the playoffs, not down the stretch, anyway. Even in the shortened 2020 season, when only 60 games were played and more than half of MLB teams made the postseason — 16 of the 30 — the Angels still missed by three games. In 2023, sitting on the fringes of contention, they decided not to trade Ohtani and instead made moves to acquire players for a playoff push. 

They immediately lost 16 of their first 21 games in August. Not because of bad luck, but because the heart of the roster was always flawed. Because the organization was not built to win, primarily because the owner doesn’t have his baseball priorities in the right place. None of that has magically changed in the past month — though hiring Ron Washington as the new manager was a great move. Arte Moreno still owns the Angels. The Angels are still fundamentally flawed, and any sort of real change will be, to quote Wash, incredibly hard. 

And even if there is internal improvement, the Angels would still be light years behind the Rangers — the World Series champs look set for the next decade — and Astros and even the Mariners, though their offseason has been underwhelming to this point. 

So Ohtani wouldn’t really go back, would he? 

MORE: Shohei Ohtani rumors tracker: Latest news, updates

While we’re speaking the truth, let’s just say this: Ohtani re-signing with the Angels would be a disaster, not only for Ohtani and his legacy — he could never again be able to say winning was the most important thing — but also for baseball. We’ll start there.

Ohtani is magical when he’s on the field. At the plate, the ball jumps off his bat. He sprays line drives all over the field, and when he turns up the speed and races around the bases, it’s breathtaking. On the mound, his triple-digit fastball and ungodly breaking stuff routinely make even the elite hitters look like Little Leaguers. 

But he’s been doing it in relative anonymity, and I’m not talking about geography or market size. Losing breeds anonymity. Losing at the rate the Angels have robs their games of any sort of real drama, and people love drama. The thing so many of us love about the everyday nature of the sport is undeniably one of the things that hinders it, which makes the big stages so important to the growth of the game. 

Nobody’s been pulling for the Angels more the past couple of seasons than MLB’s marketing folks, I promise you. But the flawed franchise hasn’t even given those fine people a reason to make a “watch Ohtani and his Angels face Julio Rodriguez and his Mariners with playoff implications on the line” promo after late July. There are no rivalries when one team stinks.

Baseball is a great sport, but it needs its best players on the biggest stages. We’ve already been deprived of Mike Trout in October for a decade, and the idea of the Angels stashing away Ohtani for the rest of his career is almost too much to bear. Baseball needs Ohtani playing in the postseason, the same way it needs Ronald Acuña Jr. and Juan Soto and Bryce Harper and Aaron Judge playing games that matter. 

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And for Ohtani and his legacy? Sorry, but he can’t be considered the greatest player ever if he not only tolerates mediocrity, but also embraces it by retreating back to Anaheim. Every report we’ve heard connecting Ohtani back with the Angels has been centered around that idea, that Ohtani is a person who loves routines, and he’s comfortable in Anaheim, that he likes the fact that the Angels let him do whatever he wants, that he only talks to the media for short sessions after his starts. Um, literally every other franchise would grant him those same special rules. 

One more “let’s just say it” for ya: It’s possible we’re overreacting. 

With a general lack of reports and rumors on the Ohtani free-agency front — his camp made it known early that any sort of leaks would be considered a detriment to the source of the leaks — any morsel or scrap of news feels massively magnified. 

Blue Jays fans on social media freaked out on Monday when Ken Rosenthal reported that Ohtani had visited the team’s spring training facility in Florida. When there were whispers from Chicago that the Cubs were making their pitch not too long ago, their fan base started actively making plans to buy season tickets and road trip to games away from Wrigley.  

Without much out there, everything seems super important. 

So, yeah, maybe we’re overreacting. Another thing to keep in mind: Reporters (the good ones) only report what they’re told, and maybe that’s where the “Ohtani might stay in Anaheim” stuff is coming from. Take a step back, and it’s easy to see how keeping the Angels in the mix certainly helps the negotiating position for Ohtani and his agent, Nez Balelo. 

Don’t want to grant Ohtani the same special treatment he had with the Angels? That’s a dealbreaker. Don’t want to pay that extra $40 million to pry him away from his comfort zone in Anaheim? That’s a dealbreaker. Makes a lot of sense, right? 

Maybe, when the truth is finally known, the Angels are playing the role of the famous “Mystery Team” that always shows up during baseball’s Hot Stove season. Only this time, the mystery isn’t the team’s identity, but why Ohtani would seriously consider going back. 

Source : ESPN.com

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