Ohtani set for WBC in Japan, but Angels future uncertain

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Although Shohei Ohtani's long-term future with the Los Angeles Angels is decidedly uncertain as he heads into the final season under contract, the two-way superstar's plans for the spring are all set.

Ohtani will make one start on the Cactus League mound this month for the Angels before he heads to Japan on March 1 for the World Baseball Classic, Halos general manager Perry Minasian said Saturday.

Whatever Ohtani wants to do in the tournament is entirely up him and the Japanese team, since the Angels will stick to their long-standing policy of allowing him to do whatever he feels is best for his growth on his unique career path.

"I am not worried about Shohei Ohtani," Minasian said. "He's been in Arizona for a while now. He's preparing for the season. He's doing everything he needs to do to be ready to go when the bell rings. He'll get the proper work in when he needs it. He's the least of my concerns."

Ohtani's future beyond 2023 might be the most of Minasian's concerns, although the GM isn't giving much insight into the Angels' hopes of retaining the player who won the 2021 AL MVP award and finished second in last season's vote after going 15-9 with a 2.33 ERA while also batting .273 with with 34 homers and 95 RBIs.

Ohtani will make $30 million this season under his final year of team control. Angels fans are clamoring for their team to sign Ohtani to a long-term deal at any price, while fans from Boston to San Diego are salivating at the prospect of adding the majors' greatest two-way player.

Minasian deftly avoided any definitive statements about the Angels' chances of keeping Ohtani beyond this summer.

"Obviously, we love Shohei Ohtani," Minasian said. "This whole organization would like nothing more than to see him here for a long, long time. ... We love the player. We love what he's about. He's somebody that we can envision here for a long, long time."

Speculation about the Angels' chances of signing Ohtani has fluctuated wildly since they completed their seventh consecutive losing season and eighth consecutive non-playoff season — both the worst droughts in the majors.

At 28 as he heads into his sixth big league season, Ohtani has made it clear wants to play for a winner, and the Angels have not been winners since the middle of the previous decade. But aside from the usual optimism of a fresh season with new signings and the possibility of improved roster health, Orange County fans still have hope because of Ohtani's loyalty and the Angels' willingness to allow him to train and to play in any way he chooses.

"There's a respect level here, obviously," Minasian said. "He chose to play here, and I think that was one of the reasons he chose to play here. We've been able to agree on two deals over the last two years, which is not easy to do. There's a respect and trust level there that I don't think will change. I think the relationship is outstanding."

Angels owner Arte Moreno explored a sale of the season throughout the winter before deciding last month that he will keep the team. Moreno's departure likely would have brought in a wealthy new owner capable of making a splash by paying top dollar to Ohtani amid a new commitment to winning, but Moreno is also capable of handing out lavish contracts — even if most of his biggest deals have gone wrong.

Minasian obviously couldn't speculate on whether Moreno's retention of the team improved or hurt its chances of keeping Ohtani.

"He's already invested in this club throughout his whole ownership," Minasian said. "We've been top-10 in payroll for a long time. I don't see that changing. Knowing (Moreno) and knowing how much he wants to win, I wouldn't put anything out of the realm of possibility."

Minasian said first baseman Jared Walsh and pitchers Griffin Canning and Chris Rodriguez will be ready to go for an essentially normal spring training after missing much of 2022 due to injuries. The GM also confirmed the Angels are still looking for bullpen additions, and they haven't decided on the identity of their sixth starter in the rotation around Ohtani.


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