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Shohei Ohtani Discusses His Future With Los Angeles Angels

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TEMPE, Ariz. — For the Los Angeles Angels’ pitchers and catchers, spring training officially began on the team’s training facility on Wednesday. But for the team’s two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, who has been hitting and throwing in Arizona all month, the preparations for a very powerful yr of his profession began way back.

In two weeks, Ohtani will leave Angels camp to hitch Team Japan for the World Baseball Classic, which is returning for the primary time since 2017 following a pandemic-induced delay. And irrespective of where he goes on this planet, Ohtani, 28, is followed by a cloud of intrigue — even larger than the one which has trailed him throughout his profession.

After this season, Ohtani, a unicorn in the game given his standout abilities as each a pitcher and hitter, shall be amongst probably the most coveted free agents in baseball history. In order Ohtani, the winner of the 2021 American League Most Beneficial Player Award, began what could also be his final spring training in an Angels uniform, he answered questions on Thursday about his future but provided little insight during a 30-minute news conference in English and Japanese.

“That is my last yr and I’m aware of that,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. “As of now, I’m an Angel and that’s all I’m going to deal with. I haven’t really thought too far ahead.”

That was what Ohtani answered when asked if he was open to a contract extension to remain in Anaheim, Calif. While Ohtani didn’t say no, he also didn’t say yes. Based on the Angels’ recent checkered past and playoff drought, few would begrudge Ohtani if he was looking forward to hearing pitches from other teams with brighter futures.

Despite having two of the most effective players in baseball — outfielder Mike Trout, a three-time A.L. M.V.P., and Ohtani — together for the past five seasons, the Angels haven’t posted a winning season since 2015. The last time the Angels reached the postseason was in 2014, when the Kansas City Royals swept them in an A.L. division series.

The frustration of perennial losing has worn on many, particularly Ohtani. He was the runner-up for the 2022 A.L. M.V.P. Award after hitting 34 home runs and posting a 2.33 E.R.A. over 166 innings, but he admitted that remaining motivated was hard when the Angels fired Manager Joe Maddon in June, lost a franchise-record 14 straight games at one point and finished 73-89.

“I actually just like the team,” Ohtani said in September 2021 about his future, which has been a continuing query during his time in Anaheim. “I really like the fans. I really like the atmosphere of the team. But greater than that, I need to win. That’s the most important thing for me. So I’ll leave it at that.”

This off-season, the Angels spent $78 million on free agents, headlined by the left-handed starting pitcher Tyler Anderson (three years, $39 million) and the utility man Brandon Drury (two years, $17 million). They traded for infielder Gio Urshela and outfielder Hunter Renfroe. With a franchise record $216 million payroll (for luxury tax purposes in 2023), the Angels rank ninth in spending in Major League Baseball, in accordance with Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

“We got an excellent group with recent guys, probably the most effective acquisitions previously few years,” Ohtani said. “I got to see a few the blokes today. Looking forward to attending to know them higher and excited to play with them.”

On paper, the Angels addressed some holes of their top-heavy roster despite the uncertainty present atop their organization throughout the winter. In August, the team’s owner, Arte Moreno, announced that he would look into selling the team. But in late January he said he had modified his mind and was keeping the team.

At a news conference in Arizona this week, M.L.B. Commissioner Rob Manfred called Moreno “a valued member of the ownership group” and cited Moreno’s track record of spending and drawing over three million fans per season. But attendance at Angels home games fell to 2.4 million last season from just over three million in 2019, and the Angels have been connected to several lawsuits, controversies or investigations in recent seasons.

“There’s lots of success that had been there and I feel lots of the form of negativity recently was a mirrored image back on the Angels, not a product of them doing anything inappropriate or improper,” Manfred said. “He had bidders but had the choice and made the choice to carry the club, and I feel that’s a great thing.”

Ohtani — who will earn $30 million this season, the most important one-year contract ever given to an arbitration-eligible player — said he caught up briefly with Moreno on Wednesday on the Angels’ spring training complex. He said there have been “no deep conversations” about his future. Ohtani added about Moreno remaining the owner, “It’s business as usual. Nothing has really modified so I just need to deal with this season and deal with winning a championship.”

Although Angels General Manager Perry Minasian has repeatedly said he wants Ohtani to stay in Anaheim beyond 2023 and believes Moreno will attempt to make that occur, Ohtani said on Thursday he had not heard anything about contract extensions.

“I do firmly consider that the Angels are on the identical page as me that they need to win just as much as I do,” said Ohtani, who was named the Angels’ opening day starting pitcher. “But I can’t really inform you what they are surely pondering but I would love to consider that.”

Some baseball observers have wondered whether Ohtani, who signed as a free agent with the Angels in 2017 after knowledgeable profession in Japan, could command a recent contract price as much as $500 million.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to maintain Shohei here, obviously,” Trout, who signed a 12-year, $426.5 million contract extension with the Angels in 2019, told reporters on Wednesday. “We’re going to go on the market and check out to win. I haven’t really talked to Shohei about his future, however it looks as if he’s having a great time here. However it’s been six years together and we haven’t been within the playoffs, so if there’s any yr we’d like to get the playoffs, it’s this yr.”

Angels Manager Phil Nevin said his conversations with Ohtani all the time revolve on how he can improve and thus help the team win. He called Ohtani the mentally hardest player he has ever been around, given the demands of excelling on the mound and on the plate. Although some players is perhaps distracted during their walk seasons, Nevin said he had no such fears about Ohtani.

“Has it been frustrating for him to not win?” Nevin said. “It’s been frustrating for everyone definitely. But we’re here, it’s exciting and it’s the primary day and we understand what’s ahead of us and an excellent opportunity.”

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