Shohei Ohtani trade rumors are going to be hot and heavy this offseason, as the Anaheim Angels are coming off another disappointing season, are likely being sold soon, and are facing the prospect of their perennial MVP candidate being a free agent at the end of the 2023 season.
Now, it isn’t a guarantee that Ohtani will be dealt. The Angels may opt to hold onto him, see how the 2023 season progresses, and re-evaluate at the trade deadline. They could extend him, though the fact that owner Arte Moreno is looking to sell the team would seem to complicate that. Outgoing owners rarely make big payroll commitments when they are trying to sell the team, and it doesn’t appear that a new owner — who might be willing to make a big splash by extending Ohtani — would be in place before a decision on dealing Ohtani is made.
But at a minimum, there will be active discussions. Any team that fancies itself a contender would seem likely to have interest in Ohtani. And that includes the Rangers.
Yes, the Rangers had a worse record than the Angels in 2022, at 68-94, compared to Anaheim’s 73-89. The Rangers’ had a slightly better run differential than Anaheim, though, and are planning on making significant additions to shore up the squad in anticipation of being a playoff contender in 2023. And Ohtani would potentially fill a couple of those needs.
I’ve been thinking about what an Ohtani deal would look like, at least for the Rangers, for a while now. I decided to do an actual post about it after reading Kevin Sherrington’s column yesterday, which had this rather ludicrous suggestion as to what the Rangers should be willing to give up:
Think Jack Leiter, Owen White, Justin Foscue and Brock Porter.
Or four of the Rangers’ six top 100 MLB prospects.
The other two — Josh Jung and Evan Carter — would be off-limits. Tell Minasian he can have the other four and two more prospects or big leaguers. I’m not all that picky. He can have any two of the four players the Rangers got for Joey Gallo: Ezequiel Duran, Josh Smith, Glenn Otto or Trevor Hauver. Take Jonah Heim or Sam Huff. He can have Leody Taveras, too. Leody’s a maddening mix of talent and tease, but, unlike Jo Adell, at least he won’t glove a ball over the fence.
Even all that might not be enough to get it done. And if it isn’t, Chris, then up the ante. Because the one thing we know about all the players above is none will become Shohei Ohtani.
Offering of Leiter, White, Foscue, Porter, Duran, and either Smith, Otto or Heim (of the players Sherrington throws out there for the fifth and sixth pieces of the deal, the Angels would definitely take Duran, and would probably pick one of Smith/Otto/Heim as the final piece) would be well beyond what it would make sense to do for one year of Ohtani, though I suspect that Anaheim would jump on that, rather than ask Young to “up the ante.” If that’s the price, Ohtani will likely still be an Angel on Opening Day, because I don’t think there’s a team out there that meets that price.
Let’s take a step back and think about what a team acquiring Ohtani is getting.
They are landing a legitimately great hitter, a middle of the order guy who will make some folks mad because he strikes out a lot, but who gets on base and hits for power. Ohtani’s 142 wRC+ was 16th in the majors in 2022, and...holy shit, Nathaniel Lowe was 13th in the majors in wRC+? What the hell?
A team acquiring Ohtani is also getting a legit top of the rotation starting pitcher. Ohtani put up a 4.1 bWAR as a pitcher in 2021, and a 6.1 bWAR as a pitcher in 2022. That’s damn good.
A team acquiring Ohtani is getting him, however, for just one year. Ohtani is under contract for 2023 at $30 million. After that, he’s eligible for free agency. Yes, a team acquiring Ohtani is also getting the right to negotiate with him and try to extend him, but I’m not sure that’s something that has much value in and of itself, in terms of making a trade for Ohtani. If you extend him, you’re probably paying him around fair market value to get him to forego hitting the free agent market, which isn’t something it makes sense to give up significant value to be able to do.
So you’re getting one year of a great player, one of the top handful of players in the majors, someone who provides an impact on offense and on the mound, for $30 million. Any team would want that, no question.
The question is, though, at what cost?
In lobbying for the Rangers to go YOLO, Sherrington says that Ohtani fills three needs:
Top-tier pitcher. Four-hole hitter. Left fielder.
And that is...not quite right. Ohtani would fill the need for a top tier pitcher, and would slot in great in the middle of the order. No question about either of those.
Ohtani is not a left fielder, however. Ohtani has played one inning, total, in left field in his major league career.
He’s not even an outfielder. He has played 8.1 innings, total, over 7 games in the outfield in his major league career.
Offensively, Ohtani is a DH. If you have Shohei Ohtani, he’s locked into the DH spot. Which is fine, given how he hits and how he pitches.
But Ohtani doesn’t address the left field spot. And having him as the everyday DH reduces somewhat your positional flexibility, since you can’t rotate guys in and out of the DH spot to give, say, Corey Seager or Adolis Garcia a half day off by DHing them.
But that’s okay, the argument goes, because with Ohtani, you have a starting pitcher and a DH — one guy filling two roster spots. As a result, you have an extra roster spot available that you wouldn’t otherwise have.
However...that’s not necessarily true, either. With Ohtani, you are going to have to devote five other roster spots to starting pitchers, because if you have Shohei Ohtani, you are probably going to have to use a six man rotation.
Since coming to the United States, Ohtani has never pitched on four days rest, the normal amount of rest for a starting pitcher in a five man rotation. Last year, Ohtani threw 12 times on five days rest, 12 times on six days rest, and twice on seven days rest. In 2021, he pitched 6 times on five days rest, 7 times on six days rest, and the remainder of his outings were with more rest than that.
Thus, Sherrington’s “fill three needs” comment notwithstanding, if you acquire Ohtani, you still need a left fielder, and you still need as many starting pitchers as you needed before you acquired Ohtani.
Something else to keep in mind...Fittz was talking on Twitter yesterday about what works for a club in terms of roster design for winning in the regular season may not be the same as what works for a club in terms of roster design for winning in the postseason. Having your ace pitching on a schedule where he is pitching on five days rest, rather than four days, is going to impact how you use your pitching staff in the postseason, and make Ohtani the pitcher potentially less valuable in October than he would be in the regular season.
This hasn’t been an issue in Ohtani’s career thusfar because the Angels have been bad. And certainly I understand the thought process that says that you should worry about getting to the postseason before worrying about what will happen in the postseason. Ohtani definitely helps in that regard.
I think there is a tendency to gloss over some of these issues when talking about how Ohtani fits on a club, and I think it is at least worth acknowledging in evaluating his value and the cost of acquiring him.
So, almost 1500 words in, let’s turn to the purpose of this post...which is to examine what the cost would be to trade for Shohei Ohtani.
Helpfully, we do have a recent benchmark for this exercise. Just three years ago, one of the top five players in baseball — hell, one of the top two players in baseball — was traded right before spring training in his walk year.
In 2019, the year before he was traded, Mookie Betts put up a 7.3 bWAR season for the Boston Red Sox. In 2018, Betts put up a 10.7 bWAR. He put up bWARs of 6.4, 9.5 and 6.1 in the three years prior to that.
In 2021, Ohtani put up a 9.5 bWAR season for the Angels. In 2020, he put up a 9.0 bWAR season between hitting and pitching. In the three years prior to that, he pitched very little — 51.2 IP, 0 IP, and 1.2 IP — and missed significant time (as well as 2020 being the COVID year), so those years can’t really be used for this comparison.
Betts made $27 million in 2020, his final year of arbitration, in line with the $30 million Ohtani is getting.
In terms of overall value and in terms of payroll impact, I think it is fair to say Betts, in the 2019-20 offseason, was roughly the same as Ohtani this offseason.
In the Betts deal, the Red Sox acquired Jeter Downs, Alex Verdugo and Connor Wong from the Dodgers. Boston also sent David Price, who was owed $96 million from 2020-22, to the Dodgers in the deal while paying $48 million of Price’s salary.
The additional of Price in the deal is a somewhat complicating factor, since the player value Boston was getting in return for Betts was reduced since the Dodgers were willing to take Price, and some of Price’s salary, off of Boston’s hands. David Price was not worth $48 million over three years heading into the 2020 season, so there was some dead money Los Angeles was eating.
On the other hand, Price wasn’t going to be viewed as completely useless at the time. Price was coming off a 1.6 bWAR season, had put up a 3.7 bWAR in 2018, and had generally been okay, if not always healthy, in the period of time leading up to the deal. If we conservatively say that three years of David Price was valued by teams at around $18 million ($6 million per year), that means there is $30 million of dead money that Boston is getting out from under in the deal.
So what is the 2022-23 Rangers equivalent of pre-2020 Jeter Downs, Alex Verdugo, Connor Wong and $30 million?
Downs was #71 on the BA top 100 list heading into the 2021 season, #49 on the MLB.com top 100 list, and was expected to be around #60 on the Fangraphs list when the deal was made. Owen White is #59 on the most recent MLB Pipeline list, #80 on the BA list, and #63 on the Fangraphs list. Jack Leiter is #61 on the BA top 100 list, #45 on the MLB Pipeline list, and #29 on the Fangraphs list (though likely dropping in their next update).
So, for our purposes, offering the Angels their choice of White or Leiter would seem to be roughly equivalent to the Red Sox getting Downs.
What about Alex Verdugo?
This one is tougher. Verdugo was a second round pick of the Dodgers in 2014, cracked top 100 lists, and heading into the 2019 was a consensus top 40 prospect. After not doing much in short major league stints in 2018 and 2019, he had a very nice season in 2020, playing all three outfield positions, starting primarily (but not exclusively) against righthanders, and putting up a 3.0 bWAR in 377 plate appearances before an injury cost him the final two months of the season.
Verdugo represented a young guy with a year-plus worth of service time that the BoSox could plug immediately into their starting lineup. He was also someone who was viewed as having makeup questions, with Kiley McDaniel saying in May, 2019:
We don’t think he fits in center field, and the lack of power is largely why he’s down here, though it also sounds like part of the reason teams have been asking for other Dodgers prospects in trades is due to some past off-field stuff.
So unlike Downs, it is hard to get a real clear handle on what a Verdugo equivalent would be. Maybe Ezequiel Duran, as a guy who was in top 100 this year before he ran out of eligibility, who is a guy seen as a major league ready bat, plus, I don’t know...Antoine Kelly, naybe?
Connor Wong was an infielder-turned-catcher who repeated high-A in 2019 and was ranked in the teens in both the Dodgers system and Boston’s system, with his profile being useful role player who can catch rather than as a future regular. He sounds like Jonathan Ornelas to me. Let’s say Jonathan Ornelas.
Finally, $30 million. Looking at the prospect valuation models, that would be, say...Brock Porter or Kumar Rocker, plus a guy in the Rangers teens/high 20s.
So...if the Rangers were going to make a deal equivalent to the Betts deal to get Ohtani, it would be something like:
Leiter or White
Rocker or Porter
Someone else not in the top 15 of the team’s system.
So there you go.