To no one's genuine surprise, Shohei Ohtani is no longer employed by the Los Angeles Angels. The two-way baseball phenomenon on Saturday with the Dodgers and thus brought an end to his six-year tenure with the Halos.
Given that Ohtani repeatedly said he prioritized winning and given that the Angels did very little of that during Ohtani's time with them, his departure is hardly shocking. It is, however, still jarring for an Angels organization that's become famous for its haplessness and squandering of the historic peaks of not only Ohtani but also Mike Trout. This checkpoint raises the matter of how the Angels and general manager Perry Minasian should chart their course forward.
Given the fact that the Angels have endured eight consecutive losing seasons and are now on their fifth different manager since 2018, a deep rebuild is probably in order. Further making the case is that the Angels, despite all that recent losing, are saddled with one of the worst farm systems in baseball. There are certainly worse teams in MLB right now, but when looking at the entire scope of an organization none may be in a worse long-term spot than the Ohtani-less Angels.
Complicating what should be an obvious next step – i.e., a teardown – is that Minasian, likely on orders from owner Arte Moreno, batted down speculation that Trout might be traded this offseason. Normally, you could dismiss this as the standard-issue front-office "lie until things change" stance to specific personnel questions, but Minasian was pretty emphatic:
"Mike Trout is not getting traded. 100%."
To be sure, Trout has a full no-trade clause and seven years and roughly $250 million remaining on his contract, so dealing him would be complicated in the extreme. Moreno's appetite for improving around Trout, particularly in light of Anthony Rendon's fully underwater remaining commitment of more than $100 million, may be quite limited. Really, though, there's almost no feasible way to take an 89-loss team that just bid adieu to a 10-WAR player and spend it into relevance. That's especially the case in the AL West, which houses the reigning-champion Rangers, a modern dynasty in Houston, and a Mariners team that's achieved relevance despite the laziness of ownership. All of this leads to an unfortunate stasis of sorts, in which the sad-sack Angels are still the sad-sack Angels but without Ohtani around to draw eyeballs and click turnstiles.
What they should probably do is rebuild regardless of whether Trout is going to remain yoked to the team for the remainder of his contract. This would mean in general terms parting with any players over, say, age 25 that figure to have trade value on the market. That would mean keeping talents like Logan O'Hoppe, Reid Detmers, and Zach Neto, among others. It would also mean shopping names like Patrick Sandoval, Griffin Canning, and Taylor Ward and asking for whatever high-ceiling prospects you can get. It would also mean continuing to pay above slot in the draft (canny work getting that Ohtani comp pick to be bumped up via luxury–tax finagling) and enjoying higher picks in exchange for what's going to be years of near-bottom-dwelling.
The prospect of this might of course change the situation with Trout and lead to his mutually agreed-upon exit. Maybe if he's able to be generally healthy in 2024 and stay productive, the Angels could even get a notable package for him. As such things go, they can ensure that get a good return by kicking in significant cash to defray his remaining salaries. Honestly, that's probably the best use of Moreno's money looking forward.
"Tanking" in MLB is a bad thing when it's motivated by a desire to increase ownership profits by bottoming out labor costs. However, when it's undertaken to improve an organization's long-term outlook and with a genuine acknowledgement of their dismal present, then it's a defensible strategy. Moreno has his faults, but he's been willing to invest in the on-field product. In that way, he can undertake a rebuild in whatever the MLB ownership equivalent of "good faith" is. This is what makes sense for the Angels at this juncture. Anything else in the early hours of the post-Ohtani era is a self-defeating fantasy.
It'll be a long time, and it'll be painful. But, well, these are the Angels, and all they know throughout recent history is taking a long time and feeling pain.