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For the Angels, Ohtani’s Mural Has Been Taken Down but the Regret Lingers

Sam Blum covers the Angels for The Athletic. By SAM BLUM

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Outside the main gate at Angel Stadium was an electronic video board welcoming the new manager, Ron Washington, the day of his introduction. Right above that was a massive mural of individual players, Shohei Ohtani’s image impossible to miss.

One day later, on Nov. 17, Ohtani won the Most Valuable Player Award. The Los Angeles Angels sent out a news release and social media posts advertising Ohtani M.V.P. merchandise, available for purchase.

Ohtani was already a free agent at the time, no more an Angel than he was a member of the 29 other teams. But clearly from the Angels’ side, there was a desire to squeeze every morsel it could out of this relationship. Manifest the possibility that his tenure in Anaheim could be elongated.

That reality did not play out. Ohtani’s mural was torn down on Saturday afternoon. The franchise will have to move on, because the two-way superstar has. He will sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers for what his agency said was a 10-year, $700 million contract. It marks the largest freeagent contract in the sport’s history.

Ohtani’s time with the Angels is officially over.

His legacy with the franchise will be unmistakable. Two unanimous M.V.P.s amid what may be remembered as the greatest three-year run of all time. He crushed 124 homers over the past three seasons and struck out 542 batters. Until his final season ended in injury, he carried this team when on the field.

The Angels’ legacy with Ohtani, however, is equally unforgettable. They went 73-89 each of the past two seasons after finishing 77-85 in 2021. They never played a meaningful September game. Never sniffed the postseason.

The loss of Ohtani is an undeniable blow for the Angels. They’ve always enjoyed being relevant, even amid the losing. That was thanks to Ohtani, and to Mike Trout, who has three M.V.P.s of his own. Now, Ohtani is gone. And the 32-year-old Trout’s durability remains a question mark after three straight seasons with extended stints on the injured list.

This team, for better or worse, will be redefined moving forward. And as of now, that leaves them in no-man’s land. The Angels’ expected 2024 payroll is $153 million, according to FanGraphs. That includes estimated paydays for their arbitration-eligible players.

Angels General Manager Perry Minasian has gone on record to state that the team will be aggressive this off-season. But he’s also been evasive on whether his boss, the owner Arte Moreno, will elevate his payroll again in 2024 after finishing just below the $233 million luxury tax threshold in 2023. With Ohtani off the board, the pressure is squarely on Minasian to build out a competitive roster.

Moreno was willing to spend on Ohtani — at least, that’s what he said. But will he feel the same way about other free agents? The Angels did everything they could to build a winner around Ohtani last year. How important will winning be in the immediate aftermath of his departure?

So much of this franchise’s fu- ture remains in limbo. Beyond payroll, Minasian is entering the final year of his contract. Washington is on just a two-year deal.

The efforts to either renovate or replace Angel Stadium and redevelop the surrounding area have made no progress in the 18 months since the land deal with the city fell through. And the 77year-old owner has no clear succession plan.

Everything in the Angels’ universe had revolved around Ohtani. His departure means that all of these issues come directly to the forefront.

But, for now, Ohtani leaving is a shock to the system. The mural is down. The many other likenesses around the ballpark will disappear. For as many questions as the Angels have regarding their future, their present will be about coming to terms with what just happened.

The decision feels instantaneous. But the foundation for it was years in the making.

After the 2021 season, Ohtani was asked if he liked playing for the Angels. He said he enjoyed the team and fans, but added, “More than that, I want to win. That’s the biggest thing for me. So, I’ll leave it at that.”

Before the 2022 trade deadline, Ohtani was asked if he wanted to remain with the team or be dealt.

“I’m with the Angels right now. And I’m very thankful for what they’ve done,” he said. “I really love the team. I love my teammates. Right now, I’m an Angel, and that’s all I can really focus on at this point.”

He answered questions similarly throughout 2023. Was he signaling a desire to leave? Was he simply avoiding any definitive statement, knowing the firestorm it could cause?

Ohtani never seemed to be desperate to leave. He had developed a level of comfort with his Angels teammates and established a familiarity with the front office. The organization met his every request and allowed him to play as much as he wanted.

But for as much the Angels gave him, they couldn’t provide a winning roster. And they couldn’t establish enough credibility or instill enough confidence that success was coming soon for him to give them another chance. Meanwhile, the Dodgers are a perpetually competitive franchise. Regular division winners.

There’s no way to know right now exactly why Ohtani chose to leave Anaheim for Los Angeles. But winning was more important than anything else if you take him at his word. And the Angels simply did not win enough.

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2023-12-11T08:00:00.0000000Z

2023-12-11T08:00:00.0000000Z

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