If their 5-2 loss to the Texas Rangers was Shohei Ohtani’s last game in an Angels uniform, he added to his legend with a productive day in another dispiriting defeat for a team that has short-circuited in nearly every possible way — and some ways that seemed impossible.
The Angels’ roster could be significantly different when they reconvene on Tuesday to begin a three-game series against the Oakland A’s, hours after the 3 pm Pacific time trade deadline. Relievers Ryan Tepera and Aaron Loup, who each signed two-year contracts last offseason to strengthen the bullpen, reportedly could be dealt to playoff contenders. Starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who has an expiring contract, is a strong candidate to be traded even though his value isn’t what it once was.
That theory took flight when Syndergaard’s scheduled start on Sunday was pushed back to Tuesday, when he’s supposed to face another rumored trade chip, A’s right-hander Frankie Montas. That’s an interesting matchup.
“It is,” Angels interim manager Phil Nevin said. “It could be Syndergaard-Montas, or bullpen-bullpen.”
And of course, two-way standout Ohtani’s name has figured prominently in recent trade rumors, but if the Angels trade him owner Arte Moreno might as well turn in the keys to the franchise and concentrate on developing the parking lots around the stadium.
With three-time American League most valuable player Mike Trout becoming a part-time player due to a steady series of injuries, Ohtani is one of the Angels’ few remaining attractions. Given the organization’s poor record at identifying and developing prospects, the idea of trading unicorn-like Ohtani for a package of wannabes has little appeal. It’s difficult to trust them to get reasonable value in return, or for those players to become anywhere near as special as Ohtani.
The Angels’ better path is building around him well enough to persuade him to stay in Anaheim after next season, when his contract expires. Let the baseball people make the decisions without Moreno throwing around sentimental, too-long contracts to declining former superstars.
Ohtani reached base four times on Sunday, the fifth time this season he has reached base four or more times in a game. He extended his team-leading runs-scored total to 58, drew two walks to pad his team lead in that category to 52, and contributed a triple and a single to reach 94 hits, also the best on a team that batted a pitiful. 199 (156 for 782) in July.
His exploits at the plate and his pitching (9-6, 2.81 earned-run average, 144 strikeouts in 99 1/3 innings) have put him in the conversation to win his second straight MVP award, although New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge has been putting up epic numbers of his own. Judge leads the major leagues with a staggering 42 home runs and 91 runs batted in for the team with the best record in the American League, persuasive arguments.
Ohtani usually speaks to reporters only after his starts but sometimes responds to questions relayed to him through the Angels’ media relations department. He declined to speak at all on Sunday.
Ohtani was announced as the Angels starter on Wednesday, which triggered the question of whether that means the Angels aren’t planning to trade him. “Right now, he’s scheduled to pitch Wednesday,” Nevin said, “and on a personal note, I hope he pitches for me.”
Tepera, who struck out two in a scoreless eighth-inning appearance on Sunday, was traded by the Chicago Cubs to the Chicago White Sox shortly before the 2021 trade deadline. But the 34-year-old setup man said his circumstances aren’t the same as they were a year ago, when he became part of the Cubs’ fire sale.
“It was pretty much certain that I was getting traded, becoming a free agent, and the way the Cubs were just selling everybody, trading everybody off,” he said. “I think last year it was more of an inevitable that I was going to get traded. This year, things are a little bit different, signing a two-year deal.”
He’d like to play out that two-year, $14-million contract as an Angel. “I enjoy my time here. I love it here. I came here for a reason and one of the reasons was to come here and to win, obviously,” he said.
“I’m getting a little bit older and towards the end of my career. My ultimate goal is to win. With that being said, whatever happens, happens. You know, go to a winning team that’s contending for the playoff spot. But my time here, I like it and I wouldn’t mind staying.”
Like the rest of us, he will have to wait to see what the roster looks like after the trade deadline. “It might look different. It might not. Who knows?” said rookie left-hander Reid Detmers, who gave up one earned run and struck out a career-high 12 batters through seven innings on Sunday.
“The next couple days could be pretty crazy, but that’s out of my control. I can’t do anything about that.”
By now, losing has become routine for the Angels (43-59). Trading away Ohtani would be the worst loss of a season that began with great promise but disintegrated into another disappointing collective failure.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.