Hernández: Shohei Ohtani makes it clear — improve Angels or he's gone

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Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani approaches the plate to bat.
Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani gets ready to bat against the Houston Astros this month. (Michael Wyke / Associated Press)

Through whatever was lost in translation, through the ambiguity over what was being asked, the message was clear.

Shohei Ohtani wants out.

Now, it’s up to the Angels to change his mind, which makes the upcoming winter the most important in Arte Moreno’s time as owner.

Because what’s the point if the Angels can’t persuade Ohtani to spend the prime of his career with them, if they can’t convince him they can win with him and Mike Trout in the same lineup?

Moreno might as well sell the team to someone who can.

The very fact the Angels were called out by the typically mild-mannered Ohtani speaks to their dysfunction under Moreno.

They shouldn’t be in this position. They extended Ohtani every opportunity to realize his ambition of being a two-way player in the major leagues. They didn’t send him to the minors after he looked overmatched in spring training as a rookie. They didn’t try to talk him into giving up pitching when he injured his elbow.

And Ohtani was appreciative.

Except no amount of gratitude could make him overlook the constant losing to which he’s been subjected.

The Angels are a combined 36 games under .500 in his four seasons with them — a figure that almost certainly would be greater if they had played more than 60 games in a pandemic-shortened season last year.

His once-in-a-century performance as a pitcher and hitter should win him the American League most-valuable-player award but hasn’t mattered where it’s counted most. The Angels will finish in fourth place, just as they did in each of his three previous seasons. They have now failed to reach the playoffs for seven consecutive years.

Ohtani’s frustration was visible Sunday in a 5-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners.

With Brandon Marsh on deck and Ohtani behind him, David Fletcher popped up in foul territory to finish a scoreless seventh inning for the Angels. The failure to break the 1-1 stalemate cost Ohtani a chance to win his 10th game, as Jose Quijada was warming up in the bullpen to replace him on the mound. Ohtani whacked the bat rack.

In the postgame video conference, he said he was upset with himself, for allowing a tying homer to Jarred Kelenic in the top half of the inning and for his elevated pitch count that resulted in his removal.

“I think it’s my responsibility,” he said in Japanese.

Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani follows through on a pitch against the Seattle Mariners.
Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani follows through on a pitch against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday at Angel Stadium. (Michael Owen Baker / Associated Press)

"I like the fans. I like the atmosphere in the organization. But my feelings to wanting to win are stronger."

Angels' Shohei Ohtani

But he also intimated he wasn’t pleased with the state of the team.

Asked if he wanted to remain with the Angels, Ohtani replied, “I like the fans. I like the atmosphere in the organization. But my feelings to wanting to win are stronger.”

The remark was even more damning considering what Ohtani said earlier in response to a question by Bill Shaikin of The Times.

Reminding Ohtani he could be a free agent after two more seasons, Shaikin asked if he thought he could win with the Angels and if he wanted to stay with them. Ohtani’s interpreter instead asked Ohtani whether he thought the Angels could reach the playoffs in the next two years.

Ohtani’s response: “I wonder.”

Ohtani went on to talk about how the Angels battled well through the first half of the season, even as Trout and Anthony Rendon were sidelined, only for their motivation to weaken in the recent months.

“I don’t think we can win with the way things are,” he said.

He offered a more detailed view of what happened in an interview that was published in a recent edition of Number, Japan’s leading sports magazine. He said staying motivated was difficult in an organization that “didn’t add any reinforcements [at the trade deadline] and continued to play with a team that was still weak.”

So, Ohtani wants to win and questions whether the organization can help him do that — or even wants to.

The clock is ticking on the Angels.

General manager Perry Minasian’s mission is to return them to where they were in the early days of the Moreno ownership, when they reached the postseason five times in the six-year stretch from 2004 to ’09.

The problems started when there was turnover in the World Series-winning front office Moreno inherited from Disney. The more Moreno became involved in baseball operations, the less they won. He hired a GM who was a complete novice in Tony Reagins and one who was incompatible with longtime manager Mike Scioscia in Jerry Dipoto. He led the efforts to sign the likes of Albert Pujols to Josh Hamilton to nine-figure deals that financially crippled the team for years.

Moreno deserves credit for his role in showcasing what the Angels could be: a perennial World Series contender that attracted more than 3.3 million fans annually to their home stadium. But he might not be the owner under which the Angels can realize that potential again.

Skepticism about Moreno has become widespread. Now, to prove to the public he is worthy of operating a civic institution as important as the Angels, he has to convince Ohtani.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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