ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)Shohei Ohtani just completed arguably the most remarkable single season by any player in the past century of baseball.
And not even his two-way brilliance was enough to lift the Los Angeles Angels from their now-customary spot in the bottom half of the American League.
The Halos finished 77-85 Sunday after a victory over playoff-contending Seattle in which Ohtani hit his 46th homer.
Ohtani drove in 100 runs and stole 26 bases. He also struck out 156 batters and posted a 3.18 ERA in 23 mound starts. His combined achievements are without precedent in the modern game.
Yet the team around him is the same old sad story: Too many injuries, too many underperforming veterans with massive contracts, and never enough quality pitching.
”Honestly, I wish I could have done a season like this a little earlier,” Ohtani said through an interpreter last weekend. ”This is my fourth year, so I think it took a little too long.”
In truth, everything has already taken too long in owner Arte Moreno’s attempts to build a playoff contender around Ohtani and Mike Trout, who turned 30 this year without ever winning a playoff game.
The Angels have six straight losing seasons and seven straight nonplayoff seasons. No team has a longer active losing streak, while only two teams have missed the playoffs in more consecutive seasons than the Halos, who have finished higher than third in the AL West just once since 2014.
Ohtani will probably win the third AL MVP award claimed by an Angels player in the last six years.
Trout won the other two, but the dynamic center fielder played in only 36 games this season before being sidelined for the season by a calf injury in late May. He was joined on the injured list by Anthony Rendon, who only played 58 games and hit six homers in the second season of his enormous seven-year contract.
The Angels were livelier and more resilient under second-year manager Joe Maddon, and they have several exciting position players. But losing wears on everyone, and the Halos’ biggest names showed a remarkable amount of discontent with the state of the franchise in September.
Maddon, Trout and Ohtani all spoke out to campaign for roster additions, and rookie general manager Perry Minasian clearly agrees. Whether Minasian and Moreno can get it done remains highly debatable.
ALBERTROSS OFF THEIR NECK
Albert Pujols’ 10-year, $240 million contract is finally off the Angels’ books. The contract was an albatross around the Angels’ necks within two years after a star-struck Moreno handed it out in late 2011, but Los Angeles can finally invest that money into its many other needs.
More relief from the Angels’ own foolhardy largesse arrives soon, since underperforming Justin Upton is down to the final season and $28 million of the deal he received to stay with the team in 2017. The oft-injured veteran hit .211 this season.
Raisel Iglesias remained one of the game’s best closers in his sole season with the Halos, racking up 34 saves with a 2.57 ERA as he heads to unrestricted free agency. The Cuban showed more mental toughness, reliability and flair than nearly every reliever to pitch in Los Angeles’ annually terrible bullpen over the past half-decade.
Iglesias said he wants to stay, but he would be the most desirable reliever on the market. He will get hefty offers from teams much better than the Angels, who could also make him a qualifying offer for 2022 worth about $19 million. Moreno might have to pay above Iglesias’ already lofty market value to retain one of best things to happen to his pitching staff in many years.
SHORT AT SHORT
The Angels’ offseason needs likely also include a major league-quality shortstop after they dropped ineffective Jose Iglesias last month. The free-agent market is deep, with the likes of Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Javier Baez and Trevor Story all possibly available to be lured by Moreno’s money – which might be better spent on starting pitching, if not for Moreno’s well-documented love for mid-career sluggers.
Ohtani is tied to the Angels for at least two more seasons, and he said he’s open to extension talks this winter. No matter the long-term future, the Angels are fortunate to have Ohtani for two more years of his prime.
”Everything that he did this year, is just going to permit him to have even more confidence next year, so I wouldn’t ask him to do anything else,” Maddon said. ”I would like to see him replicate it and add some more innings next year. That’s about it.”
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