USA TODAY Sports Weekly
Trout’s persuasion plan targets Ohtani
TEMPE, Ariz. – Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout answered questions for nearly 15 minutes when he reported to spring training, and all but about 12 seconds, it seemed, was spent talking about Shohei Ohtani.
Oh, how times have changed.
It was four years ago when Trout was the talk of the town, with questions circulating about his future before signing a 10-year, $360 million extension with two years and $60 million still remaining on his contract.
Trout signed the contract extension believing the Angels would be a perennial contender and perhaps have a couple of World Series rings on his hands before he retired.
Well, the Angels haven’t come close to sniffing the playoffs since that landmark contract, and if they have any chance to do so in the future, they badly need to keep Ohtani, the biggest star in the game who’s a free agent in nine months.
So Trout, a three-time American League MVP award winner, is taking it upon himself to be the greatest salesman he can possibly be by convincing Ohtani that good times really are ahead for the Angels.
“I’m going to do everything I can to keep Shohei here for sure,” Trout says.
The best way to do it, Trout says, is quite simple.
Win baby, just win. “Winning this year,” Trout says, “to get into the playoffs, I think that will make a difference for sure, definitely putting it in the back of Shohei’s mind that we’re here to compete.
“We’re going out there to win. We definitely have a good team.”
Win, and the Angels improve their chance to keep Ohtani.
Lose again, and Ohtani may be sprinting out that door.
The Angels haven’t been competitive in seven years, finishing a combined 161 games out of first place and only once finishing higher than third place in the American League West.
Trout hasn’t been to the postseason since 2014 and has never won a playoff game.
“You definitely think about it,” Trout says. “It’s been six years now since we’ve been playing (together with Ohtani) and we haven’t been to the playoffs. … It sucks losing. Everybody hates losing.
“If there’s any year we need to get to the playoffs, it’s this year.”
Angels owner Arte Moreno says he shares the same sentiment. They started spending immediately this offseason, even after Moreno put the club on the market. They didn’t acquire any of the marquee free agents but grabbed lefthanded starter Tyler Anderson, potential closer Carlos Estévez, veteran infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Brett Phillips and traded for veteran outfielder Hunter Renfroe and infielder Gio Urshela.
Trout, 31, isn’t predicting a World Series title by any means but made it clear that anything less than a playoff berth would be a huge disappointment after the moves made by general manager Perry Minasian, with Moreno deciding to keep the team after all.
“When the word first came out that he was selling the team, it was kind of a shock to me,” Trout says. “The question going into the offseason was, ‘What are we going to do? Are we going to go get people, or are we just going to sit still and not do anything?’
“But once I saw Perry making moves and trying to make the team better, which he did, kind of got a little sense that he wasn’t going to sell the team. It’s good to have Arte back. He was committed to making the team and the roster better and we’re not done. We’re definitely a lot better than we were last year.
“I feel really good about this year.” Ohtani’s free agent decision will go a long ways into determining just how Trout feels about the Angels’ future.
Moreno has also made it clear that he wants to keep Ohtani around, no matter the price. Ohtani should set a major league record by receiving at least $50 million a year if he hits free agency, perhaps totaling as much as $500 million, but Moreno has always loved star players. He signed Albert Pujols, Anthony Rendon and Josh Hamilton without blinking.
Besides, Ohtani is a cash machine, generating at least $20 million a year for the franchise in licensing and merchandise sales alone.
“I’ve got a great relationship with Shohei over the years,” Trout says. “Obviously, what you see on the field is remarkable. What a great teammate. What a great friend. Even (interpreter Ippei Mizuhara), too. Just the way they’ve treated everybody with such a superstar status with respect.”
Trout doesn’t pretend to know what Ohtani is thinking about his upcoming free agency but certainly believes that Ohtani enjoys himself in the laid-back environment in Anaheim. He has expressed some frustration, but certainly no anger or resentment that he has yet to play in the postseason.
“He’s got to do what’s right for him and what he feels is right,” Trout says. “That’s all up to him. So, if he feels like staying in Anaheim is the right move, he should do that. If he thinks otherwise, I’m going to do as much as I can to convince him to stay.
“He’s really got to sit down and think about it. It’s a big decision for him, probably the biggest one of his life. It’s a difficult decision for him, if he does stay or doesn’t.
“I don’t even like saying it, if he leaves, but it’ll be different for him, new atmosphere, new people, new teammates. But I will do everything I can to keep him here.”
Trout realizes he can possibly make a huge difference in Ohtani’s decision simply by his performance. He has missed 169 games the past two seasons, with calf and back injuries, but when Trout is on the field, he continues to dominate. He managed to hit 40 homers with 80 RBI last season in 126 games.
“I’m really looking forward year,” he says.