Shohei Ohtani's value in trade or free agency a complex problem

Shohei Ohtani’s value in trade or free agency a complex problem

The Athletics received four prospects from the Braves this past offseason for Matt Olson, highlighted by Shea Langeliers, one of the better projectable catchers in the minors.

The Reds received a four-prospect package Friday from the Mariners for Luis Castillo, including one of the best in the game, shortstop Noelvi Marte.

So what should the Angels receive if they swallow hard (100 times) and actually trade Shohei Ohtani?

Because Ohtani hits an awful lot like Olson. Ohtani began the weekend with a slash line of .254/.349/.486, 21 homers and a 134 OPS-plus in 413 plate appearances. Olson was at .252/.339/.499 with 20 homers and a 128 OPS-plus in 439 plate appearances. They were similar in 2021, too.

Olson gains points for playing first base while Ohtani is a designated hitter. But Ohtani has 37 steals and 10 triples since the outset of last year while Olson has four steals and zero triples.

Oh yeah, Ohtani also looks like Castillo, just as a pitcher. In 17 starts in 2022, Ohtani had a 2.81 ERA (142 ERA-plus), a slash line against of .210/.256/.347 and was striking out 36.4 percent of batters faced. In 14 starts, Castillo had a 2.86 ERA (160 ERA-plus), a slash line against of .201/.274/.319 and was striking out 25.8 percent of batters faced. Castillo’s track record for pitching full seasons is considerably stronger and longer than Ohtani’s.

Shohei Ohtani is slashing .251/.345/.481 this season.
Shohei Ohtani is slashing .251/.345/.481 this season.
Kyodo News/Sipa USA

Still, Ohtani basically could pitch first in any rotation and beat second in any lineup — and he is one person.

So what do you give up for that person? What would the Angels deem acceptable in a return for arguably the most unique player ever? Especially since Ohtani also might be the most marketable player in the game.

That is part of the Ohtani dilemma. How to play him. How to pay him. How to trade him. He is one human posing multiple conundrums. For the Angels. For the industry. Likely one day in free agency.

As The Post first reported Thursday, the Angels had begun to listen to trade inquiries about Ohtani. And that makes sense. On May 15, the Angels were 24-13 and had the majors’ third-best record, behind the Yankees and Astros. Since then (going into Friday), the Angels were a major league-worst 18-44. Anthony Rendon had been lost for the season. Mike Trout recently was diagnosed with a rare back condition that threatens the rest of his season — and perhaps more than that.

Ohtani has not committed to staying with a franchise that will have made the playoffs once (in 2014) in 13 seasons with no signs they have nearly enough depth of talent to change that any time soon. And Ohtani can be a free agent after next season.

Thus, he is just the type of player (in theory) that this kind of franchise maximizes in a trade market hungering for both his arm and his bat. But that the arm, lefty might and fan appeal all are rolled into one player complicates this — and that would even be for a well-run organization, a category in which the Angels do not find themselves.

Teams that have dealt with the Angels sense general manager Perry Minasian is canvassing the market to see what is plausible, but that no return is going to move owner Arte Moreno to trade Ohtani. Moreno has shown a penchant for purchasing expensive, shiny toys whether it made sense on the age curve or not. Think, one disaster after another, named Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and Rendon. Is he really going to push away from the shiniest toy of all in Ohtani? Is he really going to accept the fan outrage that would come with that choice?

Shohei Ohtani has a 2.81 ERA with 145 strikeouts and 23 walks in 99 1/3 innings so far this season.
Shohei Ohtani has a 2.81 ERA with 145 strikeouts and 23 walks in 99 1/3 innings so far this season.
Getty Images

Maybe a team such as the Padres would be so willing to put so many high-end prospects and controllable young players into one trade that even Moreno would not shun it. What would, for example, the Yankees do to have some version of Babe Ruth II? Or the Mets to reunite Ohtani with the GM who brought him to Southern California, when Billy Eppler was the Angels GM?

But there is sizable doubt that such an offer could be assembled or would be accepted, especially when the Angels can just fact-find now and revisit a trade either in the offseason or next July, before Ohtani’s free agency.

One executive suggested that, with Rendon and Trout down, Moreno would not want to relinquish his last marketable player, Ohtani, during this season. But Rendon and Trout being down should actually motivate a smart organization to move Ohtani.

Rendon hardly came to the Angels with a sterling reputation as a diligent worker, and now his age-31 and age-32 seasons have been injury-filled and underwhelming. Do you envision the next four years are going to carry a great revival?

Sadly, this is the second straight injury-filled year for Trout, who will turn 31 next week. Trout downplayed an ominous report from the Angels’ head trainer, Mike Frostad, that the outfielder would have to manage his rare back condition not just this year, but for the rest of his career.

But consider, if the Angels made Rendon available for nothing but another team’s willingness to take on the four years at $152 million he is owed from 2023-26, I do not believe any club would do that. And I am not sure any club would now assume the eight years at $283.6 million Trout is due after this season. That is $435.6 million of guaranteed dough left for a very dubious duo. It is $73.45 million for each of the next four years, until Rendon’s pact expires.

So even if Ohtani wanted to stay, how do you begin to price the right free-agent value for a combination of one person who can hit like Matt Olson and pitch like Luis Castillo? Is that $40 million annually? Fifty? More?

Even at $40 million, that’s $113.45 million that the Angels would be laying out annually for just three players — two already with huge question marks — before addressing the rest of a roster in need of lots of upgrades for an owner who has shown no desire to exceed the luxury tax.

And Ohtani is risky. He already has needed Tommy John surgery. If he were to need it again, that also would remove him as a hitter for at least a year and possibly would make him just a hitter thereafter (but perhaps an outfielder, too). Can the Angels of Rendon, Trout and so few other assets really take that gamble?

Can any team? Some will. But how do you price that out? On the trade market now, on the free-agent market eventually and when it is all tied to such a marketable player, as well.

That is all part of the Ohtani dilemma. No major leaguer has ever hit and pitched simultaneously to this degree and success. He is just as unique in figuring out how to value that in every market.

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