Shohei Ohtani's agent indicates Angels superstar will explore free agency
The agent of Los Angeles Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani believes the baseball unicorn has "earned the right" to explore free agency.
Ohtani, 28, is the only player in Major League Baseball who excels as both a pitcher and a hitter, earning an All-Star selection in both categories last season.
He struck out 219 batters in 2022 – the sixth-most in the majors – while also tying for 11th on the home run leaderboard with 34 dingers. His 80 combined home runs over the past two seasons trails only Aaron Judge (101).
The six-foot-four Japanese sensation led all players in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2021, and it took Judge breaking the American League home run record in 2022 to unseat him as number one.
Ohtani will play for a $30million salary this season ahead of what will almost certainly be a record-breaking contract, but agent Nez Balelo gave no indication that his client is leaning towards staying in Anaheim.
When asked if he would be open to negotiating a long-term extension during spring training, Balelo said he is open to anything, but will not make a commitment.
"I've always been open to it," he said. "But there's several layers to this one, and Shohei's earned the right to play through the year, explore free agency, and we'll see where it shakes out."
Asked if that meant a spring training deal was actually unlikely, Balelo was again not willing to go one way or the other.
"I've said it before, I'll say it again – we're taking it one day at a time," he said. "I'm not putting the cart before the horse on this one."
Ohtani has been weighed down by poor Angels teams and has never made the playoffs – something he may be growing tired of.
"He's so competitive, like all great players are, so of course they want to experience the postseason, of course they'd love to be in the World Series," Balelo said. "But is that the deciding factor? I don't know. We'll just have to wait and see.
"Shohei's been here five years, now this is his final year, and now we have free agency, so of course there's gonna be a lot of questions.
"What does he wanna do? Where's he gonna go? All of it. And I've said this so many times and Shohei has said it as well – we really take it day by day, one day at a time.
"I've always wanted him to enjoy this ride that he's on. I've wanted him to embrace it. That's what he's done. We're gonna continue that."
Whoever eventually secures Ohtani long-term will almost certainly have to eclipse the nine-year, $360m benchmark set by Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees this offseason.