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It’s Been A Very Bad Few Days For The Angels

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 04: Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels walks to the dugout after being replaced during the sixth inning against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on July 04, 2023 in San Diego, California.
Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images

The very nature of a baseball season is designed to lessen the sting of any one loss. As long as the sun is out and a chill is still absent from the air, there is a lot of baseball left to be played. Everyone's got time. Plenty of time! This does not hold true for the Los Angeles Angels, for whom time is running out.

Every Angels loss drips with dread, because each one brings the organization closer to a future without Shohei Ohtani. This has been the case for more than five seasons now, ever since Ohtani signed with the Angels, emerged as the most unique and spectacular player in the history of the game, and repeatedly missed the playoffs. He'll be a free agent this winter, and the Angels' last, best hope of convincing him to stay is to make a deep run into the postseason—to prove to the best player in the world that he can win in their uniform.

Things suddenly aren't going so well on that front. Following a good stretch that had the Angels right in the playoff hunt as the season's halfway mark approached, everything has gone wobbly. The Angels have lost seven of their last 10 games, including the 8-5 drubbing they received from the Padres Tuesday night. If each Angels loss is another grain of sand passing through the hourglass, then the one they suffered on Tuesday felt more like a hammer smashing the whole thing. Not only did the Angels lose a game that Ohtani started on the mound, they also lost Ohtani. He exited the game in the sixth inning after giving up back-to-back homers because a blister had formed on his middle finger. Angels manager Phil Nevin explained after the game that this was the same finger on which Ohtani's fingernail had cracked during his previous start, and that the blister was probably caused by an acrylic nail that the training staff had put on the finger to try and minimize the effect of the crack.

The good news for Ohtani and the Angels is that a blister shouldn't harm his ability to hit, and that he can take a long, hopefully restorative layoff between now and his next start thanks to next week's all-star break. The bad news is that Ohtani's not the only Angel dealing with an injury. On Tuesday morning, the team announced that Mike Trout, the other all-time great whose career the Angels seem intent on wasting, had fractured the hamate bone in his left wrist while fouling off a pitch in the eighth inning of Monday's game. And then, in the fourth inning of Tuesday's game, Anthony Rendon had to leave the field after fouling a ball off his shin. Rendon left the stadium on crutches and told reporters, "It's not looking good."

So what the hell do the Angels do now? They are 45-43, seven games out of the division lead, three games out of a wild card slot, bitten by injuries, and the trade deadline is in less than a month. Ohtani's departure in free agency feels more inevitable every day, and so now the Angels are left with a choice: Do they put their heads down and keep pushing for the playoffs, despite the injuries and recent bad form, or do they get the tourniquet and saw out now and commence the ugly work of willingly ridding themselves of an actual baseball god?

I suppose the smart answer is that the Angels should get something in return for Ohtani while they still can, but I don't think it's that simple. Ohtani is so good that he warps not just our common understandings of what baseball players are capable of, but what they are worth to their teams. There is no conceivable trade package that would be a fair return for Ohtani, and there are few things more appealing to a fan than the chance to see Ohtani play every day. The Angels could certainly find a trade partner if they wanted to, and set themselves up to be a more competitive team going forward with the right haul of established players and prospects, but is a rosier future without Ohtani worth more than a bleak present with him? If we were talking about any other star player, the answer would almost certainly be "yes," but Ohtani is not normal. Every day that Angels fans get to see him wear their uniform, and count him as their player, is a gift with a value that is not replicable. How do you willingly give that up, even when you probably should?

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