I think, perhaps, humans are biologically wired to resist the recognition that life is – pardon the cliche – about the journey, not the destination. We occupy our time by striving, convinced that what we want is to reach the plateau, whereas in training, it is better to take advantage of the climb. That’s why having goals makes us happier, but achieving them often leaves people feeling empty.
The illusion of a controllable destination is important for trickery – that is, we are heading towards something other than the inevitable. Accepting that time spent chasing – whatever – is the goal would be to confront our mortality.
So anyway, I don’t think the Angels should trade Shohei Ohtani.
In short, because watching him play baseball games — the ones that bring a team closer to a championship or otherwise – is the Shohei Ohtani experience.
World Series titles are just vanity to take care of. This is the case for all players and all teams and all seasons. The Commissioner’s Trophy is a goal post to make sense of everything leading up to it because watching this stuff is so much fun. In this way, sports are nifty, low-stakes microcosms of human experience. But with Ohtani, you don’t even have to buy into my self-indulgent existential interpretation for this argument to hold water.
The case for his trade at the deadline is based on the Los Angeles Angels’ efforts to build a playoff team. If that’s the goal – and even if you’re the kind of fan who can appreciate the scenic drive, it East the aim of every front office – then an honest assessment of this year’s club would lead you to believe that the focus should be on the future. Even after sweeping the New York Yankees this week, the Angels’ chance of making the playoffs is 13%. Mike Trout is injured. The Angels sit fourth in a division that includes the defending World Series champions and an entirely different team with the fourth-best record in baseball.
And at the end of the season, Ohtani — who leads his team in homers, RBI, stolen bases, triples, OPS, innings pitched, strikeouts and pitching wins (if you care) — will enter the most intriguing and expensive free agency in sports history. The Angels are unlikely to make the playoffs this year and Ohtani is unlikely to have Ohtani in years to come. But if they trade him now, the players they get in return could make future playoffs more possible.
The argument against really boils down to a more intellectualized version of: How can you trade Shohei Ohtani???
Trading it presupposes that the lucid thing to do is to set aside sentimental hesitation to deal with the second coming of Babe Ruth in favor of cold and tough victory priority. The Tampa Bay Rays have stayed relevant — and made four playoffs, going all the way to the World Series, since the Angels last played a playoff game — by following a philosophy that says it’s better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late (or — horror — not at all and watch him walk away, with nothing but a compensating draft pick to show for it). Sometimes in sports, as smart fans and unbiased pundits know, you have to make tough decisions to win.
But, as he so often is, Ohtani could be an exception to the general rule that everything a baseball team does must be in service of a championship. It’s not just that ~the journey is more important than the destination~; is that some regular seasons mean more than being the last team standing. They crown a World Series champion every year, but how often is the greatest player the game has ever seen authored one of the most singularly dominant seasons in baseball history?
Even if the Angels are totally out of the game, Ohtani’s last two months in Anaheim could never be a tree falling silently in an empty forest. And if they traded him, the Angels wouldn’t just move his productivity somewhere else while playing rope on a lost summer. They would deprive their fans of the final chapter of one of the coolest stories in sports.
Ohtani’s many stats — especially the cross section of stats that show how each two-way feat pushes him further into his own realm — are almost numb in their fervor and frequency at this point. But you only need to know that the man who leads all skilled pitchers in batting average against is about to hit nearly 60 homers to realize that the end of this regular season could be something really special. Even Aaron Judge, the American League single-season homer record holder for nearly a year, admitted recently that it would be “exciting for the game” if Ohtani hit his 62 homers.
For everything Angels fans have been disappointed in the past few years, they have a chance to applaud This as another shoulder season draws to a close.
Recently, considering what Angels owner Arte Moreno will do at the deadline, Bob Nightengale reported that Ohtani’s trade would “cost them about $15 million in merchandising, licensing and gate receipts.” He doesn’t explain how he arrived at that number, but even as an estimate, it’s impossible to deny that there’s real value in two months of Ohtani. Familiar wisdom says that impending free agents who pin on walkers leave with their teams having “nothing” going for them. The monetary value attached to Ohtani’s presence proves that to be a mistake.
More than that, Shohei Ohtani’s incredible gift is that his greatness is continuous. How often do we see history being made early enough to fully appreciate it? Every season that Ohtani balances throwing and batting at an elite level, even in the small stratosphere of Major League Baseball, is a chance to do just that.
Despite years of opportunity, the Angels failed to deliver Trout and Ohtani in October. But by not trading Ohtani, they can give their fanbase a regular season for the ages.