MLB News

Angels star has ‘earned the right’ to ‘explore free agency’

Shohei Ohtani bats during a spring training workout Friday in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Barring a long-term extension in spring training, Shohei Ohtani‘s future will loom large over the Los Angeles Angels season.

His agent, Nez Balelo, made clear Monday what the absence of a deal might mean.

“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,” Balelo told reporters, per the Orange County Register.

Balelo, who works for CAA Sports, was speaking from Angels spring training in Tempe, Arizona. Per the Register, he spent part of the day talking with general manager Perry Minasian prior to answering reporters’ questions. Balelo didn’t rule out negotiating a deal during the regular season but noted that typically “doesn’t happen.”

“It’s a fine line when you ask a player to go through that during the season,” Balelo said. “Typically it doesn’t happen. I would just say it’s tough to be able to have a discussion that will be so meaningful during the season. It probably makes more sense to table it until the end of the season.”

Balelo’s statement wasn’t a deadline to get a deal done. It also didn’t portend Ohtani’s exit from the franchise in the absence of a preseason extension. But he put words to what has long been assumed: Ohtani exploring free agency next offseason is very much on the table.

Shohei Ohtani bats during a spring training workout Friday in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

A two-way superstar who won AL MVP in 2021, Ohtani enters the 2023 season on a one-year, $30 million contract. He signed the deal in October as the largest ever single-season contract for an arbitration-eligible player. There will be no arbitration next winter. If Ohtani doesn’t have a deal by then, he’ll be free to negotiate with whomever he likes.

Ohtani declined to tip has hand on the subject when speaking to reporters through his interpreter Thursday.

“I haven’t really heard anything about an extension,” he said. “I’m just trying to focus on the season. … As of now, I’m an Angel, and that’s all I want to focus on.”

Minasian likewise declined to take a public stance on negotiations while speaking with reporters earlier in February, before the team left Anaheim for Tempe.

“Obviously, we love Shohei Ohtani,” Minasian said Feb. 4, per the Register. “I believe that all of us, this whole organization, would like nothing more than to see him here for a long, long time. That being said, the same line I always use and you guys know…

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