The chanting started after Shohei Ohtani stepped on the ramp to head to the clubhouse.
“Sho-hei! Sho-hei!” over and over, from the few dozen Angels fans who made the trip to their spring training camp.
This was the scene after he finished throwing a bullpen on the first official day of workouts for pitchers and catchers this year. Dozens of reporters crowded a corner of a fence to snap photos and video of Ohtani as Angels owner Arte Moreno watched while sitting on a bench a few feet behind him.
Ohtani is undoubtedly the main attraction at the minor league facility. (The Angels are running their camp there as they explore the next steps for constructing a new clubhouse on the Tempe property.)
It wouldn’t be different from any other spring with Ohtani and the Angels, except that it is. Ohtani is eligible to become a free agent after this year and unless he and the Angels agree on an extension, this could be his last spring training with them.
But it’s not something an Angels player hasn’t experienced before — coming into spring training with free agency looming and the baseball world wanting to know whether he would agree to an extension or test the market after the year … Mike Trout.
And Trout this year, in his first news conference of the spring, naturally fielded questions about Ohtani and what he thinks of his future.
“I mean, I’m gonna do whatever I can to keep Shohei here for sure,” he said Wednesday morning before workouts began for pitchers and catchers for the day. “But we’re gonna go out there and play. We’re gonna go out there trying to win.
“I really haven’t talked to Shohei about his future, but he seems like he’s having a good time here.”
Ohtani and Trout will leave Tempe early this year, along with eight other Angels big leaguers, to head for training camp with their national teams for the World Baseball Classic. Trout joked that he’s stayed just a little bit away from Ohtani since they will soon be rivals on the international stage for the WBC.
But the idea of this maybe being Ohtani’s last spring with the Angels is something Trout has thought about.
“You definitely think about, you know, it’s been six years since you’ve been playing and we haven’t been to a playoffs,” Trout said. “If there’s any year that we need to get to a playoffs, it’s this year.”
The Angels have been to the playoffs just once in the last 10 years, in 2014, Trout’s fourth season in the major leagues. They were swept 3-0 in their American League Division Series matchup with the Kansas City Royals.
The Angels have made several moves this offseason, adding depth to their roster and addressing the holes in it. General manager Perry Minasian, manager Phil Nevin and Trout have agreed that the players added for this year make the team better than it was before.
Whether it will be enough after 162 regular-season games remains to be seen.
Being on a winning team is what Ohtani wants for his future and has said so multiple times. If an extension does not happen this spring, how the Angels finish the year could influence his decision.
Trout did not go into his own previous final contract year without working out an extension in the spring — he was eligible for free agency at the end of 2019, but agreed to an extension March 20 of that year.
Although he said he has not spoken with Ohtani about the topic of his future just yet, he told reporters what advice he had.
“I think the biggest thing is just, he’s got to do what’s right for him and what he feels is right,” Trout said. “That’s all up to him. If he feels that staying in Anaheim is the right move, he should do that. And if he thinks otherwise, it’s — I’m gonna do as much as I can to try to convince him to stay.
“He’s got to really sit down and think about it,” he continued. “It’s a big decision for him. It’s probably the biggest one of his life. It’s a difficult decision because for him… if he does stay or if he doesn’t — I don’t like saying if he leaves, but, it’s gonna be different for him. New atmosphere, new people, new teammates.”