Can the Angels promote their on-field product enough to convince Shohei Ohtani to stay?

Take a look at the Angels‘ promotional calendar. There’s plenty of free Shohei Ohtani merchandise. Bobbleheads, a T-shirt, tote bag, even a blanket and a puzzle. In April there are four scheduled items to be given out at home games.

Take a closer look. The last day on the promotional schedule that anything Ohtani-related will be given out is July 1 — a few weeks before the trade deadline.

No one has outright said Ohtani will be traded. Actually, Angels owner Arte Moreno explicitly said in an interview with Sports Illustrated the team would not trade Ohtani while it is in playoff contention. Moreno also told reporters in Tempe, Ariz., on March 18 that extension discussions with Ohtani and his representative had not yet occurred.

Ohtani’s status as an Angel is not guaranteed after this year as the two-way star is eligible for free agency after the season. More to the point, a lot can happen between now and the trade deadline.

The Angels, who haven’t finished with a winning record since Ohtani made his debut in 2018, spent the offseason trying to improve the roster. Their goal, other than changing their own narrative and forming a winning team, is to give Ohtani — who could be the first player in MLB history to receive a contract worth half a billion dollars — a reason to re-sign.

From a business and marketing standpoint, the promotion precaution makes sense.

What happens when a planned player-themed promotional item is scheduled for the second half of the season and the player is traded?

“This is why teams have to be so thoughtful about who they’re going to put on a second half of the season item,” said Jay Deutsch, chief executive and founder of Bensussen Deutsch & Associates (BDA).

BDA works with a number of organizations from retail to sports teams, creating branded merchandise and consulting on release calendars for them. BDA does not do much business with the Angels, most of their work coming with the Dodgers.

Deutsch offered insight into what the branded merchandise industry looks like for MLB teams. (The Angels did not return a request for comment on their promotional calendar.)

“If someone’s in the final year of their contract, if someone is not playing so well, all those things are taken into consideration,” Deutsch said. “So there’s a strategy that teams have to deploy in order to try to make sure that they don’t have that situation take place.”

The 2021 American League MVP already helps rake in plenty of revenue for the Angels just in Ohtani-related advertising and marketing agreements. Roughly $10 million a year that the Angels don’t relish the idea of losing, The Times reported in 2022.

There’s already evidence of potential sponsors being less interested because of the uncertainty.

Excel Sports Management is the agency that helped the team find its jersey patch partner. The agency said that although there were a number of Japanese companies interested in the program, since Ohtani wasn’t guaranteed to be on the team after 2023 and sponsorship is a minimum three-year deal, it made it difficult for many of the Japanese brands to commit.

Ultimately the decision to stay or go will come down to Ohtani, who has said that his priority is winning. And while the marketing department can’t control whether Ohtani stays, the group he takes the field with any given day can certainly try.

Shohei Ohtani congratulates Mike Trout after Trout's home run for the Angels against the Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 23, 2022.

Shohei Ohtani (17) congratulates Mike Trout after Trout’s home run for the Angels against the Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 23, 2022. (Mike Carlson / Associated Press)

On paper, the Angels are an improved team from their 2022 version. They have acquried major league talent to fill the holes in their roster and create depth.

The newcomers include: starting pitcher Tyler Anderson, relievers Carlos Estévez and Matt Moore, infielders Gio Urshela and Brandon Drury and outfielders Hunter Renfroe and Brett Phillips. They join a team returning healthy players to start the season: Anthony Rendon, Griffin Canning, Jared Walsh and David Fletcher, among others.

Ohtani and Mike Trout shared positive sentiments about the new players. Trout said the offseason moves were a “sign in the right direction” and Ohtani said they were “probably the best acquisitions in the past few years.”

Anderson almost pitched a no-hitter against the Angels last June; a moment broken up by Ohtani’s ninth-inning triple (but technically broken up by Walsh in the seventh, a scoring change MLB made after the game).

Anderson found success as a starter, transitioning out of the bullpen out of necessity for the Dodgers. Moore did a similar thing, going for a starter to the bullpen for the Texas Rangers.

Renfroe’s ability is undisputed, MLB Network ranking him the major’s 10th-best right fielder, both for his throwing speed and his power bat.

Phillips, who figures to play more of a backup outfield role, also has proven talent and is fast on the basepaths. Urshela already proved himself as a not-to-be-overlooked third baseman with the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins. His move to the Angels received nods of approval from manager Phil Nevin, who was the Yankees’ third base coach when Urshela broke out there, and Rendon.

The Angels plan to play Urshela at third when Rendon needs rest days, but also elsewhere around the infield in a utility role they also want Drury — who was part of the San Diego Padres’ 2022 postseason run — to assume.

In spring training, Urshela has played at third base and shortstop. Drury has had time at second and third base.

With the exception of Rendon and Trout, the Angels figure to move some of the position players around the field depending on matchups.

And if all those pieces fit, they might avoid being sellers again at the trade deadline.

Former Angel Albert Pujols, who was at spring camp this year as part of his new role as special assistant to the club, highlighted general manager Perry Minasian’s offseason moves and that depth as a key characteristic of any playoff-caliber team.

Moreno, in the Sports Illustrated interview, said, “We expect to be a playoff contender. Everything in our plans putting this team together is about getting to the playoffs.”

Minasian reiterated over the winter and through spring training that the Angels are an improved team, but he has also been realistic about their competition in the American League West.

“There’s not that many rebuilding teams per se, so there is a lot of parity,” Minasian told The Times’ Bill Shaikin. “Our division is really difficult. Houston is the class of the division. Seattle made the playoffs last year. They’re not going anywhere. Texas had a huge offseason, two in a row.”

The Angels haven’t competed in the playoffs since 2014, when they were swept in three games by the Kansas City Royals. Their last postseason win came in 2009.

But there is some reason for hope, to believe Ohtani and Trout might get the chance to play meaningful October baseball.

And maybe, just maybe, Ohtani-related promos will be on the Angels’ calendar another full year.

Projected Angels roster for 2023.

(Los Angeles Times)

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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