Arte Moreno Discusses Ohtani, Luxury Tax, Angels Stadium, Ownership

In the wake of Arte Moreno’s decision to abandon plans to sell the Angels, the owner has been somewhat uncharacteristically willing to discuss team matters with the media.  Moreno has already spoken with the New York Post’s Jon Heyman in February and Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci over the last month, and today the Halos owner engaged in his first open Q-and-A with Angels beat writers (including Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register and The Athletic’s Sam Blum) in over three years.

Today’s media session covered some of the same ground as the Heyman and Verducci interviews, though Moreno did confirm that the team is willing to exceed the luxury tax in order to keep Shohei Ohtani in the fold.  The two-way superstar is scheduled to be a free agent after the 2023 season, and with speculation swirling that Ohtani could command as much as $500MM in his next contract, going beyond the tax threshold would seem like almost a necessity for any team serious about retaining his services.

Since Moreno bought the team almost exactly 20 years ago, the Angels have only once (in 2004) surpassed the Competitive Balance Tax limit.  That said, Anaheim has also spent big to extend or sign the likes of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero, Anthony Rendon, and several other marquee names, so Moreno is no stranger to paying for premium talent.

The Angels are projected for roughly a $226.7MM tax figure in 2023, under the $233MM CBT threshold.  Moreno was non-committal about the idea of exceeding the tax this season, but said that “if we’re in it at the [All-Star] break, I want to be able to have enough cash to pick up somebody.”  In terms of future CBT commitments, Moreno felt “we really positioned ourselves well” to potentially retain Ohtani, and Moreno noted that “after four [remaining] years for Rendon, we really have no long-term contracts.  So we have to position ourselves and work to put ourselves in a position to have that financial flexibility.”

Having Trout, Rendon, and Ohtani all on the books through the 2026 season (when Rendon’s deal is up) would mean that those three players in all likelihood take up at least half of the Angels’ room under the tax threshold.  That seems to be a bridge Moreno is willing to cross, though quite a bit of work seemingly has to be done before an Ohtani extension becomes a reality.  Moreno said the team hasn’t yet spoken with Ohtani and his camp about future plans, and the owner noted that “Ohtani has to want to be here, too. It’s a two-way street.”

When we started talking to Mike [Trout], I spent a lot of time with Mike.  I just said, ’You have to make a decision.  This is where you want to be.’  This is where you want your family to be.  We started sitting down with the agent.  And Ohtani, he has to figure out if this is where he wants to be.

Moreno said that the Angels were likely to spend over 60 percent of their revenues on payroll this season, and the team’s current approximate payroll of $212.1MM is a new club record.  Beyond these expenditures, Moreno said that GM Perry Minasian has “basically an unlimited budget to try and build our minor-league system.  So those guys get cut, and we try to sign minor-league deals with them.  Continue to build the depth.”

Anaheim’s busy offseason was seen as a little bit of a surprise, given how teams seemingly on the verge of being sold are sometimes in a bit of roster limbo until the ownership question is settled.  That said, Moreno took the opposite route, saying that “we never stopped doing anything” despite the talks with potential buyers.  “I was communicating with [Minasian] almost every day….I told him, no matter what happens, I want this team prepared to play and win.  We invested a lot of money.  I wanted to make sure that if I changed my mind that we were, ’OK, go.’

This stance speaks to Moreno’s customary aggressiveness in trying to field a winning team, though obviously those efforts have been in vain through seven consecutive losing seasons.  Moreno denied the common perception that he is too hands-on with his front office’s moves, saying that “every player that we’ve ever signed has been with a discussion of the general manager all the way through….If there’s a decision that Perry wants to sign someone, if we’re going to negotiate and we want to get a deal done, I need to be there because I need to make the call or [else] he’s running back and forth. He and I talk about the money before we make any decision.”

The fact that Moreno approached the offseason thinking he might eventually opt to keep the Angels likely speaks to his reticence about a sale, and his ultimate decision to take the team off the market.  Moreno left the door open to possibly sell a minority share in the club at some point, but “I do not have a successor” in mind as the Halos’ next owner.

The club’s future at Angel Stadium (and perhaps in Anaheim altogether) was also a topic of discussion, given how back in May, the Anaheim city council voted against an agreement that would’ve seen the city sell the 150 acres of land surrounding the ballpark to a Moreno-owned management company.  Moreno said he will soon be meeting with newly-elected Anaheim mayor Ashleigh Aitken “and we’re going to work with that administration” in regards to whatever next steps might come with the ballpark and development situation.

The Angels’ lease at the stadium runs through the 2029 season, and the team can also exercise an option to extend that least through 2038.  Moreno didn’t offer any comment on the idea of a potential move, saying “We’ve been there a long time, and we’ll see what happens.”

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