TEMPE, Ariz. — Before the Angels signed Mike Trout to a 12-year, $426-million deal in 2019, Arte Moreno spent “a lot of time” with Trout to determine if staying with the Angels was what he really wanted.
He’s still hasn’t gotten to that point with Shohei Ohtani.
Moreno said Saturday, in his first interview with local reporters in more than three years, that he has not had any discussions with Ohtani about his future beyond 2023.
Moreno has said he’d like to keep Ohtani, but it’s going to be up to Ohtani.
“Ohtani has to want to be here too,” Moreno said. “It’s a two-way street. When I started talking to Mike, and I spent a lot of time with Mike, I just said, ‘You have to make a decision. Is this is where you want to be? Is this is where you want your family to be?’ And when we start sitting down with the (Ohtani’s) agent, and Ohtani, he has to figure out if this is where he wants to be.”
Moreno said the Angels haven’t had that conversation with Ohtani, but for his part the Angels are prepared to go over the luxury tax if that’s what it takes.
“We’ve really positioned ourselves well,” Moreno said. “Other than Mike and (Anthony Rendon) after four years, we really have no long-term contracts, so we’ve really positioned ourselves to have financial flexibility.”
While Moreno said he would go over the luxury tax, he also pointed out that the penalties add up each year a team exceeds the threshold. He also said he is not in position to compete in terms of overall payroll with the biggest spenders in the sport.
“If somebody is just going to outspend us by $100 million or $200 million, there’s nothing you can do,” Moreno said. “We’re not in position to lose $100 million. You can’t start losing $50 million or $100 million a year and keep the business.”
The Angels’ payroll this year is around $212 million, which is a franchise record. Although the Angels – or any team that isn’t publicly owned – don’t open their books to reveal their revenue, Moreno said the Angels spend about 60% of their revenue on payroll.
Moreno said this year’s record payroll was simply because he wanted to make sure the Angels were in position to win, even when he was in the process of exploring a sale. Moreno announced in August he was looking to sell the team, and most of the money was spent between then and his January announcement that he was taking the team off the market. He said he didn’t want to leave the team in a bad position if he decided not to sell and then all the available players were already signed to other teams.
“As soon as the season was over, we started looking at players available, by category,” Moreno said. “Any of the holes we thought we had. I told (general manager Perry Minasian), no matter what happens, I want this team prepared to play and win. We invested a lot of money. I just really want to make sure that if I changed my mind that we weren’t, ‘OK, go!’”
The team’s financial outlook was one of a wide range of topics that Moreno discussed in a 30-minute interview with local reporters.
He also discussed how the fans have perceived his ownership. There was significant public backlash from fans who were disappointed when he decided to keep the team.
“I don’t have any social media,” Moreno said. “You always have a vocal minority that are just not going to be happy, no matter what.”
Moreno added that fans may have found out that things weren’t as good under a new owner.
“The reality is any time you sell or do something, it can potentially change the fan experience,” he said, suggesting that a new owner that just paid a high price for a team might raise prices. “One of the things we’ve tried to do is keep everything affordable. From the day I walked in, affordable tickets, affordable concessions. Affordable souvenirs. You can walk around other parks and look at the prices, and look at our prices. The press doesn’t like to talk about it, but we really have an affordable fan experience. Sometimes people want something and they really don’t know. I really want that car and then they have to make the payments.”
Among other topics:
• Moreno said the Angels have increased spending on player development, and will continue to do so. He said Minasian has “basically an unlimited budget” to add players to the minor-league system, and that so far “I haven’t said no to anything” when it comes to additions in terms of infrastructure, staffing or quality of life improvements for minor-leaguers.
• Moreno said Diamond Sports Group did not include the Angels in its recent bankruptcy filing, an indication that it continues to maintain its contract to broadcast Angels games on Bally Sports West. They are contracted to pay the Angels $112 million this season, and so far they have not missed any payments.
• Moreno said he is planning to sit down with new Anaheim mayor Ashleigh Aitken in the next two weeks. Although Moreno did not say if he’s planning to reopen talks about the deal the Angels had with the city under former Mayor Harry Sidhu, he said there are still some plans for ballpark renovations. Moreno said he never spoke to the FBI or any other law enforcement agencies about the corruption case involving Sidhu.
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• The Angels and the city of Tempe are working on plans to upgrade the team’s spring training facility, starting after spring training in 2024, Moreno said. The previous deal was delayed because the bids came in high, he said.
• Moreno would not comment on the status of the wrongful death lawsuit filed against the team by the family of Tyler Skaggs. The family has sued the Angels, claiming the organization knew, or should have known, enough about Skaggs’ drug use to prevent his death in 2019.
• The Angels will have their radio broadcasters again do road games remotely this season, which Moreno said is a financial decision. “We love our radio people,” Moreno said. “They do a great job. We just found the economics of traveling 40,000-50,000 miles is not going to change that experience.”
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