Finally, the first domino of the MLB offseason has fallen. After the Marlins traded Dee Gordon to the Mariners for a bunch of prospects, it seemed like only a matter of time before the floodgates opened. Well, they have, as the Anaheim Angels have signed Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani just a day after Gordon was traded. Ohtani is probably the most intriguing player to come out of Japan since Ichiro mainly because of the prospect of his being a 2-way player. Not only can he hit 100 mph with his fastball on the mound, but he is also very capable of hitting a baseball a very long way.
Ohtani has been a professional baseball player for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the Japan Pacific League since he was 18 years old. When he wasn’t pitching, he was playing the outfield there. His best all-around season was easily his 2016 season, as he hit .322 with 22 home runs and 67 RBI, while on the mound he went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and struck out 174 batters over 140 innings. So naturally, when it was made public that he had intentions to play overseas in the United States, Major League Baseball got interested.
It was a very interesting signing process, as Ohtani would tell several high profile teams that he didn’t want to play for them, most notably the Red Sox, Yankees, and Twins, all of whom made the postseason in 2017. He even put the Phillies in a bodybag with this comment.
There was some backlash from fans and some members of the media, many of whom criticized Ohtani for being arrogant and seeming to not care so much about winning. Eventually, he narrowed his list down to 7 teams: the Angels, Mariners, Padres, Dodgers, Cubs, Rangers, and Giants. Last I had heard, it appeared that the Mariners were the frontrunners to acquire the talented star, which didn’t surprise me as the Mariners had always been a preferred destination for Japanese players, as it is the closest team to their home country (Ichiro and Kenji Johjima come to mind as well as a few others whose names I’m spacing on). This was as recently as Friday morning, just hours before it was reported he was signing with Anaheim.
Earlier Friday afternoon, Ohtani had made his decision and will be signing with the Anaheim Angels (I refuse to call them the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim after all these years because that’s stupid. They’re in Anaheim. They’ve been called the Anaheim Angels. What’s the point of putting Los Angeles in front?). Reportedly one of the deal makers for Ohtani was a Facetime call with Angels superstar outfielder Mike Trout, who couldn’t meet in person because his wedding is today. It’s unknown what Trout said, but it must have been really convincing because the Angels were never really considered to be favorites to land Ohtani. The most in international bonus money they can offer is around $2.3 million, which is significantly less than what the Mariners and Rangers could have offered. Ohtani’s booking fee is less than the likes of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish, luckily for the Angels, as it’s only around $20 million, whereas the former two had booking fees of around $50 million each. As of right now, we don’t know what his actual contract is going to be, but I doubt it’s going to be anywhere near what other Japanese superstars have gotten based on the most recent CBA.
So where does Ohtani fit in with the Angels? It’s hard to say, really. They’d be fools not to give him a chance to be a two-way player so it will certainly be intriguing to see how manager Mike Scioscia decides to use him. He’s battled injuries throughout his career in Japan so he’s a guy they may want to keep a close eye on health-wise. I have a feeling that being a two-way player may have something to do with his injury history and it could impact him greatly in the Major Leagues. I think after enough DL stints, Scioscia will decide enough is enough and have him stick to one or the other. But for the beginning of the year, at least, he will more than likely do both. It’s likely that he will be in the starting rotation for much of the year and in games he doesn’t pitch in, we could see him DH for the Halos, allowing him to go through a normal regimen for a starting pitcher while also getting a few hacks in. I doubt he’ll see much time in the field, as the Angels already have one of the better outfields in baseball, with Mike Trout in centerfield, Justin Upton in left, and Kole Calhoun in right. Albert Pujols is currently the DH but the only reason he’s still on the roster right now is because of that monstrous contract. If Scioscia really wants to keep him in the lineup, that will likely bump the incumbent CJ Cron from his duties at first base. It seems that Cron is the odd man out in this situation and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him traded sometime in the near future. Cron is only 27 years old and is making the Major League minimum right now, so you can bet there will be teams calling GM Billy Eppler about him. Here’s what the Angels lineup would look like with Otani:
1. Andrelton Simmons-SS
2. Mike Trout-CF
3. Shohei Ohtani-DH/P
4. Albert Pujols-1B
5. Justin Upton-LF
6. Kole Calhoun-RF
7. Luis Valbuena-3B
8. Martin Maldonado-C
9. Jefry Marte-2B
That has the potential to be a very formidable lineup. It’s also worth mentioning that on days that Ohtani is pitching, the Angels could decline their option to use a DH and have him bat for himself. People often forget the DH in the AL isn’t mandatory, it’s an option that’s given to each team, but naturally they use it because most pitchers aren’t exactly Shohei Ohtani with a bat in hand. As for the starting rotation, it would look something like this:
1. Garrett Richards
2. Shohei Ohtani
3. Matt Shoemaker
4. Tyler Skaggs
5. Andrew Heaney
Not as formidable-looking, but it has the potential to be very good if these guys can stay healthy (which has been a MAJOR issue for this bunch the last couple years). Personally, I think Ohtani is better as a pitcher, as his fastball can hit as high as 102 mph with a splitter/sinker that just falls off the table at the end. He was also most consistently good as a pitcher in Japan, as his highest batting average outside of his 2016 season is .274, while his ERA has consistently been under 3 since his rookie year. The main issue for this kid has been health, as he missed a large chunk of his 2017 season due to injury. But when healthy, this is what he can do (just a heads up, it’s long as shit, about 22 minutes).
So that ends one of the more interesting free agent sagas of recent memory. Once the details of his contract are finalized, we can get back into focusing on what other high profile players will do, which I’m chomping at the bit for because the highest-profile free agent to sign with a new team so far is Doug Fister with the Rangers. Not exactly what I’d call earth-shaking.
Also, what is the deal with the spelling of his last name? Every site I go to that talks about this guy, they either spell his last name “Otani” without the ‘h’ or “Ohtani” with the ‘h.’ For this blog, I went with the ‘h’ because that was how it was spelled on the back of his jersey in the video I embedded. But seriously, try googling both spellings. Google doesn’t correct you for the wrong one. If anybody knows why that is, PLEASE tell me, because it is so confusing to me.
So this is what a Saturday is like without college football picks. I know, I did promise I would do a whole Army-Navy segment before, but when I got to writing it, I came to the realization that I don’t know nearly enough about them to do the kind of blog I wanted to do. Then Ohtani signed and I felt that would take precedent. Fear not, I will still pick that game.
Projected Score: Navy 20 Army 17
Sorry West Point, but the Midshipmen regain bragging rights after losing last year for the first time since 2001. But it’s going to be a quick game as neither team commits many penalties and there is a LOT of running the football and very few reasons to stop the clock.
That’s my semi-double-blog for this week. What do you think of the Ohtani signing? How about your thoughts on the Army-Navy game? Let me know in the comments section below and on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.