Angels sign Shohei Ohtani

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.

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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.

Why I Stuck to the Outfield

So since nothing happened with the Giancarlo Stanton trade, I’m going to deliver on my promise and tell a story from my sophomore year of high school in JV Baseball. So at my high school, we had a random long weekend and our catcher was going home to Colorado for break. The problem was we still had a game that weekend but his flight plans were pretty final. I was getting bored playing left field every day and wanted to switch things up, so I volunteered to take his place behind the dish. That was a bad decision on my part.

So before we get into this story, I need to mention the kind of physical state I was/am in. I have AWFUL knees. I inherited them from my mom. My dad, of course, has incredible knees. In fact, he once went for a 6-mile run before learning he had a torn ACL from an accident when he was practicing Brazilian Jujitsu. But I get blessed with my mom’s awful knees. My brother also has the same issues, as it is insanely uncomfortable for us to crouch or stand up from a crouched position. He went to a doctor to get them checked out once, and the doctor told him he had the knees of a 60 year-old (my dad got a similar check-up and was told he had the knees of an 18 year-old. He was in his mid-40’s at the time). So I’m assuming my knee situation is similar to my brother’s.

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Now as I’m sure you can guess, playing catcher can take a HEAVY toll on your knees. That’s why so many catchers often move to first base or DH later in their careers (i.e. Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Mike Napoli). Knee savers do help immensely, it almost feels like you’re sitting on a chair, but I didn’t have my own catchers gear, I had to use the bare minimum that the school had to offer. They did not have knee savers. I sucked it up, though, I hadn’t played catcher since fifth grade, when I was the primary catcher on my little league team and I was excited for an opportunity to return behind the dish. This was a bad move. Now, during warmups for practice, things were going pretty smoothly. I had a much stronger throwing arm than our normal catcher, but that was due in large part to the fact he had a bum throwing shoulder, but he was the best we had behind the dish. I sent a ball sailing over our short second baseman’s head on one throw and the coach said it was fine, the second baseman was late getting his glove up there because he wasn’t used to the ball getting there so soon. Now that I’m done tooting my own horn, it’s time to get to the good stuff: the problems I had.

So finally we did a simulated game. I’m behind the dish and throw down the one finger for our pitcher. He gives the heat and the kid at bat hit a foul ball that caught me in the arm, which of course is unpadded. I got a huge bruise and I felt my throwing arm go numb for a moment. But I was able to walk it off and got back down in the crouch. I threw down the number 1 again. The pitcher nodded and the ball was delivered low and down the middle. The batter foul tipped it, right into my athletic cup. The pointed part of my cup split between my nads and I was down for the count. I tried getting up to walk it off as my teammates laughed their asses off at what happened. I had to go down on one knee and eventually, once the pain started to subside, I had a little chuckle about it, too (you thought the painful part was going to have something to do with my knees, didn’t you? Lesson number 1, expect the unexpected).

The game itself was fine. I only let up one passed ball and didn’t have any issues with foul tips going where they shouldn’t. Thanks to my bad knees, though, I had a hard time throwing out potential base stealers despite having a solid arm. Trying to pop up from the crouch was a disaster and I could almost feel my knees cave in beneath me. It was a weird sight for me because I was the team’s leadoff hitter despite my season batting average of .121 (I had an OBP of .380, I drew a shit ton of walks, at one point walking 7 times in 8 plate appearances). You never see catchers bat leadoff so that kind of screwed with my OCD some. I think I ended up drawing another walk that game and had one of the few times I hit the ball the other way, I was pretty shitty about being a pull hitter. It wasn’t on purpose, just how it worked out for me. It was a flyout right to the right fielder, prompting my coach to say “well that’s going to screw up the spray chart.”

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That wasn’t the last time that I tried a new position and it backfired. Towards the very end of that same season, I was having a rough day. I remember it was May 10, 2012, which was my youngest brother’s birthday (that’s how I remember the exact date so easily). My roommate and best friend had gotten kicked out for poor grades and my own grades were not where I wanted them to be with finals approaching. I wanted to try out a new position to try and take my mind off things. I hopped in to play third base during practice. It wasn’t totally unchartered waters for me, I had been a third baseman for much of my little league career and knew all the responsibilities I would need to take on. I fielded a few ground balls and was feeling pretty good about my abilities at the hot corner. We then started an intra-squad scrimmage that was always the highlight of any practice. One of our players hit an easy ground ball in my direction. That is, it was an easy grounder until it hit the lip of the infield grass. The ball hit the lip, bounced up, and clocked me right in the mouth, ricocheting off my face into the third base coach’s box. That was one of the rare times I heard the head coach swear, as he shouted “oh shit!” as he rushed to my aid. I was bleeding out my mouth and my upper lip had doubled in size. That was the kind of day I was having. After that, I never again complained about being stuck in left field all the time. It was for the best.

Well that ends a painful chapter of my athletic career. Let me know what you thought in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.