Shohei Ohtani is coming to the United States, but he isn’t playing in Seattle, New York or San Diego, like many thought that he would throughout the course of this young offseason. Rather, Ohtani is coming to Los Angeles — and not for the team that wears the blue or the white.
Ohtani’s agents at CAA Sports announced on Friday that Ohtani has made his decision. In a shocking twist, Ohtani will be signing with the Los Angeles Angels, who are now required to pay the $20 million posting fee and his signing bonus, which will not exceed the $2.315 million in their international bonus pool.
Explaining Shohei Ohtani
In case you haven’t heard, Ohtani is a Japanese sensation who has just about taken the spotlight for the entirety of the offseason. (If not for Giancarlo Stanton, there would be no story talked about more than his.) Not only can he throw 100 MPH on the mound, he can also hit 450-foot home runs at the plate.
Ohtani sent a survey to all 30 teams to obtain information about each of the organizations’ plans before narrowing his field down to seven teams—the Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Cubs, Rangers, Padres and Angels — with whom he met while visiting the United States in Los Angeles.
With just a $22 million investment, Ohtani was a “risk” that just about every team was willing to take. On a completely open market, he could have easily earned $200 million. For comparison, Masahiro Tanaka — who just pitched, let alone pitched and hit, at the Japanese professional level — commanded $155 million from the Yankees in 2014.
Since money was not an obstacle, Ohtani’s choice was purely upon where he felt the most comfortable.
How the Angels got Ohtani
One agent told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, “[Angels GM Billy] Eppler made this happen. [It was] 100 percent all him. He has been on Ohtani since he was in high school, and I will bet that he absolutely crushed the presentation. This is a credit to him.” Eppler, as Rosenthal noted, visited Japan while working with the Yankees and after becoming the Angels’ GM in October 2015.
Many reports throughout Ohtani’s process suggested that he was only interested in playing for a West Coast, small-market team. The Angels certainly fit the bill for the first qualification, but they still pull from one of the largest markets in the Major Leagues. (The Los Angeles area is very densely populated.)
In CAA’s statement, however, they flatly denied this claim:
While there has been much speculation about what would drive Shohei’s decision, what mattered to him most wasn’t market size, time zone or league but that he felt a true bond with the Angels. He sees this as the best environment to develop and reach the next level and attain his career goals.
Of course, it does not necessarily matter how the Angels got Ohtani or why he decided to sign there. This process was entirely in his hands, and because money was not a decisive factor here—making it a very unique situation—he truly could go to the team and city he felt most comfortable with. And that just happened to be the Angels.
Ohtani’s expectations are high
This is definitely the most exciting topic of discussion for the Angels and their future. At a minimum, Los Angeles will control Ohtani through the 2023 season, assuming he spends the entire year in the Major Leagues next season, which I’d imagine that he will.
Do you know what this means?
Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani will be in the same lineup for at least the next three years. I’m excited.
Trout’s reaction to the signing was simple, yet it said everything that we needed to know.
— Mike Trout (@MikeTrout) December 8, 2017
The hope is that Ohtani will pan out at least on one side of the ball, if not both. His debut will be among the most highly anticipated in recent Major League memory, but if he even comes close to putting up the numbers in the U.S. that he produced in Japan, the Angels should be very excited about their lineup for next year. I will say, though, we don’t really know where he will play on his days off from pitching (the outfield appears to be off limits for now).
No matter what, though, Ohtani will be an immediate upgrade. Angels hitters were worth just 16.6 fWAR last season, ranking 17th in the Major Leagues. Their starters were worth just 5.5, ranking 26th.
The team still came together pretty well and competed for an AL Wild Card spot, with an 80-82 record that came just five games short of the Twins. Ohtani certainly doesn’t make them a surefire playoff team, but at a minimum, they will be improved. More upgrades will certainly be necessary, especially if they want to compete with the Astros, who, unfortunately for them, are in their division.
Ohtani carries special value because he can both start and get 400 plate appearances. According to FanGraphs, a player is considered to be “good” if they produce anywhere between 3-4 WAR. So, Ohtani would need to produce some sort of combination of pitching and hitting value to reach this level.
Here are Shohei Ohtani’s projected 2018 stats from Dan Szymborski, who runs the ZiPS projection system:
Shohei Ohtani, 2018 pitching projection
Shohei Ohtani, 2018 batting projection
These numbers might seem a bit underwhelming, but they remove some of the hype and project an objective look at him. Obviously, the ceiling is way higher than this and could really boost his value. Regardless, with almost no risk, this deal is absolutely worth it for the Angels.
The Angels finally want to contend with Trout
The Angels have a once-in-a-generation type player in Trout, but they have made the playoffs just once since he broke into the big leagues — in 2014, when the Royals swept them in the ALDS.
Many have called upon the Angels to use some of their financial strength to try to build a team around Trout. They’ve brought in Justin Upton, but their weak farm system, poor pitching staff and overall lack of depth has kept them from consistently making the playoffs, even with baseball’s most valuable player on their team.
Signing Ohtani changes things for the franchise. It signals a larger commitment to winning. One could argue that Los Angeles was “lucky” to sign him because they could not offer any real incentive over the other 29 teams, and while that may be true, their strong pursuit is an obvious sign that they are serious about contending into the future. They must now back that up with more money and more deals.
Trout becomes a free agent in three years, potentially serving as a ticking clock for Los Angeles’ World Series hopes. Ohtani won’t just figuratively increase these chances — the Las Vegas casinos actually changed the Angels’ odds of winning the 2018 World Series from 50-1 to 30-1.
We’ll see what Los Angeles decides to do going forward. A lot of questions remain, but Shohei Ohtani certainly makes their team better and more exciting in 2018 and beyond.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.