Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani will join forces with the greatest player on the planet - Mike Trout and the Los Angeles Angels.
Ohtani on Friday agreed to sign with the Angels, ending a weeklong bidding for his services that included seven finalists, including four of the five teams based in California.
In the end, it was the Angels who will for the next six seasons will enjoy the talents of Ohtani, 23, who was widely regarded as the hottest free agent in this year’s market even before officially being posted by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, which finally happened Dec. 1.
Often referred to as the Babe Ruth of Japan, Ohtani combines a 100-mph fastball and refined breaking ball as a right-handed pitcher with big power potential as a left-handed hitter. He was hampered by ankle and thigh injuries last season but was named the MVP of Japan’s Pacific League in 2016 after going 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA while batting .322 with 22 homers and a 1.004 OPS.
Ohtani’s bargain-basement price also made him appealing to all major league teams, even with the $20 million posting fee attached to him. Because of restrictions on the signing of international free agents, clubs could only offer Ohtani whatever they had left from their assigned bonus money, with the Texas Rangers holding the largest amount at about $3.54 million.
He took a discount to sign with the Angels, who wheeled and dealed to free up more international signing money and can offer him a package worth $2.3 million.
Said Nez Balelo, Ohtani's agent at Creative Artists Agency: “I want to thank the clubs and everyone else for respecting our intent to make this very important process as private as possible. We were resolved to having a fair, methodical process. Teams clearly put in a lot of work, and we are grateful for that.
"The past few weeks also further demonstrated Shohei’s incredible thoughtfulness, attention to detail and determination to make an informed decision. He read every page of every presentation and listened to every word in each meeting, and he was so impressed that it was not an easy choice. 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. More than ever, I believe this is not only a special talent but a man of special character, and like everyone else I’m excited to see him in Major League Baseball.”
Had he waited until turning 25, Ohtani likely would have commanded a nine-figure contract. He’s expected to make up much of that lost revenue in endorsements, rendering Ohtani’s choice of employers more about non-financial considerations than the size of his deal.
Balelo sent a letter to all 30 clubs requesting information on their player-development and medical staffs, facilities, resources to ease Ohtani’s assimilation and the desirability of the franchise, city and marketplace.
Ohtani had made it clear he wanted a chance to perform as both a pitcher and hitter. By Dec. 4 he had narrowed down his list to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, the San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Rangers and Chicago Cubs, suggesting a preference for the West Coast but not necessarily the American League, where he could be a designated hitter.
Four of those teams were in the National League, so his at-bats on days when he doesn’t pitch figure to come as an outfielder.
Now, he'll slot in as a left-handed power hitter between two-time MVP Trout and left fielder Justin Upton, who extended his deal with the Angels shortly after the 2017 season.
Upton, for one, could not contain his excitement.
Ohtani also figures to slide right into a patchwork rotation that kept the Angels in the wild-card hunt into early September. Fellow lefties Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney returned from injury in 2017, as did right-hander Garrett Richards, who has one more season remaining before free agency.
But the notion of Ohtani and Trout joining forces through at least 2020$ is what has the baseball world - and Angels fans in particularly - wowed by this move.