Posted on December 8, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine

Shohei Ohtani

Image via nytimes.com

The biggest free agent on the market has come off the board. After receiving interest from nearly every team, Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani, who plans to pitch and hit in the majors, has chosen to sign with the Los Angeles Angels. The 23-year old Ohtani met with seven finalists over the past week, and on Friday announced that he has agreed to sign with the Angels.

“Shohei is humbled and flattered by all the time and effort that so many teams put into their presentations and sincerely thanks them for their professionalism,” Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, said in a statement. “In the end, he felt a strong connection with the Angels and believes they can best help him reach his goals in Major League Baseball.”

The Angels will pay a $20 million to the Nippon Ham Fighters, Ohtani’s former team in Japan. They will also pay Ohtani a relatively small signing bonus. The Angels can offer Ohtani up to $2.3 million based on the available funds left in their international signing pool. Beyond that signing bonus, Ohtani’s salary will be around the major league minimum for the foreseeable future until he becomes arbitration eligible.

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“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,” said Balelo.” 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.”

The signing is a major coup for the Angels. Ohtani has the potential to be both a frontline starting pitcher and an impact offensive player. He’s expected to take the mound every fifth day and be in their lineup on days he doesn’t pitch. The Angels have needs in both areas that Ohtani will help to fill.

The Los Angeles rotation has been devastated by injuries in recent years. Pitchers like Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker have been unable to establish themselves as the team’s aces because they’ve missed so much time due to injury. It remains to be seen whether Ohtani has the polish to be an ace in the big leagues right away. But he definitely has frontline potential and will give the Angels additional depth in their starting rotation.

If Richards and Shoemaker are able to stay healthy in 2018, the Angels could have an impressive rotation next year with Ohtani now included. Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, and Parker Bridwell are also talented options for the back-end of the rotation. If that group is healthy, the Angels will feel good about their starting rotation in 2018.

It’s a little less clear how Ohtani will factor in as a position player. The Angels already have a formidable outfield with Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun, and Justin Upton, who signed an extension with the Angels earlier this offseason. The Angels could sit Calhoun some days to accommodate Ohtani. The only other option for Ohtani would be the DH spot, which is currently occupied by Albert Pujols. After starting just six games at first base last year, it’s hard to envision Pujols seeing extended time playing in the field. However, living with Pujols playing the field some days is likely an option the Angels will explore.

The Angels now have the best problem in baseball: trying to find the best way to utilize Ohtani’s many talents. His presence could change the shape of the AL West, where the Houston Astros had little competition last season. Adding Ohtani could make the Angels immediate playoff contenders coming off an 80-82 season in 2017. It also makes the Angels one of the most intriguing teams in baseball heading into 2018.

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