Shohei Ohtani. Mike Trout. Two of the world’s most talented baseball players will be teammates starting in 2018. On Friday, news broke that the two-way superstar Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels, capping off the dramatic Ohtani sweepstakes.
While the Angels weren’t a complete underdog in the Ohtani sweepstakes, this move came as a huge surprise to the baseball world. Even when the Angels were listed as one of the seven finalists for Ohtani’s services, many believed they weren’t one of the final favorites. The Angels organization released a statement after the news broke of this signing.
The term connectivity was thrown around quite a bit, from both the Angels organization and Ohtani’s camp. It appears Angels general manager Billy Eppler made quite the pitch, along with many other higher-ups in the organization. Every other team’s loss became the Angels’ gain, as they gained six cheap years of a potential star player.
The implications are humongous for the Angels on so many levels. This goes beyond just the talented player that Ohtani is but what it means for the long-term outlook for the club. Here are five reasons why Shohei Ohtani has altered the future of the Angels franchise.
1. Ohtani is really, really good
This could go without saying. Ohtani was a superstar in Japan, by both scouting and statistical aspects. In his five seasons in Japan, in his age 18-22 seasons, Ohtani excelled on the mound and at the plate.
On the mound, Ohtani had a 2.52 ERA in 543 innings, striking out 624 batters in that time. Ohtani’s fastball sits in the upper 90’s and he flashes two plus off speed pitches, while also mixing in a solid curveball and developing changeup. By all accounts, this is a behemoth of a pitcher, who owns all the traits of a power pitcher but also commands his stuff.
Ohtani had limited time at the plate but when he did hit, he slashed .286/.358/.500 and blasted 48 home runs in 1,148 plate appearances. His best season came in 2016, when he slugged 22 home runs and posted a .416 OBP. His main calling card as a hitter is legit raw power, which has some scouts projecting 20+ home runs in MLB.
The uniqueness of Ohtani being a two-way talent is something that we haven’t seen in years. Ohtani has been labeled the Japanese Babe Ruth, which is fitting given his prowess on the field and the fact that we haven’t seen someone hit and pitch like this in nearly a century. For a full scouting report on the potential stardom of Ohtani, you can check out more here.
Ohtani will obviously be a member of the starting rotation, but we don’t know if he’ll be a first baseman or designated hitter. One would assume that the aging and oft-injured Albert Pujols would DH most days, but with Ohtani being on the mound every fifth day, DH would seem to be a better fit for him. Either way, he’ll get his chance to showcase his ability not just as a pitcher but as a hitter too.
2. The Angels needed another young, controllable star
Mike Trout is baseball’s best player and has been since he took the league by storm in 2012. In that same time, the Angels have won exactly zero playoff games and made the playoffs once. Trout has been a one-man wrecking crew, but baseball’s dependency on the full 25-man roster means one player can’t lead a team to the playoffs.
Every team could have used Ohtani on the roster because he’s going to be unbelievably cheap compared to his potential on-field production. With that being said, the Angels have been struggling mightily to surround Trout with legitimate talent for the past half decade, and Ohtani fixes that. Ohtani presents a whole new dynamic to the Angels roster.
With Ohtani, the Angels have two legitimate elite talents on their roster. Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons are very good players in their own right, but adding Ohtani to this roster gives the club six years of cheap control over a potential star. Between those four players, the club now possesses an enviable core and all four are under control for at least three more seasons.
3. Mike Trout may want to sign up long-term with the Angels
There was plenty of debate over whether Trout would want to sign an extension beyond 2020, when his current deal expires. This offseason, Billy Eppler has added Upton to a long-term deal, signed Ohtani, and signed two well-regarded prospects in Kevin Maitan and Livan Soto, both of whom were picked up earlier this week. This gives Trout a pretty good idea that the Angels organization is serious and wants to build a sustainable winner moving forward.
The Upton signing is more focused on the short-term, but the signings of Ohtani, Maitan, and Soto also signal a long-term interest in building a winner. If Trout had any worries about the direction of the organization moving forward, this should ease those concerns. With three years of control left, today’s signing of Ohtani almost certainly increased the likelihood of Trout re-upping with the Angels.
4. The Angels still have plenty of payroll flexibility
So much of the attraction of signing Ohtani had to do with the incredibly cheap price it would take to sign him. The Angels had to pay $20 million for the posting fee to negotiate for Ohtani and will likely pay Ohtani the remaining $2.315 million of their International Bonus Pool Space for the 2017-2018 period.
Ohtani will earn the league minimum for his first three years in the majors, which brings his cost to approximately $24 million. Once he hits arbitration, he could break records for money earned, which could mean something like $50 million earned in his three years of arbitration. Even if that occurs, you’re paying Ohtani roughly $75 million for six of his prime years, coming in his age 23-29 seasons.
This gives the Angels the advantage of continuing to pursue more talent. With a few more holes to fill, this allows the Angels to patch together a few issues, potentially fixing their third base and second base holes. This means an addition through free agency (Neil Walker or Howie Kendrick) or via trade (maybe Cesar Hernandez or Joe Panik?) is likely in the next few weeks.
5. The long-term outlook on the Angels is glowing
There’s already plenty of buzz in Orange County (yes, that’s where the Angels actually play) about the Angels in 2018 and beyond. In the glory days from 2002-2009, the Angels sustained so much success from successfully building through the farm while making shrewd free agent signings. Billy Eppler showed some extreme patience in his first two years at the helm, but it appears to have paid off.
With Trout and Ohtani, payroll flexibility, and a developing farm system, along with owner Arte Moreno willing to spend, the Angels find themselves in a strong position. Throwing this much pressure on Ohtani may be too extreme, but his talent and long-term control opens up so many doors for the Angels.
With a few strong trades or free agent signings, the Angels could find themselves playing postseason baseball in 2018 and beyond.