The Angels bolstered their bullpen depth by acquiring veteran right-hander Jim Johnson from the Braves on Thursday while also signaling their intention to make a serious run at Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani.As part of the deal, Atlanta ceded the remaining $1.21 million of its international pool space to the
The Angels bolstered their bullpen depth by acquiring veteran right-hander Jim Johnson from the Braves on Thursday while also signaling their intention to make a serious run at Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani.
As part of the deal, Atlanta ceded the remaining $1.21 million of its international pool space to the Halos, giving the Angels $1.315 million to offer Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese club, the Nippon-Ham Fighters, on Friday. The Angels also sent Minor League left-hander Justin Kelly to the Braves to complete the trade.
"This deal puts us in a stronger position in our pursuit of Shohei Ohtani," Angels general manager Billy Eppler said Thursday. "This money was acquired with an eye toward that."
Because of the international signing caps for players under 25, all 30 teams are restricted in the amount of money they can spend to try to land the 23-year-old Ohtani. The Rangers ($3.535 million) and the Yankees ($3.5 million) can offer the most, though Thursday's transaction vaulted the Angels from the bottom to the top of the pack to the eighth most international bonus money in the Majors.
After he is posted, Ohtani will have 21 days to make a decision. The team he chooses will also have to pay a $20 million posting fee to the Nippon-Ham Fighters. Last week, Ohtani's agency, CAA, reportedly distributed a memo to all 30 teams requesting a written explanation that outlined why he would be a good fit for each club.
Eppler said he believes the Angels' position in the American League could be an advantage in their recruitment of Ohtani, as they could offer him the chance to be their designated hitter on days when he's not pitching. The Angels are hopeful that a full offseason of conditioning will allow the 37-year-old Jose Pujols to play more first base in 2018, which would give them more flexibility to accommodate Ohtani's desire to hit.
Ohtani spent most of the 2017 season sidelined with an ankle injury, but he went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA in 21 games and batted .322 with 22 home runs in 382 plate appearances in 2016. Eppler said the Angels had scouts present at four of Ohtani's five starts this past season.
"He's a very strong player on both the mound and in the batter's box," said Eppler, who has seen Ohtani play in Japan. "We feel that getting an opportunity to put him with our core group is an attractive thing for us, and we hope that he would want to take an opportunity to play along the best player in baseball [Mike Trout]."
For now, the Angels are at least assured of having Johnson's services out of the bullpen next year. After consecutive 50-save seasons in 2012-13, Johnson had a 7.09 ERA in '14 between the A's and Tigers. The 34-year-old had a 3.06 ERA in 2016 but struggled last season with a 5.56 ERA in 61 appearances. He is owed $4.5 million in 2018, the final year of the two-year, $10 million contract he signed with Atlanta last offseason.
Johnson could join Richard Parker and Cam Bedrosian as closing options for the Angels next year, though Eppler said it's also possible the club will open the season without a designated ninth-inning option, an approach they took in 2017.
"With Jim, we know he's pitched in a variety of roles," Eppler said. "We know he can handle high-leverage situations at the back end of the ballgame for strong clubs because he's done that. I don't see us particularly anointing one individual a closer, at least at the outset. I feel that we might approach the 2018 season similar to how we did the 2017 season and let a lot of game situations help drive that decision."
Kelly, 24, was the Angels' 33rd-round Draft pick in 2016 and logged a 4.59 ERA over two Minor League seasons with the organization.
Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.