Coveted 2-way phenom Ohtani picks Angels

December 8th, 2017

ANAHEIM -- In perhaps the coup of the offseason, the Angels have emerged as the winner of the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes.

Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo of CAA Baseball, released a statement on Friday revealing that the Japanese two-way phenom has chosen to join the Angels following a wild courtship from all 30 Major League teams. The club introduced Ohtani at a news conference at Angel Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

"This morning, after a thorough, detailed process, Shohei Ohtani has decided to sign with the Los Angeles Angels," Balelo said in the statement. "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. 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 23-year-old Ohtani, who starred as a right-handed ace and a left-handed slugger in Japan, became the most coveted free agent this offseason after being posted by the Nippon-Ham Fighters last week. The Angels were among seven finalists who were selected to meet with Ohtani, and they made their pitch to him on Monday in Los Angeles.

In an interview with the team-owned radio station KLAA 830 AM on Friday night, general manager Billy Eppler said he was joined at the presentation by manager Mike Scioscia, owner Arte Moreno, assistant GMs Steve Martone and Jonathan Strangio, team president John Carpino, director of player performance and sports science Bernard Li and massage therapist Yoichi Terada, who also assists the club with cultural assimilation and translated for the Angels.

Eppler also said star center fielder Mike Trout, who was on the East Coast preparing for his wedding this weekend, called via FaceTime to speak with Ohtani.

"[Trout] says, 'I'd be out there, but you know I've got a wedding coming this week, so I've got a lot of people to keep happy. But I wanted to get this opportunity to talk to you,'" Eppler said.

"After the fact, Trouty calls me, he goes, 'What's he like?' I go, 'You know, his presence is a lot like you. He's very simple, he's very humble.' That was my takeaway from this guy, and we felt really good about him. He just wants to be a baseball player, and he wants to be a good one. Obviously we're excited to get him here and really get an opportunity to watch him continue to develop on a Major League level."

Ohtani wore No. 11 in Japan, but that number has been retired by the Angels for Jim Fregosi. On Friday night, the team tweeted a video of a jersey being made with Ohtani's name an No. 17 on the back.

The Mariners, Rangers, Dodgers, Padres, Cubs and Giants were the other finalists in the Ohtani chase.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels shared his thoughts on Ohtani's decision on Friday evening: "We're disappointed we weren't Shohei Ohtani's choice, but wish him the best in Anaheim. He impressed us on and off the field at every turn. However, had he asked our opinion, we would have suggested the National League."

The Angels are expected to use the remaining $2.315 million of their international bonus pool to sign Ohtani, and they will pay an additional $20 million posting fee to the Nippon-Ham Fighters. Eppler twice made trades to bulk up the club's budget in an effort to woo Ohtani, including acquiring $1 million in international slot money from the Twins in exchange for outfield prospect Jacob Pearson earlier this week.

Still, money wasn't expected to be a deciding factor in Ohtani's selection, as he could have likely commanded a $200 million contract had he waited two years before coming to the United States as an unrestricted free agent. Because he is under 25, Ohtani is subject to international signing rules, which capped his potential signing bonus at $3.557 million.

"I think he felt that there was a family-like atmosphere [with the Angels] and something that he was wanting to and willing to be a part of for a lot of years to come," Eppler said. "I think it was his comfort level with us and not only just the plan that we put together for him, but just the overall vibe of the organization."

Ohtani will join at the top of the Angels' starting rotation, which will now be anchored by the two hard-throwing right-handers. The Angels are also expected to insert Ohtani into their lineup as a part-time designated hitter, giving the Halos a left-handed power bat to complement Trout and .

Eppler said the details of a two-way plan will be worked out in consultation with Ohtani.

"I'm not going to dive into specifics on the plan, only because the plan that we put forth for him was derived off his historical workloads in [Nippon Professional Baseball]," Eppler said. "The most important participant in the plan, it's going to be Shohei. It's going to be how he is accustomed to developing and how he is accustomed to his own workload management. He's going to really be an active participant in this plan."

Albert Pujols, who has spent the offseason focused on improving his conditioning, is projected to play more first base next season to create more at-bats for Ohtani.

"I think we'll just see how Albert feels when he gets into [Spring Training]," Eppler said. "I've had positive feedback from our guys who have been around him. I think Albert is embracing an entire winter where he can get into a more accustomed offseason routine for him. I do know Albert likes playing first base. He probably would have played more first base in the last two years, but he didn't really have an opportunity to work out at his accustomed level in the previous two seasons. He was always showing up to Spring Training with the mindset of getting in better shape in Spring Training. I think this winter we'll just keep an open mind when he shows up and see how much he can handle over there."

Ohtani was in line to make an international splash last spring in the World Baseball Classic, but a right ankle injury prevented him from participating. The injury sidelined him for the first half of the season in Japan -- and kept him off the mound for all but five starts -- but he is a scout's dream, with a fastball that hits 100 mph and a slider that compares to MLB's best.

In 2016, his most recent full season, Ohtani posted a 1.86 ERA with 174 strikeouts in 140 innings while hitting .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers in 382 plate appearances as a part-time DH.

In limited duty this year, Ohtani still whiffed more than a batter per inning on the mound while posting a .942 on-base plus slugging percentage at the plate. He recently underwent successful surgery on his injured ankle and is expected to be 100 percent for Spring Training.