Agent: Japanese star pitcher-hitter Ohtani to join Angels
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Shohei Ohtani has decided he’s on the side of the Angels.
The Japanese two-way star announced Friday he will sign with the Los Angeles Angels, ending the sweepstakes surrounding his move to the majors in a surprising destination.
Ohtani turned down interest from every other big-league club to join two-time MVP Mike Trout with the Angels, who are coming off their second consecutive losing season and haven’t won a playoff game since 2009.
But the Angels’ combination of a promising young core and a beautiful West Coast location clearly appealed to the 23-year-old Ohtani, who has confounded baseball experts at almost every step of his move to the majors.
Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, issued a statement Friday announcing that the prized two-way player had chosen the Angels over a field of finalists including Seattle and Texas, who could have given him more money.
Balelo said the 2016 Japanese MVP “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.”
Ohtani is expected to be both a starting pitcher and a designated hitter for the Angels, who have said he will get ample playing time. Albert Pujols has largely been a designated hitter for the past two seasons, but the slugger is expected to be healthy enough to play first base more frequently in 2018.
Ohtani listened to pitches from several teams in Los Angeles earlier this week before choosing the Angels, who play about 28 miles from downtown LA in Orange County.
Ohtani was coveted by every team because of his exceptional pitching talent and powerful bat, but also because he represents an extraordinary bargain due to baseball’s rules around international players.
The Angels will have to pay the $20 million posting fee to Ohtani’s previous club, the Nippon Ham Fighters, but Ohtani will not be paid a huge salary. Ohtani will sign a minor league contract and can receive up to $2,315,000 in international bonus money.
Ohtani is likely to have an immediate spot in the front of the rotation for the Angels, who have endured brutal injuries to their starting pitchers for two seasons. Los Angeles’ ostensible ace is Garrett Richards, but he has been limited to 62 1/3 innings over the past two seasons due to major injuries.
Ohtani was 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA this year, but was slowed by thigh and ankle injuries. He hit .332 in 65 games with eight homers and 31 RBIs.
But those numbers don’t indicate the incredible potential seen in Ohtani, whose fastball has been clocked at 102 mph. While he has occasionally struggled with control, Ohtani is widely thought to be a surefire big-league pitching prospect.
The Angels have missed the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons, but Ohtani’s arrival is only the latest in a series of big moves for general manager Billy Eppler.
Shortly after the World Series ended, the Angels secured a five-year, $106 million deal with left fielder Justin Upton, a late-season trade acquisition. Upton is an ideal solution to years of underperformance in left field for the Angels, who have been carried offensively by Trout.
Earlier this week, Eppler bolstered his much-improved farm system by signing 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan, a coveted prospect considered the best of 13 players recently taken away from the Atlanta Braves for violating international signing rules.
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