LA Angels Need to Make Shohei Ohtani Their Top Priority

TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 19: Starting pitcher Shohei Otani
TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 19: Starting pitcher Shohei Otani /

The LA Angels pitching staff was a mess last season, thanks to injuries and underachievers. On the other side of the ball, the offense was also unimpressive. The team had another subpar season, missed the playoffs, and are stuck with question marks on both sides of the diamond.

The LA Angels need to make a splash in this year’s free agent market.  How better to do it than by landing Shohei Ohtani.

For the first time in decades, there is a player on the open market that can improve a pitching staff and the offense by himself. Get your popcorn ready, the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes have officially begun.

An agreement was made last week about the MLB’s posting system; Shohei Ohtani will hit the market this Friday. Teams will have 30 days to recruit the 23 year-old Japanese superstar and convince him why their organization is the best fit for his career in the MLB. The team that signs Ohtani will pay the maximum $20 million posting fee to his former team, the Nippon-Ham Fighters. However, since Ohtani is under the age of 25, he is only allowed to be offered international pool money. He is not eligible to become an unrestricted free agent until the normal 6 years of MLB service time.

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With the current rules on free agency, Shohei Ohtani becomes one of the greatest bargains in recent memory. He will get paid like a first round pick instead of a star, unrestricted free agent, and he essentially skips the entire minor league system and jumps straight to the MLB. The hype and comparisons on Ohtani suggest he is worth a $200 million contract. He throws fastballs 100 miles per hour and hits balls 500 feet. We just don’t see this type of player in Major League Baseball. Many scouts and people around the league are even calling him The Japanese Babe Ruth.

With the comparisons going as high as Babe Ruth, how great can Ohtani actually be in Major Leagues? Well, in 5 seasons in the Japan League, Ohtani has a  career .286 AVG, 48 HR, and a .859 OPS. He won MVP of the Pacific League in 2016. He stands 6’3” with a smooth left-handed stoke. His swing looks a bit like an inside-out approach, but he has plus power to all fields. He played outfield and was a designated hitter for the Nippon-Ham Fighters. As impressive as he looks at the plate, he looks even better as a starting pitcher in the MLB. Ohtani put together a 42-15 record while averaging a 2.52 ERA, 10.3 K/9, and 1.08 WHIP. Aside from the triple digit fastball, Ohtani also has a nasty slider and a splitter that drops off the table.

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The Japan League is considered one of the top professional leagues outside the U.S., but it is far below MLB talent. There are always question marks about how a player can transition to living in a new country. MLB teams do have international scouts patrolling the Nippon-Ham games, but just like most international players, there are less resources, statistics, and exposure compared to players in America.

With that being said, Japanese players coming from the Japan league have shown success. In 7 seasons in the Japan League, Yu Darvish averaged a 2.15 ERA and 8.5 K/9 with a 93-38 record. Through 5 seasons in the MLB, Darvish has averaged a 3.41 ERA, 11.1 K/9 and WHIP of 1.18. Darvish proved a successful jump to the states. Darvish and Ohtani both played for the Nippon-Ham Fighters their entire Japan League careers. The numbers are comparable, giving more evidence that Ohtani will be capable of making the jump to the MLB next season as a front-line starting pitcher.

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So what would Ohtani bring to Anaheim? Where does he fit? Well, if the Angels decide to make him a priority and he chooses to play at the Big A, he could be the player to throw LA over the hump and into the playoffs next season. Ohtani would immediately be penciled into the starting rotation, somewhere in between Richards and Shoemaker (IF they’re healthy). The young flamethrower has no injury history with his elbow, shoulder or back. Ohtani had ankle surgery back in October, but that shouldn’t interfere with his mechanics or velocity.

On the other side of the diamond, Ohtani will provide a capable designated hitter when Albert Pujols needs a break. Pujols also had a down year in 2017, so the position isn’t locked down to him. Given that Ohtani was able to play outfield in Japan when he wasn’t pitching, there is also a chance he could play some first base. First base has been known to be the spot on the field with the least capable defender (for the most part). Ohtani is also tall enough to play there (6’3”). This could provide the Angels with depth at the position, and could intrigue Eppler with a platoon of Ohtani and CJ Cron.

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Although the sense around the league is that the Yankees, Rangers, Twins, and Mariners could be frontrunners, it is still a 30 team race. Ohtani hasn’t rejected any teams yet, so the Angels would be wise to make the Ohtani sweepstakes their top priority. Billy Eppler has made a blockbuster move each of the past two seasons (Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons). He should prioritize making a Shohei Ohtani signing his blockbuster move of 2018.