For My Next Trick
Juggling a talent like Ohtani is an intriguing problem, and it requires a manager who is both creative and flexible. Does that sound like Mike Scioscia to you? The longest-tenured manager in baseball is known as a someone whose command of a clubhouse is without question, but with just one playoff appearance over the last eight seasons, and with his decade-long contract coming to an end, there’s real pressure for Scioscia to deliver this season.
Scioscia is famous for inspiring loyalty among his players, particularly veterans, and in return he’s famously loyal to his guys, which is why Albert Pujols was allowed to remain smack dab in the middle of the lineup, crippling the offense. On the other hand, when the rotation fell apart and Huston Street and Cam Bedrosian went down with injuries early in the season, Scioscia went to bullpen by committee and coaxed strong seasons out of the likes of Bud Norris and David Hernandez in the bullpen and rookie Parker Bridwell in the rotation.
2018 will present a similarly forced situation. Ohtani’s presence will demand that something be done with Pujols, both offensively and defensively. The make-up of the rotation and the subsequent impact it will have on the bullpen will be unlike any challenge Scioscia’s ever faced. GM Billy Eppler has played hard to Scioscia’s strengths this winter.
With the acquisitions of Ian Kinsler at second base and Zack Cozart at third and the re-signing of Justin Upton in left field to go along with Mike Trout, Andrelton Simmons, and Kole Calhoun, Eppler’s presented Scioscia with an everyday lineup where six guys can expect to play 150 games. All six are above-average defenders (and the infield trio will likely be the best in the league), which means Scioscia won’t have to worry about pinch hitters or defensive replacements. That allows Scioscia to focus on keeping the pitching healthy, where it needs to be.
The good news for Scioscia and the Angels is that the blueprint for utilizing Ohtani does exist. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. Instead, for the Angels, 2018 will be about patience and flexibility. If they can cultivate an environment that helps him realize his full potential, the Angels will finally have a second superstar to partner with Mike Trout.
That is the possibility that the Angels have earned in winning Shohei Ohtani’s powerful commitment. Had he waited just two more seasons, Ohtani would have been free to negotiate a contract well into the $200 million range. Instead, he’ll be making the league minimum for the next few seasons. He chose to make a massive financial sacrifice to be able to play in the major leagues next season.
The Angels should match his sacrifice by doing their utmost to create a successful environment for him. Their willingness to wait for Ohtani’s bat, their willingness to shuffle their rotation to protect his arm, their firmness in giving him adequate rest, and their efforts to help him adjust to life in America will go a long way towards determining Ohtani’s success in America. Mike Trout is the beating heart of the organization, but what Ohtani does over the next few seasons will define the Angels for the rest of the decade.