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The biggest MLB Signing of the off-season, Japanese star Shohei Ohtani chooses Angels over 6 other MLB teams and has chance to be ace pitcher and hitter

The Angels, who already boasted the best player in the majors, are about to add the player called “the Babe Ruth of Japan.”

Shohei Ohtani, who drew comparisons to one of the most iconic major leaguers in history because of his ability to pitch and hit, surprised the baseball world on Friday morning by deciding to sign with the Angels.

In the months leading up to being posted by his Japanese team, Ohtani was widely expected to sign with a high-profile team such as the New York Yankees or Dodgers or a team with a rich history of Japanese players such as the Seattle Mariners.

A right-hander who throws 102 mph and hits tape-measure homers, Ohtani, 23, is expected to try to do both in the majors, which would be an historic achievement.

The Angels now could have two mold-breaking players, in Ohtani and superstar Mike Trout.

“We are honored Shohei Ohtani has decided to join the Angels Organization,” the club said in a statement. “We felt a unique connectivity with him throughout the process and are excited he will become an Angel. This is a special time for Angels fans, the Ohtani family, and (agent) Nez Balelo and the team at Creative Artists Agency.”

The Angels will introduce Ohtani at a press conference on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Angel Stadium. It will be televised by Fox Sports West. The press conference is also open to the public. General Manager Billy Eppler, Manager Mike Scioscia and owner Arte Moreno will be on hand to discuss the signing at that time.

Ohtani was posted a week ago, and within a few days he had narrowed his choice to seven teams: the Angels, Dodgers, Padres, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs.

His agent, Balelo, released a statement on Friday announcing his choice: “While there has been much speculation about what would drive Shohei’s decision, what mattered to him most wasn’t market size, time zone or league but that he 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.”

Eppler, speaking to the Angels’ flagship radio station (KLAA), said he felt Ohtani was swayed by their face-to-face meeting on Monday night in Los Angeles.

“I think he felt some comfort with the organization,” Eppler said. “He felt comfort with Arte Moreno and the things Arte said to him and the things (club president) John Carpino said to him. He felt there was a family-like atmosphere here and something he was wanting to and willing to be a part of for a lot of years to come.”

Ohtani was so coveted because he has the talent to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, as well as the potential to be a major league power hitter. The Angels are expected to use him primarily as a starting pitcher. He could be the designated hitter a few times a week, with Albert Pujols shifting back to first base.

Eppler said the plan of how to incorporate both roles will evolve according to his preferences and needs, with the medical staff keeping a close eye on him to prevent overwork.

“He’s going to really be an active participant in this plan,” Eppler said of Ohtani. “At this moment in time, we’re just thankful to be able to make this union and go forward and watch him make an impact in spring training and see where it goes from there.”

The cost to get Ohtani was minimal, with the Angels limited to paying him a $2.315 million bonus by international signing restrictions. After using most of their allotment for international players, the Angels had to make two trades in the past 10 days to acquire another $2.21 million worth of spending space.

The Angels will also have to pay Ohtani’s Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, a $20 million posting fee, which does not count as part of their payroll for purposes of the luxury tax.

Ohtani now joins the Angels on a minor league deal, just like any other foreign prospect. He will be paid the major league minimum, $545,000, in 2018. He won’t be eligible for arbitration until after at least three seasons. He won’t be eligible for free agency until after at least six.

Having Ohtani changes the complexion of an Angels team that has not made the playoffs since 2014 and has not won a playoff series since 2009.

“Anytime you can add a bat and an arm like his automatically makes us a better club,” starting pitcher Garrett Richards said via text. “I was already optimistic about our club in 2018 and this makes us even more of a threat.”

Ohtani’s most immediate impact is likely to be on an Angels rotation that had been ravaged by injuries in recent years. Richards is the only pitcher who profiles as a true No. 1 starter. He has been hurt for most of the past two seasons, although he is healthy now.

Ohtani had a 2.52 ERA with 624 strikeouts in 543 innings in Japan. He did walk 200 batters, though.

“Time will tell, but he has the talent to pitch at the front end of a championship-caliber rotation,” Eppler said last week.

One issue could be his durability. In Japan, starters pitch every seven days, as opposed to every five in the majors. Also, he missed much of last season because of an ankle injury, pitching just 25-1/3 innings in 2017.

It has been suggested that going to a six-man rotation might be the best way for a major league team to fold Ohtani into its pitching staff.

While his talent as a pitcher is unquestioned, there is more skepticism about how it will work with him hitting in the majors.

A left-handed hitter, Ohtani hit .286 with an .859 OPS and 48 homers in 1,170 plate appearances in Japan. In 2017, he hit .332 with eight homers in 231 plate appearances.

In Japan, Ohtani did not hit on the days he pitched or on the days immediately before and after. He also has been limited to designated hitter for the last three seasons, after playing 62 games in the outfield in his first two seasons in Japan. The Angels, with an outfield of Justin Upton, Kole Calhoun and Trout, aren’t likely to try Ohtani in the outfield.

If Pujols has truly improved his health and conditioning – the result of his first winter without surgery since 2014-15 – he could play more games at first base, clearing the way for Ohtani to be the DH.

“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 that have been around him. I think Albert is embracing a winter where he can get more into an accustomed offseason routine for him. I do know that Albert likes playing first base. … We’ll keep an open mind and see how much he can handle over there.”


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