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The Angels are ‘in’ on Shohei Ohtani, acquire international bonus pool money to court him

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Jim Johnson has been traded to Anaheim, but the main piece isn’t Jim Johnson, no sir.

Japan v Netherlands - International Friendly
It. Is. Happening.
Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

The Angels made a trade earlier today.

Angels get: $1.21 million in international bonus pool money, RHP Jim Johnson

Braves get: LHP Justin Kelly

Johnson’s ugly ERA is contrasted by his stronger peripherals, which paints a picture of a low strand rate (62.3% LOB) and uncharacteristically high home run rate (1.27 HR/9). Johnson missed bats last season, striking out over a batter per inning with a 4.22 FIP, and carries experience pitching in high leverage. Per Pitch Info, the reliever averaged 93.7 miles per hour on his four-seam fastball.

Steamer (3.87 FIP), SIERA (3.87), and xFIP- (92) all point to him being a above-average reliever next year. Statcast backs this up; Johnson’s expected wOBA generated based on opponents’ quality of contact was 0.314 this season, seven points below that of league average. He’s not the All-Star he once was, but he’s a useful piece that every team needs, coming at a cost of $4.5 million.

In a nutshell, trading an unheralded minor leaguer for a useful, slightly-overpaid veteran big-league reliever is the definition of an underwhelming move.

Johnson wasn’t the reason for the deal, per se, but rather the payroll the Angels took on to acquire the remainder of the Braves international bonus pool money, a $1.21 million leftover that will be used to court Japanese phenom two-way player Shohei Ohtani. The Angels have previously been tight-lipped about this, but no longer.

Numerous beat writers and reporters have interesting quotes to offer in their pieces.

Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register:

“It makes us stand out a little bit more in the crowd and puts us in the upper tier of clubs and the bonus they could pay,” Eppler said.

On Ohtani’s performance:

Eppler said he’s confident in Ohtani’s talent from repeated trips to Japan while he was the Yankees’ assistant general manager...“Time will tell, but he has the talent to pitch at the front end of a championship-caliber rotation,” Eppler said.

On how Ohtani would assimilate into society, Eppler noted the following.

“I would say we believe were a very good fit for him,” Eppler said. “Notwithstanding the talent on our field and being able to play with the best player in major league baseball, also our demographics. Orange County and the L.A. metro area offers a great quality of life and a lot of amenities that help anyone transition to the U.S.”

According to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, Los Angeles has the largest Japanese population in the continental United States, at 182,000. San Francisco is second at 65,000.

Pedro Moura of the LA Times explores the notion that Albert Pujols will play more first base next season.

Eppler said the Angels are now “open-minded” to Pujols playing the field more next season. Pujols will be 38 in January, but he has been working out for more than a month.

Taylor Blake Ward offers this more scouting-based perspective:

That skill set includes being able to throw a baseball over 100 MPH regularly, reportedly touching 103. The young talent also possesses two other "plus" offerings in his slider and split-change. With great athleticism and a loose arm, scouts, executives and many across the industry have wild excitement about what his talents could contribute to their teams at the Major League level.

Ohtani's hitting abilities may be exaggerated by an exterior media, as one scout called him a "40-grade hitter" with "60-grade game power," which would suggest he's capable of hitting under .250 with 20-or-more home runs over the course a full season. However, whichever team signs him is expected to give him plate appearances as a designated hitter. Multiple scouts have commented that Ohtani has run a sub-four second home-to-first, making him a "70-grade runner" at worst.

MLB Pipeline has the Angels with the 8th highest international bonus pool.

Opportunities to land a frontline pitcher for pennies on the dollar are a generational rarity, and the Angels would be silly to not be “in” on him. The difference now is that they can make a legitimate offer—to play alongside the league’s best player, the league’s best defensive player, and a living legend—with a signing bonus somewhat comparable to that of other teams vying for his services.

This should be fun.