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A “true bond”: Why Shohei Ohtani made his decision to sign with the Angels

Ohtani wants to be in Anaheim. What does it all mean for the franchise?

Japan v Netherlands - International Friendly Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

Shohei Ohtani has chosen the Angels as the major-league club he will begin his career with.

Per a statement from Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, at CAA Baseball:

This morning, after a thorough, detailed process, Shohei Ohtani has decided to sign with the Los Angeles Angels. Shohei is humbled and flattered by all the time and effort that so many teams put into their presentations and sincerely thanks them for their professionalism. In the end, he felt a strong connection with the Angels and believes they can best help him reach his goals in Major League Baseball.

I want to thank the clubs and everyone else for respecting our intent to make this very important process as private as possible. We were resolved to having a fair, methodical process. Teams clearly put in a lot of work, and we are grateful for that. The past few weeks also further demonstrated Shohei’s incredible thoughtfulness, attention to detail and determination to make an informed decision. He read every page of every presentation and listened to every word in each meeting, and he was so impressed that it was not an easy 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. More than ever, I believe this is not only a special talent but a man of special character, and like everyone else I’m excited to see him in Major League Baseball.

With a west coast small-market feel, an actual large market size, large Asian-American and Japanese-American community, the ability to carry a designated hitter, and an Arizona spring training facility, the Angels had a leg up on most other teams. The Angels could also offer him a $2.315 million signing bonus, which was more than all but two teams—and while Ohtani’s actions represent his primary priority is not financial gain, a large figure such as that is not insignificant. It also underscores the importance of the recent, timely Angels trades for Jim Johnson and of Jacob Pearson.

Ultimately, the three factors mentioned here—market size, time zone, or league—were not considered deciding factors by Ohtani, though the questionnaire was sure to make things increasingly difficult for teams. Most notable here is Ohtani mentioning he felt a “true bond” and that this team was the “best environment” for him. Why did he feel this bond with this team, in particular?

Ken Rosenthal has a source that provides us more information.

“Eppler made this happen. 100% all him. He has been on Ohtani since he was in [high school] and I bet he absolutely crushed the presentation. This is a credit to him.”

Billy Eppler, General Manager of the Angels, was previously Assistant General Manager with the New York Yankees. As mentioned in the tweet above, he has scouted Ohtani numerous times dating back over a half-decade ago which, I would imagine, allowed the GM to tailor his presentation to align more accurately with Ohtani’s personal and professional priorities and preferences.

Ohtani, just 23 years of age, slashed .322/.416/.588 (1.004 OPS) with 22 home runs as well as a 1.86 ERA across 20 starts in 2016, on top of his career 2.52 ERA and .859 OPS spanning five years with Nippon Ham in Japan. He is an impact player on the mound (a frontline starter that projects as an ace) and a slugger at the plate (capable of hitting over 20 home runs per year), the top international free agent available and easily the most impactful acquisition of any player available this winter. Per MLB Pipeline, Ohtani is a 70-grade pitcher and 60-grade hitter, the best prospect in all of baseball.

The scouting reports on Ohtani as a pitcher almost seem too good to be true. He threw the fastest recorded pitch in Japanese history (102.5 mph in 2016), sits in the upper 90s with late finish on his heater and maintains premium velocity into the late innings. Both his diving splitter, which reaches the low 90s, and his hard slider, which climbs into the high 80s, can be plus-plus pitches at their best. He also employs a curveball and a changeup that are at least average. Though he has an athletic frame and repeatable delivery, his walk rate (3.3 per nine innings) was ordinary in Japan.

While the consensus among scouts is that Ohtani has more upside as a pitcher, he also has the tools to be a star as a hitter. He has top-of-the-scale raw power and launches tape-measure shots with ease from the left side of the plate. He struck out in 27 percent of his plate appearances in Japan, so he doesn't project as a .300 hitter, but he could bat .270 with 30-plus homers per year. He's also a well-above-average runner, though his speed has yet to translate into stolen bases. He has a cannon arm and should be at least an average defender in right field. Signing with an American League team affords him the ability to DH, which will allow him to get more at-bats and conserve energy for pitching.

The cost and control of Ohtani:

- A $20 million posting fee going towards his former team, the Nippon Ham Fighters

- $2.315 million in international bonus pool money, all of which will presumably used towards his signing bonus

- Ohtani will go through the norms of an international free agent, which means he will be under a normal contract. This means six years of total team control; for the first three he will receive the league minimum, and from the fourth year onwards Ohtani will be eligible for arbitration like any player.

Perhaps more importantly, Shohei Ohtani represents a significant acquisition with the potential to alter the trajectory of Angels baseball for years and years to come. In the long term, that means not having to worry about any contending ‘window’ or being competitive throughout baseball for years to come with various core or complementary additions. Much has been made of the team “wasting” Mike Trout (which is mostly untrue, by the way), but Ohtani puts a stop to the narrative, changes the timeline, and adds a legitimate ace to the front of the Angels rotation.

In the short term, that means having one of the better farm systems in baseball. Ohtani, Jahmai Jones, Jo Adell, and Kevin Maitan all belong on a top 100 list; last year, the Angels had no top 100 prospects, according to An additional significance is that Seattle and Texas do not get Ohtani, so the Angels not only have a stronger team but don’t have to face Ohtani for years to come. This catapults them over the Rangers, Mariners, Twins, Blue Jays, and other teams in the wild card race as well as renders other teams’ international bonus pools effectively meaningless. It also means they have a not insignificant chance to contend for the division crown with the addition of more pieces, especially with some luck in regards to overall player health and payroll flexibility.

While many players are described as game changers, very few are described as franchise changers. Ohtani is on track to be just that, and the ripple effects will be felt for many years to come.