The decision has been made and it’s probably somewhat surprising: Shohei Ohtani, the man who is called the Japanese Babe Ruth, will start his Major League Baseball career with the Los Angeles Angels.
Probably not the Los Angeles team you were guessing, huh? There’s been nothing predictable about the Ohtani sweepstakes — from the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox getting eliminated early to Ohtani ultimately choosing a team that plays its home games in Anaheim, rather than Seattle, San Francisco or even Chicago, all of which seemed to have a good angle on the two-way star.
Ohtani, 23, will presumably get a chance to be the Angels’ ace (that job is open, isn’t it?) and, on other days, hit in a lineup that features Mike Trout — the best player from Japan next to the best player from the U.S. That’s formidable.
But why? Why did Ohtani — whose motivations have mostly been kept quiet beyond a desire to play two ways — pick the Angels. His agent, Nez Balelo, the co-head of CAA Baseball, shed some light on it in a statement:
“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.”
Some interesting tidbits in there. This, from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, also shows how much Angels GM Billy Eppler had chased Ohtani even before the Internet hype:
Agent (not from CAA) on Ohtani signing: “Eppler made this happen. 100% all him. He has been on Ohtani since he was in HS and I will bet he absolutely crushed the presentation. This is a credit to him.” Eppler visited Japan while with NYY and after becoming LAA GM in Oct. 2015.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 8, 2017
Here are a few others pro-Angels things we can theorize about:
• Signing with the Angels puts Ohtani near L.A. without actually being in the thick of L.A. So if we’re to believe that he values his privacy, as reports have suggested, Anaheim puts Ohtani close enough to Hollywood without being in the thick of Dodgers mania.
• The Angels have lacked pitching over recent years, so Ohtani can make an immediate impact in that respect.
The Angels won 80 games last year and fought for a wild-card spot, but fell short. There’s a good chance they’re contenders again next season. Regardless, the American League just got a whole lot more interesting in 2018.
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