Shohei Ohtani agrees to sign with Angels

MLB columnist
Yahoo Sports
Shohei Ohtani, 23, is an intriguing two-way prospect. (AP).
Shohei Ohtani, 23, is an intriguing two-way prospect. (AP).

The Japanese Babe Ruth is coming to Los Angeles.

Star free agent Shohei Ohtani agreed to sign with the Angels on Friday. It guarantees him a minuscule $2.32 million compared to the potential $200 million-plus he would have received by staying in Japan and delaying his Major League Baseball career by two years.

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Instead, the 23-year-old Ohtani, a starting pitcher whose fastball has reached 102 mph and whose powerful left-handed swing will allow him to play in the lineup when he isn’t pitching, forsook generational riches for an opportunity to test himself against the world’s greatest players. And after narrowing his finalists to seven and allowing each team a two-hour presentation earlier in the week, he chose the Angels.

In addition to the meager signing bonus for Ohtani, the top-ranked player on Yahoo Sports’ Ultimate Free Agent tracker, the Angels will pay his previous team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, a $20 million posting fee.

Immediately Ohtani becomes one of the biggest bargains in baseball, a projected frontline starter whose two-way excellence is expected to be rewarded with fairly regular playing time when he’s not pitching. The league’s new collective bargaining agreement limits teams on signing bonuses for international players younger than 25, putting Ohtani in a position in which the Fighters will reap more guaranteed money than him many times over — particularly with him set to make the major league minimum of $545,000 this season and not being eligible for free agency until after the 2023 season.

Over five years with the Fighters, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Ohtani went 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA and struck out 624 in 543 innings. In 2016, he slugged 22 home runs, a number that dipped during an injury-riddled 2017 season in which his pitch command lagged but his bat remained powerful.

The two-way player is something of an anachronism in baseball, and compounded with the cultural transition every foreign player must endure, the notion of Ohtani pitching and hitting regularly while still acclimating is daunting indeed. Ohtani still lived in the Fighters’ dorms during his final season there and did not seek any of the celebrity that eventually surrounded him.

A fear of living in a fishbowl kept him from making the New York Yankees, one of the presumed favorites, even a finalist. The six other teams that attended meetings with Ohtani were the Dodgers, Mariners, Padres, Rangers, Giants and Cubs.

All are terribly disappointed, knowing they had a chance at one of the most unique free agents in baseball history and couldn’t close a deal. Like everyone else, they’ll watch from afar with curiosity and intrigue, wondering if Ohtani is anywhere close to as good as the colossal hype that shrouds him suggests.

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